Saturday, April 19, 2014

What Did I Make Tonight? A Go-To Simple Sauce

It can be nice to have a few "go-to" methods and recipes in your head when you cook on the fly. You use that as the base of your dish and build dinner around it. A couple of years ago, a friend posted a recipe she found for pad tai with a simple-yet-delicious sauce consisting of soy sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar. I memorized the sauce recipe and ran with it, and I use variations of it often over stir-fried vegetables, noodles, rice, Israeli couscous, or quinoa. I use it with tofu and chicken. I use it with fake ground beef and with real meat. It's insanely, ridiculously adaptable, malleable, EASY, and tasty!

The original recipe called for:
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp brown sugar

You mix that all together and then pour it over the pad tai and stir fry everything for a minute or two. (I'm not writing a pad tai recipe here, but that was the inspiration for this sauce.)

The key pieces to remember are soy sauce, acid, sweet, and the ratio is 3:2:2. Now, you can build a sauce using whatever you have.

I rarely have fresh limes around unless I plan ahead, but I always keep rice vinegar in my refrigerator. I also try to keep soy sauce and brown sugar stocked. So my "I have this in my pantry" variation is:

3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar

You can substitute white sugar, honey, or agave syrup easily for the brown sugar, and you can use any acid in place of the lime juice or vinegar. Lemon juice would work, as would regular white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red or white wine vinegar. Each version will have a slightly different flavor, tending toward more tart or more sweet depending on what you use. Experiment and see what you like best.

When I'm cooking for the whole family, I usually need to double the amount of sauce, so it becomes 6:4:4 instead of 3:2:2. And I usually just grab a soup spoon to get approximate measurements. I don't always whip out the official measuring spoons!

To use the sauce, I first stir-fry vegetables, meat, and/or tofu in a skillet (I'll describe this in more detail in another post). I cook my starch (rice, couscous, pasta, rice noodles, etc.) appropriately, then add the cooked starch in with the stir-frying veggies and protein. Pour the sauce over the whole thing, bring to a simmer, and let it cook for five minutes or so, stirring frequently, to incorporate the flavors.

You can play with this further by adding ground ginger and garlic power (or fresh minced ginger and garlic) to the basic sauce (a teaspoon or so). For some heat, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, a few dashes of sriracha, or a squirt of some other hot sauce will do nicely, or try red pepper flakes (found in the spice aisle as well).

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