The Oddest Sauce Around Is Also the Most Awesome

“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.

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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.

More: Go nuts and make your own tahini.

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. 

Lucky Peach’s Odd Flavor Sauce

From Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes 

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Photos by James Ransom, Linda Xiao, and Bobbi Lin

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I fall in love with every sandwich I ever meet.


samantha October 21, 2015
Sounds AMAZING! How long do you think it will keep in the fridge?
Nicole J. October 19, 2015
I'm with you on the ketchup on my mac n' cheese. Growing up with a French Canadian mother - we ALWAYS has ketchup on Kraft Dinner. Thanks for this recipe. I can't wait to try it.
Anna R. October 19, 2015
Off to make Lucky Peach's Odd Flavour Sauce - have some lamb chops in the freezer! Thanks for the recipe @Riddley.
Anna R. October 19, 2015
@julieoj and @jellygood, the fish is the key - we use small, dried fish called ikan bilis, and dried south Indian chillies (the crinkley ones), about six tsps of different spices. Hit me up by email [email protected] and I'll send you some to taste. It keeps really well in the fridge because the coconut and spices are natural preservatives/antimicrobials.
bugbitten October 18, 2015
Nice, I'll try this for sure. since I have all the ingredients (!). Just noticing that Chinese black vinegar is usually substituted by a much smaller amount of red wine vinegar due to the difference in acidity. Thanks
Sheryl F. October 18, 2015
i am trusting your judgement on this sauce solely due to the fact that you admit to eating mac and cheese with ketchup. I too know the wonders of that combo.
julieoj October 18, 2015
Thank you SO much, jellygood!
jellygood October 18, 2015
@julieoj the anchovy coconut relish I think must be pol sambol. There is a recipe for it here on food52 but it lacks the one essential ingredient which is maldive fish.Here is a link to a better Jamie Oliver recipe that includes it. And it IS delicious and addictive as ARM states.
GordonW October 18, 2015
Looks yummy but nothing particularly odd about it. Bet some cilantro would be good in it.
valery E. October 18, 2015
Sounds a lot like the ingredients in Dan Dan noodles, just add a little broth and pickled mustard greens. If you have an Asian mart to shop at, I would also suggest using Chinese sesame paste which is different from tahini.
julieoj October 18, 2015
This looks amazing. Any chance of getting that anchovy coconut recipe Anna Ross-Murphy? Yum...
HalfPint October 14, 2015
This would be a great dip for steam artichokes.
Riddley G. October 19, 2015
What a great idea!
Anna R. October 14, 2015
South Indians have a go-to condiment made of anchovies, coconut and chillies that we put on everything like this lovely odd sauce. We call it Gunpowder at home. Spicy.
Kate B. October 14, 2015
Can I ask, I can't eat onion or garlic as it upsets my tummy, would this be a disaster without them?
Riddley G. October 14, 2015
I don't think it'd be a disaster! However I cannot vouch, with certainty, for the taste. You could use other additions to amp up the flavor, though, like a bit of fish sauce. And do let me know how it turns out sans onion and garlic!
chelinhu October 14, 2015
Thanks for sharing this piece! This is a sauce I had wondered about from time to time but never bothered to find out! Turns out I have used it time and time again.... And I can taste it in my head right now... This is essentially how I make cold sesame noodles: cook up a batch of spaghetti and toss them with this "odd flavor sauce"- sprinkle chopped green onions on top (and more sesame) - always a party favorite!
Riddley G. October 14, 2015
that sounds great! i might just have to make it for dinner tonight
Tereza October 13, 2015
How intriguing! Will try this with gluten-free soy sauce
AntoniaJames October 13, 2015
This looks incredible - as versatile as XO sauce (my new favorite go-to for all of the purposes noted above, and more, having been tipped off by Food52'er halfpint who, if you hadn't noticed, is an invaluable font of useful information). Definitely going to try this, as an alternative.
Incidentally, do you think this Odd Sauce would work well tossed with roast duck and fresh wheat noodles from the Asian grocery? I'm thinking the XO might be a bit too strong. Thank you so much. ;o)
Riddley G. October 13, 2015
I think that'd be absolutely delicious!
HalfPint October 14, 2015
Awww, thanks, AJ!
AntoniaJames October 19, 2015
Well, I ended up using the XO sauce on the duck noodles . . . . I was concerned that the various fats in this Odd Sauce might interfere with the luscious, flavorful duck fat clinging to the "Easy Duck Confit" (Melissa Clark, "Genius" recipe here on Food52). The XO worked brilliantly. I plan however to make some of this Odd Sauce to use with leftover roast chicken plus fresh noodles from Chinatown later this week. Looking forward to trying it. Cheers. ;o)