“Is that ketchup... on your mac and cheese?”
I can’t recall who said this to me, but I do remember I was in elementary school, it was a classmate, and I was horrified. Shielding my mac and cheese behind a carton of milk and a juicebox, I ate my noodles trepidatiously while remaining on the lookout for judgy glares. The slightly sweet, red-tinted mac and cheese just didn’t seem so appealing anymore. They say love can last a lifetime. Embarrassment, apparently, bests ketchup.
Some 8 years later, I’m still searching for my go-to condiment. I want a sauce to drench my rice in, cover my vegetables, take plain ol’ chicken to new levels, and make tofu soy—sorry, so—cool. Well, I should say I was searching.
Of all the recipes in Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes (and we’re talking miso clam chowder and fish sauce spareribs, here), I didn’t think I’d love Odd Flavor Sauce. It was more of an “I have the ingredients, so why not” sort of thing. It did seem, well, odd after all: soy sauce, tahini, Chinkiang (Chinese black vinegar), sesame oil, sugar, and salt are mixed together until they’re mostly dissolved. A slew of other ingredients—chopped scallion, ginger, garlic, chili flakes, and Sichuan peppercorns—briefly hit a hot skillet. The now aromatic-y aromatics are whisked into the tahini-soy sauce mixture until the whole thing’s well-blended.
It’s no peanut sauce or miso dressing. It’s, dare I say it, better. There’s the slightly brash heat from the chiles, more subtle punch of the peppercorns, acidic burn from the vinegar, soy sauce’s umami, and nuttiness from the tahini and sesame oil. It’s a lot of flavors—an odd mix of everything that hits so many notes in just the right way.
As for what to do with the sauce, I, first and foremost, suggest making a double batch. You can use it on everything. Well, I’m exaggerating. Definitely don’t slather the stuff on a chocolate souffle or pancakes, but there are a good amount of dishes that benefit from a little oddness. Here are some ideas:
- As Lucky Peach says, the sauce is good on “any warm white proteins.” Salt and pepper chicken, fish, pork, or tofu, cook it any which way you like, slice, and pour on that Odd Flavor Sauce. Serve with rice (and extra sauce), of course.
- Toss roasted or steamed vegetables with some sauce.
- Use it as a fried rice flavoring! (Bonus points if you top it with a fried egg.)
- As a dipping sauce for Okonomiyaki.
- Dunk some dumplings in it.
- Use it to dress for soba or udon noodles—or a noodle salad.
- How about an assertive dressing for kale salad? Add some shredded carrots, herbs, pan-fried tofu, roasted and chopped peanuts, and/or whatever else you fancy.
- On that same note, use it as a dressing for any shredded vegetable salad, like this cabbage version.
- Dunk some edamame in it for one helluva snack.
- Stir-fry with the sauce!
- Drizzle it on jook or congee.
And here you have your go-to condiment! I haven’t tried Odd Flavor Sauce on mac and cheese yet, but wouldn’t doubt it’d be better than ketchup. And, if not, there are no judgy classmates around anyways.
Makes about 1/2 cup
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons tahini, almond butter, or peanut butter
1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black rice vinegar) or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons neutral oil (like canola, vegetable, or grapeseed)
1 small scallion, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
Photos by James Ransom, Linda Xiao, and Bobbi Lin