Oyster sauce is one of the most important sauces in various Asian cuisines including Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines. It is relatively easy to find and affordable in the West as well. If you find yourself needing to cook with it and don’t have any in your kitchen, try one of these oyster sauce substitutes:
Your best bet: Soy sauce
Like oyster sauce, soy sauce is intended to increase the umami in a dish to make it taste meatier and more savory. It also contains a significant amount of salt, so it will provide that flavor as well. It also provides a similar color since soy sauce is dark brown. Some oyster sauce makers even use soy sauce as a coloring agent for their oyster sauce.
If you are a vegan, soy sauce is one of the best oyster sauce alternatives since it contains no animal products. Soy sauce has the benefit of being widely available all over the world and is relatively inexpensive. Any kind of soy sauce can work in place of oyster sauce, but light soy sauce works better than the darker varieties.
One downside of soy sauce is that it won’t have the same texture as oyster sauce. If you are counting on it to give a sauce body, it probably won’t do that so you may need to add cornstarch or another thickener. Also, soy sauce isn’t as sweet as oyster sauce so it’s a good idea to add a little sugar — about 1/4 teaspoon — to each tablespoon of soy sauce that you use.
A decent second choice: Hoisin sauce
Commonly used to make the glaze for Peking duck as well as in seafood dishes, hoisin sauce is a thick paste. Its consistency is a bit thicker than oyster sauce, but you can thin it out. The flavor profile of hoisin sauce is also a little sweeter but it has strong umami notes that will help it to work in most of the recipes that require hoisin. Hoisin sauce has a dark brown color that is similar to the color of oyster sauce.
In a pinch: Make your own
You can make oyster sauce at home. The upside of this method is that it is likely to be far better than any bottled or canned oyster sauce from a grocery store; however, it will probably be expensive depending on how much fresh oysters cost in your area.
Oyster sauce originally began as overly-reduced oyster soup according to the most widely held origin story — all you need are some oysters and water. Some experts recommend using the water from poaching oysters that you intend to dry. You will need to reduce it by about 90 percent, which can take hours depending on how much you are making; making your own oyster sauce is definitely not a quick solution. Once you reduce it, add a little sugar and salt as well as some soy sauce to darken the color.
Mushrooms are great for making a vegetarian oyster sauce equivalent. To make it, you use rehydrated dried mushrooms instead of the oysters.
You get a lot of the same flavors from fish sauce that you get from oyster sauce. It is similar in that it is made from seafood and is used for providing umami and enhancing savory dishes.