A lesson in soy sauce

Power to women! A few days ago, I gave a master class on Hakka Cuisine at the WCR (Women Chefs and Restauranteurs) National Conference in San Francisco.  This group of professional women in the restaurant business celebrated their 20th anniversary. It was an honor to meet such smart, strong, and supportive women. They reminded me of Hakka women, known for their hard-working characteristics and strength.

In my class, I provided a short tasting on different types of soy sauce, a primary ingredient in Hakka dishes. I thought I would share this information with you. Soy sauce is a seasoning liquid brewed from naturally fermented soy beans and wheat. It gives a deep flavor and rich color. The basic types are:

Soy sauce types: all-purpose soy sauce: Kikkoman or Pearl River Bridge Light Superior Soy Sauce; Koon Chun Black Soy Sauce; ABC Sweet Soy Sauce (kecap manis)

1. All-purpose soy sauce.  I simply call it soy sauce in the book. The Japanese soy sauce, such as Kikkoman has a higher percentage of wheat which mellows the sauce. Chinese soy sauce, such as Pearl River Bridge Light Superior Soy Sauce, contains a higher percentage of soy beans which produces a stronger flavor.  In Asia, this type may also be called light (not referring to sodium), white, or thin soy sauce.

2. Dark or black soy sauce. This soy sauce ages longer and is blended with a little molasses which lends a slight caramelized sweet finish. It is darker and has a stronger flavor which enhances the color of stews and braises. For a quick substitute, use 2 parts all-purpose soy sauce and 1 part molasses.

3. Sweet soy sauce. Often used in Southeast Asia. This dark, thick, syrupy sweet soy sauce is blended with palm syrup. The Indonesian version is called kecap manis. The Hakkas in India make a similar sauce and call it red sauce. They boil soy sauce, sugar, and fragrant seasonings such as ginger, lemon grass, tangerine peel, star anise, and cinnamon until the sauce is thick and glossy (recipe on page 269). Add the dark, intense, sweet sauce to noodles, stews, meats, and stir-fries, or use as a dipping sauce. For an quick alternative for cooking, mix equal parts dark (preferable) or all-purpose soy sauce and packed brown sugar.