Red-Cooked Sauce (Chinese Mother Sauce #4)

April 19, 2017
3 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Makes about 2 cups
Author Notes

This is mainly deployed as a secret weapon in braises. Pork and chicken are the usual suspects, but vegans revel in these delightful flavors, too, by tossing things like sturdy vegetables, bean curd, or gluten in the mix to make a meatless dish worthy of the Lord Buddha himself. The key to this dish is using good Chinese soy sauces, mushroomy Shaoxing rice wine, and that touch of caramel. Read more about Chinese mother sauces here. —Madame Huang

What You'll Need
  • 5 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 16 thin slices fresh ginger
  • 5 scallions, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 7 tablespoons regular soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 cup Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1/2 cup caramel (see the recipe for Sweet Soy Sauce, Chinese mother sauce #3), or rock sugar to taste
  • Boiling water, as needed
  • optional 3 whole star anise or 1/2 stick cinnamon
  1. Set your wok over medium-high heat, add the oil, and when the oil starts to shimmer, add the ginger and scallions, and stir these around until they brown. Add both soy sauces, the rice wine, the caramel syrup or rock sugar, and around a cup of boiling water. If you would like to add other seasonings, like garlic or spices, do it now.
  2. Simmer the ingredients for around 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with more soy sauce or caramel or rice wine as desired. Strain out the solids, if you like, and refrigerate the sauce when you are not using it immediately.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • paczryk
  • Madame Huang
    Madame Huang
Carolyn Phillips is a food writer, scholar, and artist. She is the author of the fully illustrated All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China (McSweeney’s + Ten Speed Press, August 2016) and The Dim Sum Field Guide: A Taxonomy of Dumplings, Buns, Meats, Sweets, and Other Specialties of the Chinese Teahouse (Ten Speed Press, August 2016). Her work has appeared in such places as Best Food Writing 2015, Lucky Peach, Gastronomica, Buzzfeed, Alimentum, Huffington Post, Food52, Zester Daily, and at the 2013 MAD Symposium in Copenhagen. She and her husband were cultural consultants on the third Ghostbusters movie, her weekly blog is Madame Huang's Kitchen (, she Tweets as @madamehuang, and Instagrams as @therealmadamehuang. Carolyn’s art has appeared everywhere from museums and galleries to various magazines and journals to Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas series. She worked for over a decade as a professional Mandarin interpreter in the federal and California state courts, lived in Taiwan for eight years, translated countless books and articles, and married into a Chinese family more than 30 years ago.

2 Reviews

paczryk April 21, 2017
The licorice root is unfamiliar to me, but I would add that the star anise and cinnamon/cassia stick is essential. Extremely common also is dried tangerine peel (橙皮)、 fennel seed (小茴香)。 I sometimes think it's slightly misleading to call red-cooked sauce a braised and caramelized dish.... it is not intended to be made on its own, stored, and served on top of something - as some of the other "mother sauces" you've written on are meant to be, i.e. red chile oil (油泼辣子)and scallion oil.

Its usage is also very different from fish-fragrant sauce, which is also such a "flavor profile," but used in quick stir-fries in a different manner. Similarly, fish fragrant sauce isn't mixed and dumped in at the end, but its components are used throughout (e.g. meat marinated in wine, hot bean paste, and starch beforehand; hot bean paste fried in the oil before the other aromatics are added in, and then the rest of the liquid flavorings are added in just as everything is almost cooked).
Madame H. April 22, 2017
Licorice root (gancao 甘草) is very common in Chinese cooking. It can often be interchanged with many of the other favorite spices in China that share a licorice flavor (like star anise, fennel seed, anise seed). The correct name for aged tangerine peel is chenpi 陳皮, not chengpi 橙皮, and you certainly can add it here if it fits your meal; for those who are not familiar with it, aged tangerine peel is a delightful seasoning with great perfume and depth of flavor. Most Chinatowns offer the best in traditional herbal shops, rather than in markets.

As with just about any food in the world, you may season this sauce as you wish - every Chinese family has their heirloom recipes - this just happens to be mine. Some folks like rock sugar here, others like plain sugar - caramel rocks my world, and so that's what I recommend. Please do note that my version is therefore very obviously and deliciously caramelized. I also say that is to used for braising, not that it is a braised dish. There is a difference.

Any of these sauces can most certainly can be made ahead of time for the convenience of the cook. No one said they were to be served on top of something or "dumped in" at the end. Please read what I have written. Whether you want to make this dish from scratch when you are making a dish or have it ready for a quick meal later on in the week is up to you and your schedule - there are no strict rules.

I've been cooking for a finicky Chinese man for nearly 40 years and have had no complaints yet, so give my recipes a whirl. You might be pleasantly surprised.