Hoisin — Off the Beaten Aisle

By: J.M. Hirsch
hoisin turkey meatball grinders

Mmmm … Nothing says good eats like soy residue.

Except that in Chinese cooking, it really can. And you very likely have enjoyed that soy residue. Many times and in many ways.

We’re talking about hoisin sauce, a classic ingredient for sauces — both for dipping at the table and basting during cooking — in China.

Hoisin is a thick, dark red-to-brown sauce that blends sweet-spicy-savory flavors, a profile not all that different from ketchup. It is made from the leftover mash of fermented soy beans produced when making traditional soy sauces. That mash is combined with sugar, chiles, garlic, vinegar, salt, sometimes five-spice powder and either flour or cornstarch (to thicken).

Though hoisin is widely used on grilled meats (as a barbecue sauce) and in dipping sauces, it’s best known for a starring role in Peking duck and moo shu pork.

The trick with hoisin is to use it sparingly. Unlike ketchup (which I firmly believe should be served by the gallon), a little hoisin goes a long way.

To make a dipping sauce, thin a teaspoon or so with sesame oil and soy sauce. Uncut, it can be brushed directly onto meats for grilling.

You’ll usually find hoisin in glass jars among the grocer’s other Asian ingredients. Refrigerated after opening, it should last months.

So what should you do with it?

• Thin it with soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame or canola oil, then use as a marinade for thinly sliced steaks for a stir-fry.

• Combine hoisin with red wine, tomato sauce and beef broth and use to braise a pot roast in a slow cooker.

• Brown ground beef, turkey or pork, add whatever finely chopped vegetables you like, then season with hoisin. Serve with flatbread or large lettuce leaves.

• Use a small amount of hoisin instead of soy sauce to season a shrimp stir-fry.

• Rub hoisin under and over the skin of a whole chicken for roasting. The same technique works for skin-on chicken thighs.

• Blend tomato paste, hoisin, sugar, hot sauce, rice or cider vinegar, five-spice powder, cumin and paprika for a barbecue sauce. Baste onto the meat during the final 5 minutes of grilling (the high sugar content will cause it to burn if added sooner).

Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders With Spicy Tomato Relish

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4
1 egg
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
Zest of 1 lime
¼ cup hoisin
1⅓ pounds ground turkey
¾ cup panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 plum tomatoes, diced
½ cup crème fraiche
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Four 6-inch sub rolls

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the egg, cilantro, scallions, garlic, ginger, lime zest, hoisin and ½ tablespoon salt. Mix well.

Add the turkey, then knead well with your hands until evenly mixed. Add the breadcrumbs and mix again. Form the mixture into about 20 balls.

In a large skillet over medium-high, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add half of the meatballs and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, then repeat with the remaining butter and meatballs.

Bake the meatballs for 7 to 8 minutes, or until cooked through and a thermometer inserted at the center of a meatball reads 165 degrees F.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix the tomatoes, crème fraiche, hot sauce and ½ teaspoon of salt. Spread a quarter of the mixture down the center of each sub roll. When the meatballs are done, arrange 5 in each roll. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 560 calories; 240 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 27 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 175 mg cholesterol; 44 g carbohydrate; 39 g protein; 3 g fiber; 1,620 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking . He also blogs at LunchBoxBlues.com.

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