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Chinese cooks have had 2,500 years to explore the uses and nuances of soy sauce—they invented this fermented condiment that both preserved and flavored food. Later, the Japanese improved the recipe by adding wheat, which yields a more delicate taste. Even today, Chinese and Japanese soy sauces remain distinctly different.

Both cultures agree that soy sauce is truly the “master sauce” of Asia, fundamental to many Asian kitchens. Here are just a few of the many ways in which it is used:

In China:

  • Master Sauce Chicken is a whole bird simmered in a mixture of water, soy sauce, rice wine, rock sugar and star anise. Constant basting gives the chicken a rich golden-brown skin with an appetizing sheen. The sauce can be strained and used repeatedly.
  •  Red-Braised Pork is a whole pork shoulder braised in water, soy sauce and aromatics, like tangerine peel and star anise, until tender and glazed a deep reddish-brown color.

In Japan:

  • For sushi, the dipping sauce is usually straight soy, but for sashimi, lower sodium ponzu is preferred. Ponzu is made with soy sauce, mirin (rice wine), sake, bonito flakes and konbu (giant kelp). Chefs make this sauce in quantity, strain it and age it for months.
  • Japanese noodle broth always includes soy sauce, as does the dipping sauce for cold noodles. And, of course, soy is essential to teriyaki sauce and yakitori sauce, the basting sauce for skewered grilled foods.

In Korea:

  • Kalbi, the country’s famous braised short ribs, are simmered in soy sauce with green onions, sesame seeds, garlic and sugar.
  • Hainanese Chicken Rice is a poached chicken served with broth-cooked rice and many condiments, including a dipping sauce of soy sauce mixed with sesame oil


In the American kitchen, soy sauce can be the secret weapon that gives dishes greater depth and complexity. With their new awareness of umami, many chefs and food scientists are reaching for soy sauce when a dish needs salt … plus a little something. They consider it a two-for-one ingredient that enhances flavor more than salt alone would.

Consider some of these possible uses for soy sauce in the American kitchen:

  • In chicken broth, to add savory notes and slow-simmered richness
  • In a balsamic vinaigrette for spinach salad
  • In a lamb marinade with balsamic vinegar and mustard
  • In ground beef, meatloaf, burgers and chili, to add flavor and color
  • In a barbecue glaze for baby back ribs or pork chops
  • In whole-grain breads, to add color and yeasty/wheaty notes
  • In a pizza dough, to enhance caramelization
Braised Pork Belly


Brewed soy sauce can even enhance sweet foods. The subtle salt content heightens flavor (think how bland cookies are without salt), and the roasted notes add richness, especially to chocolate desserts. The toasted, nutty, caramelized flavors of soy sauce marry perfectly with many finales. Try it:
  • In caramel sauce, to mellow the flavor
  • In chocolate sauce or chocolate baked goods, for added richness
  • In a classic charlotte with buttered bread, dried fruit and nuts
Because traditionally brewed soy sauce is delicate, it can stay in the background, enriching and enhancing without overpowering. For chefs who want to take advantage of soy sauce’s flavor-potentiating powers without leaving an Asian impression, a dash or two may be enough.


Lobster Salad

As you’ve learned, soy sauce contributes savory depth to many preparations—some of them not remotely Asian. We’ve gathered great recipes from celebrated chefs who use soy sauce in all menu parts, from appetizer to dessert. Their range is global—from Asian to Latin to Mediterranean—but soy sauce always fits. Click here to view recipes.

As you read or make these recipes, look carefully at how soy sauce works to add color to marinades, a lift to chutney, savory and salty notes to aioli or rich meatiness to mushrooms. Whether you’re preparing chicken cacciatore, prawn vindaloo, lamb shawarmas or vegetarian fajitas, ask yourself if a dash of soy sauce might help make the flavors bloom.

Consider some of these possible uses for soy sauce in the global kitchen:

  • In French onion soup, to intensify the meat broth base
  • In a tomato chutney for corn fritters or roast pork
  • In an aioli for tuna carpaccio
  • In a marinara sauce for pasta
  • In a beurre blanc for seafood

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