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Hoisin Sauce from the supermarket

Fine Cooking Issue 93
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Hoisin sauce, the intensely flavored, dark-brown Chinese dipping sauce that perks up classics like Peking duck and mu-shu pork also brings tangy, robust flavor to our Hoisin Barbecue Ribs. Hoisin is made from fermented soybeans, sugar, garlic, chiles, and vinegar, and its high sugar content makes it a wonderful addition to barbecue sauces and marinades for roasted or grilled meats. We also love adding it to stir-fried greens such as bok choy, broccoli, or spinach.

Supermarket hoisin sauces vary widely in flavor, color, and consistency, the best being dark brown, thick, and richly flavored with soy, garlic, and chiles. To find out which brand we wanted to use in our test kitchen—and our homes—we held a blind tasting of several widely available brands. We were looking for a hoisin sauce with a good balance of sweet and salty notes and lots of soy flavor.

Kikkoman hoisin sauce ($3.29 for a 9.3-ounce jar) took the prize for its glossy appearance and “deep and dark aroma of fermented soybeans,” according to one impressed taster. There was a lovely balance of roasty soybean flavor, sweet caramel, spicy heat, and a moderate saltiness. This hoisin is our top choice for spreading onto mu-shu pancakes or serving on its own as a dipping sauce.

Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce ($2.19 for an 8.5-ounce jar) was a close second. Our tasters liked its pleasant aroma and commented that the flavors of chiles and soybeans shone through the sauce’s sweetness with a nice spicy kick, although some wished it had a bit more tang. This hoisin would be a great addition to a barbecue sauce or marinade in which you could amp up the flavors according to your taste.

One worth looking for

After scouring the supermarket shelves and polling our reader scouts for the brands of hoisin they have on hand, I decided to check out my local Asian market to see if there was anything I was missing. There I found Koon Chun hoisin, which our tasters loved. Almost too thick to be called a sauce—it was jammy and not nearly as smooth as the supermarket brands—this hoisin had the most complex flavor profile by far, with an almost smoky fermented soybean and molasses taste that unfolded across the palate into perfectly proportioned sweet and sour notes. The only down side to this hoisin was its saltiness, which was troublesome for a few tasters. Use this brand sparingly, as a condiment or in sauces and marinades, for a marvelous depth of flavor that the supermarket brands lack. Look for Koon Chun hoisin at an Asian market or online at Adrianascaravan.com, where a 15-ounce jar costs $3.95.

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