What Is Hoisin Sauce?
A Chinese cooking expert shares everything you need to know about this staple condiment.
By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.
Perhaps you’ve encountered hoisin as a dipping sauce or in a marinade, but not known the savory-sweet, tangy Chinese condiment by name. For more info, we consulted Nadia Liu Spellman, Chinese cooking expert and author of Dumpling Daughter Heirloom Recipes: From Our Restaurants And Home Kitchens.
What Is Hoisin Sauce?
Hoisin is a thick, dark, sweet-savory Chinese condiment. “I would call it the ketchup of Chinese cuisine because it's used as an ingredient but also as a finishing sauce and condiment,” Liu Spellman says. “Hoisin sauce looks like dark brown ketchup but not as viscous; it’s thicker and pastier. It's sweet at the start and savory at the end.”
What Is Hoisin Sauce Used For?
Hoisin sauce is used as a marinade, dipping sauce, in stir-fries or drizzled over finished dishes. “Hoisin is used for so many kinds of dishes across China, there is not one way to use it as it tastes delicious in almost everything, if you don't use too much,” she says. “I've often advised my friends to use it as a marinade, delicious if smothered on meat or chicken drumsticks then barbecued or baked.”
Liu Spellman notes that one of the most well-known dishes utilizing hoisin is Beijing duck (also known as Peking duck), which is paired with savory pancakes and hoisin sauce. Hoisin is also a key ingredient to make the marinade mixture for Char Siu, a dish of roast pork.
Liu Spellman reaches for hoisin frequently at her restaurant, too. “At Dumpling Daughter, we put it on scallion pancake roll ups, minced chicken in lettuce leaves, savory pancakes with moo shu, Taiwanese bun sandwiches and in our Beijing meat sauce,” she says. “It's a great drizzling sauce too, if you add a little sesame oil to it to make it smoother, it drizzles beautifully as a garnish to any dish.”
Hoisin Sauce Ingredients
Hoisin is made with sugar, water, soybeans, salt, sweet potato, sesame seeds, cornstarch, garlic, wheat flour, chili pepper and spices. Its sweet and savory ingredient profile makes it a great dipping sauce on its own, but also plays well with supplemental seasonings, as with this Hoisin-Spice Glaze (pictured above) spiked with Chinese five-spice and honey.
Hoisin Sauce Substitute
Because of its distinct flavor profile and texture, there is no direct substitute for hoisin sauce that covers both. “If you want the flavor you can lean on soy sauce as a substitute, if you want the texture, you can use miso paste as a substitute,” Liu Spellman says. “Perhaps a mix of the two would be the closest comparison.”
You can also make homemade hoisin. While recipes vary, Liu Spellman suggests a combination of common hoisin ingredients such as soy sauce, sugar, peanut butter or sesame paste, rice vinegar, molasses, honey, hot sauce and black pepper.
Where to Buy Hoisin Sauce and How to Store It
Hoisin can be purchased at Asian markets and at grocery stores. Liu Spellman shares that there are roughly five popular brands of hoisin, four of which are common in Western supermarkets. Some supermarkets also carry their own private label of hoisin sauce.
After opening a bottle of hoisin, keep it in the refrigerator. “Like many other sauces, if you drop foreign contaminants into a sauce it might mold; if you keep hoisin clean of any contaminants it could last for over a year. Homemade would last too, just keep it clean!” Liu Spellman says.
Hoisin Sauce Recipes
In this set-it-and-forget-it dish, a hoisin-and-honey sauce thickens and concentrates as the drumsticks cook, resulting in irresistibly sticky, sweet-and-savory drumsticks.
Hoisin is commonly used in Cantonese-style cooking and adds a sweet-salty flavor and thick texture to a variety of marinades and sauces. Here, it anchors a Chinese-inspired BBQ sauce that would be especially well-suited to pork ribs.
To make a delectable dipping sauce, combine hoisin sauce, Sriracha, rice vinegar and sugar. The tangy-spicy sauce is the perfect foil for savory meatballs seasoned with ginger, soy sauce and scallions.
Hoisin is often used in stir-fry dishes to add a complementary sweet, savory and tangy kick to other seasonings. It also helps bolster the sauce’s thickness, creating a glossy coating for the chicken and broccoli.
Because of its thick texture, hoisin is a natural accompaniment to marinades and grilling. Here, hoisin brings out the natural sweetness of Japanese eggplant, while grilling it makes it even sweeter and helps the hoisin mixture impart a beautiful lacquer.
Paired with ginger, soy sauce and sambal oelek, hoisin helps bump up the flavor of lean and mild ground chicken burgers. There’s more hoisin and sambal oelek in the finishing sauce, making for a tangy-spicy duo that plays off sesame and lime-marinated mushrooms.