Fish Fragrant Sauce (Chinese Mother Sauce #6)

April 19, 2017
4 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Makes around 2 cups
Author Notes

There is absolutely nothing subtle at all going on here. This is pure edible fireworks! It is called yuxiang in Chinese, which literally means “fish aroma,” because the traditional recipe calls for chiles that were fermented with crucian carp, which gave it a deep anchovy flavor, much like the Vietnamese fish sauce called nuoc mam. Always added to a stir-fry, this sauce can be combined with any number of delicate proteins, including shelled prawns, cubed chicken meat, julienned pork, or bean curd. To read the full article on Chinese mother sauces, go here, —Madame Huang

What You'll Need
  • 4 fresh or frozen water chestnuts (please don’t use canned)
  • 4 black mushrooms or wood ear fungus, fresh or dried and plumped up
  • 2 to 8 pickled red chiles (storebought or homemade)
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, sliced into thin rings
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 5 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons black vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons regular soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 pound protein of some sort (see headnotes)
  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan hot bean sauce
  1. Trim the water chestnuts, and then remove and discard the stems and hard bits from the mushrooms or wood ears. Chop these ingredients into fine (1/8-inch) dice and place them in a small work bowl. Slice the pickled chiles into thin rings and add these to a small bowl with the garlic, white parts of the onions, and ginger. Keep the greens of the onions in a separate pile, as they will be added at the last minute.
  2. Mix the sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, water, and cornstarch together in a small bowl, but don’t add the bean sauce yet.
  3. Place a wok over high heat, add the oil, and when it shimmers, swirl it around and then add whatever raw protein you like. Stir them in the hot oil for a minute or two until everything is about half cooked, and place them in a work bowl.
  4. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the wok. With the heat still on high, add the chiles, garlic, whites of the scallions, and ginger and stir-fry them for a few seconds to release their fragrance. Toss in the Sichuan hot bean sauce and mix everything together for a few seconds until the sauce boils and cooks through. Add the water chestnuts and mushrooms or wood ears. Quickly toss these until the mushrooms start to look cooked, then add your proteins and sauce. Working very fast, stir them over the heat until the sauce thickens, which should take only a couple of seconds. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the green parts of the scallions, toss once, and serve.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Nora
  • Madame Huang
    Madame Huang
  • Krista
  • beejay45
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.

9 Reviews

beejay45 August 20, 2017
This is my very favorite flavor profile in Chinese cooking! When I was teaching, my students loved it in class but were reluctant to take the time and amass the numerous ingredients necessary to cook a dish at home. This do ahead "sauce" would have been great for them. Too bad you hadn't written this twenty years ago. My teaching life would have been so much simpler. ;)
cranberry April 23, 2017
What brand of black vinegar do you recommend? We are fortunate to live in an area with an amazing Asian grocery store - there is a large selection of black vinegars, and the ingredient lists vary a little bit. (I'm also asking because I'd like a tasty one for dipping sauce for Shanghainese soup dumplings.)
Fred R. April 24, 2017
Try Chinkiang Vinegar...yellowish label....Gold Plum name on the neck label...nice, dark and strong. Best.
Madame H. April 25, 2017
I avoid vinegars from mainland China. Some are certainly tasty, but there is a genuine problem with health and safety. I recommend for the time being that you use cheap balsamic vinegar for cooking and for dipping, try a combination of balsamic with apple cider or Japanese rice vinegar. The taste isn't perfect, but at least you're safer. I'm trying to figure out a good way to brew it at home, so wish me luck!
Nora April 20, 2017
I want to try this soon. I have all the ingredients, except fresh or frozen water chestnuts. Is there a substitute? Or what if I leave them out?
Madame H. April 20, 2017
Jicama is a perfect substitute, since it has the clear taste and lovely crunch of fresh water chestnuts. You can leave them out, of course, and it will still be very, very good. But those sweet little nuggets will take this sauce to the next level.
Krista April 20, 2017
Just don't use canned! They are so different from fresh or frozen. I had fresh ones for the first time recently and couldn't believe how different (and good) they are.
Madame H. April 22, 2017
Exactly, Kristy!
Madame H. April 22, 2017
Sorry, Krista!