Oyster sauce features prominently in a variety of Asian recipes. It adds a distinctive flavor that blends umami with the sweet as well as salty. However, if you don’t know where to look for it, sourcing it for home cooking might be difficult.
To that end, there exist a range of oyster sauce substitutions for cooks interested in experimenting with recipes. But before establishing what works best as an oyster sauce alternative, it’s work asking; what is oyster sauce?
What Is Oyster Sauce?
As the name suggests, oyster sauce derives from oysters. It’s seasoned with salt and sugar and occasionally features soy sauce thickened with corn starch. The result is a hybrid somewhere between barbeque sauce and soy sauce.
It’s slightly sweet but tempered salt and fish brine. The resulting taste is almost like caramel. And it has a consistency similar to ketchup. Moreover, even though it has a seafood base, it doesn’t taste particularly of fish.
Oyster sauce is highly prevalent in Asian cooking and features in dishes such as:
- Stir Fry
- Pork or Chicken Adobo
- Grilled Beef and Broccoli
- Pancit Canton, Noodle Dish
It’s also a versatile sauce and pairs well with a range of culinary staples, including:
- Green Onions
- Bok Choy
It’s a delicious compliment to any dish, but it isn’t always easy to find.
Luckily, a variety of oyster sauce substitutes exist. Not all substitutes for oyster sauce are created equal, though. With that in mind, we’ve comprised a list of what we consider the best oyster sauce alternatives.
Top 5 Oyster Sauce Substitutes
The best substitute for oyster sauce is a combination of Soy and Hoisin sauce. Sweet Soy Sauce and Fish sauce are also good oyster sauce alternatives.
1. Soy Sauce and Hoisin Sauce
Soy sauce on its own is a popular oyster sauce alternative. However, it’s thinner and doesn’t completely match the complexity of flavors present in oyster sauce.
Combining it with hoisin sauce, on the other hand, is a quick and effective approximation of oyster sauce. Mixing soy and hoisin sauces at a 1:1 ratio creates a sauce that is partially sweet, partially salty, and has a hint of the sea to it.
Some cooks mix in a pinch of sugar or even Worcester sauce for a slightly more intense flavor.
It’s a bit more involved than a straightforward soy sauce substitution, but the taste is worth the extra effort.
2. Hoisin Sauce
If mixing ingredients is too much effort, and you have it on hand, hoisin sauce makes a fast and uncomplicated oyster sauce alternative.
Hoisin sauce as an oyster sauce substitute works well because it has a similar consistency to oyster sauce. Additionally, the flavors it brings to a recipe are close to, if not the same, as an oyster sauce. It’s a blend of sweet, salty, and mildly fishy.
The taste isn’t identical, but it’s a close enough oyster sauce replacement that you won’t notice the difference too much.
The biggest advantage of hoisin sauce as a substitute for oyster sauce is that you can use it in virtually the same quantity as an oyster sauce. That means no agonizing over proportions or hesitating over measurements. All you have to do is measure, mix, stir and carry on as usual.
Additionally, unlike fish sauce, which often is used as an oyster sauce alternative, hoisin sauce is typically vegan. Consequently, it makes the ideal candidate for cooks with vegetarian or vegan diets. But be sure to check the ingredients to make sure the hoisin sauce you’ve chosen meets your dietary requirements.
3. Sweet Soy Sauce
While ordinary soy sauce lacks both the sweetness and consistency of oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce makes a workable oyster sauce substitution in a pinch.
It’s an Indonesian variation of soy sauce that is slightly thicker than the original. It blends umami tastes with saltiness and added sweetness. Unlike the soy sauce and hoisin sauce combination above, sweet soy sauce has sufficient sweetness that you can forgo adding sugar to the mix.
For best effect, you’ll want to use this oyster sauce replacement sparingly. Too much will taste cloying, but a little bit blends well with most recipes. All that’s missing is the shellfish.
4. Soy Sauce
Although soy sauce is less both the sweetness and syrupy composition of oyster sauce, it does make a viable oyster sauce replacement in a pinch. What it lacks in texture and sweetness it makes up for in umami flavor, which is the vital contribution when cooking with oyster sauce, anyway.
Soy sauce also features a high proportion of salt, which works well in its favor when searching for a substitute for oyster sauce. It’s worth adding some brown sugar to temper some of the natural saltiness of soy sauce for a real oyster sauce taste.
See our article on the best soy sauce brands and Soy Sauce Substitutes
5. Fish Sauce
Perhaps because many people have some version of fish sauce on hand, it’s a popular and effortless oyster sauce substitution. But because there is so much variety between fish sauces, this can lead to discrepancies in cooking and flavor.
That’s not to say it isn’t a good oyster sauce substitution. However, if you are substituting fish sauce for oyster sauce, the best policy is to add it by degrees and season to taste.
Also, like soy sauce, fish sauces tend to lack the sweetness typical of oyster sauce. With that in mind, adding a bit of sugar and mixing it into either the sauce or the dish can help recreate the signature oyster sauce taste.
Homemade Oyster Sauce
If you can’t find an oyster sauce replacement you’re happy with, and you have ingredients and time on your side, it’s possible to prepare your own oyster sauce.
It can be an expensive oyster sauce alternative but may satisfy purists reluctant to use alternatives to oyster sauce.
You will need:
- 8 oz oysters
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Soy sauce as required
Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- To start, drain the oysters and set the juice aside.
- Next, put oysters through a food processor until finely chopped and transfer into a saucepan.
- Add the oyster juice and bring it to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat, cover the pan and leave to simmer for 10-12 minutes.
- Then, remove the pot from the heat and add salt. Afterward, let cool.
- Using a sieve, drain the sauce. You can dispose of any pieces left in the seive.
- Measure the mixture and add ½ tbsp of soy sauce per ½ cup of liquid.
- Add another tbsp of soy sauce. Return to heat and bring to boil again.
- Then, turn down the heat and let simmer gently for 10 minutes.
- Set sauce aside to cool. While cooling, find a jar and bring to boil in water for 15 minutes. When the jar and oyster sauce have both cooled, pour the sauce into the jar and seal tightly.
At the right temperature, a homemade jar of oyster sauce can last up to a month in the refrigerator, ensuring you have oyster sauce to cook with whenever you need it.
Note that because the recipe does not call for sugar, the taste of the oysters is significantly more prominent. If so minded, sweeten the sauce to taste to more nearly approximate store-bought oyster sauce.
Oyster sauce adds a complex blend of flavors to a vast array of dishes. Whether you don’t eat seafood or are struggling to source oyster sauce, there is an equally vast selection of oyster sauce alternatives.
When considering oyster sauce replacements, you’ll want to reproduce the umami flavors of oyster sauce as closely as possible. Consider the saltiness, fishiness, and sweetness of your choice carefully, and if necessary, add sugar.
You’ll also want to remember to make allowances for different thicknesses and textures of various oyster substitutions. And remember, some sauces, like hoisin sauce, can be used in the same proportions as oyster sauce, but others should be used more sparingly.
And if you’re struggling to find an oyster sauce substitution you’re happy with, it’s always possible to make your own. However, to minimize your meal prep time, it’s best to do that in advance of cooking with oyster sauce.
Whatever oyster sauce replacement you choose, the important thing is the taste. Experimenting with adding oyster sauce substitutions gradually will help you get a sense of your recipe. It will also ensure the resultant dish retains the distinctive taste offered by oyster sauce, even allowing for substitutions.
So measure well, sample often, and enjoy.