Executive R&D Chef Alan Li Reveals the Secrets of his House-made Hoisin Sauce
We really love Asian food around here. After all, Chef Justine ran the kitchen at one of San Francisco’s best known Vietnamese restaurants for many years and our research and development guy, Alan Li, grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, shopping daily in the markets there and eating his mother’s Cantonese steamed fish. Together, the two of them bring serious chops to our stir-fries, curries, and noodle soups.
But many classic Asian dishes, particularly the sauces, are high in sodium and other ingredients which are decidedly not on the list of our dietitian's favorites. Rather than ignore the cuisine of an entire continent, we’ve taken on the task of reinventing some of our favorite dishes to make them more Sun Basket-friendly.
When Li created the customer favorite Mu Shu Pork recipe, it required him to develop a housemade hoisin that would match the traditional one in flavor and beat it cold in terms of nutrition. Since then, we've used it in several recipes, like this week's Hoisin-Glazed Chicken with Glass Noodle and Cucumber Salad. Here’s what he has to say about it:
Mu shu pork is one dish we’ve been wanting to make for a long time, but it was the hoisin sauce that made me nervous. Commercial hoisin often includes processed sugar, gluten, soy—ingredients many Sun Basket customers try to avoid. But I love a good challenge, so I set out to make a sauce with the same flavor profile but a different set of ingredients.
First I had to break it down. Tasting premade sauce from the jar didn’t yield a lot of clues. There’s a complexity to hoisin’s sweetness that’s hard to put a finger on. So I started digging around and found recipes that included prunes and it started to make sense. The dried fruit is both tart and sweet and has a depth of flavor that the sauce needs. I added just a little molasses, which makes it taste a bit like barbecue sauce. Pumpkin puree and almond butter help thicken it and boost the umami that the sauce typically gets from the soy-enriched black bean paste. It’s definitely a recipe that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Next, I’d like to tackle oyster sauce.