Have you ever been trying out a new recipe, only to look down the ingredient list and find "oyster sauce" listed, knowing that it absolutely is not in your pantry? No worries, friend -- the sweet and salty brown sauce, which, yes, is actually made from caramelized oyster juices, can actually be substituted with other ingredients you may be more likely to already have in the cupboard.
Oyster sauce is a mix of the aforementioned oyster juices made from cooking oysters in water for a long period of time, as well as salt, sugar, and occasionally soy sauce thickened with cornstarch, according to Bon Appetit. It's sometimes called for in recipes for stir-fry, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cantonese, or other Asian dishes. And as off-putting as the name of the condiment may be, it's actually really delicious when added as a stir-fry sauce and while it is briny, it isn't as fishy tasting as it sounds.
So, if you don't have oyster sauce on hand and need it for some umami flavor goodness, here are our suggestions for the best substitutes for oyster sauce.
1. Fish Sauce
Stonesoup suggests fish sauce as a good substitute for oyster sauce. It's sometimes used along with oyster sauce for a stir-fry, but in a pinch, it can be used instead as needed for whatever Asian cuisine you're putting together.
2. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is "equal parts sweet and salty," according to PureWow, and while it's not an exact match, it's better than nothing. Best to try it out and see if you need to add more or throw in another ingredient to balance out the taste.
3. Soy Sauce
Several sources list soy sauce as an acceptable oyster sauce substitute. It's not as sweet or syrupy, but it's pretty typical in a stir-fry recipe anyway, so it will work if necessary. Stonesoup suggests putting in less of this than you would oyster sauce when putting together a dish, and you can try adding brown sugar to sweeten the sauce.
4. Sweet Soy Sauce
This is an Indonesian version of classic soy sauce and can work as an alternative if a recipe calls for oyster sauce and you don't have it.
5. Homemade Oyster Sauce
When in doubt, try to make the sauce on your own! Taste Essence has a recipe for a homemade oyster sauce that involves draining oysters, setting aside the liquid, mincing the oysters, and then adding one tablespoon of water with the liquid before boiling the mixture.
The same site also has an example of a vegan oyster sauce substitute, involving mushroom broth from a bouillon cube, brown bean sauce, sugar, and cornstarch.
If you'd rather just go with the real deal, you should be able to find oyster sauce at most grocery stores. It's also available from online retailers like Amazon.