When it comes to standalone condiments that can really brighten up a dish, shacha sauce is a must-have pantry staple—a sharp yet earthy sauce made with blended shallots, garlic, dried shrimp, chili, peanuts and soy sauce. It’s an East Asian take on Southeast Asia’s satay sauce, though it's lighter on the peanuts, more grainy than creamy, and has heavy seafood undertones.
The geographic distribution of shacha sauce is quite wide and is used throughout southeastern China, from Fujian province, to Guangdong province, and all the way to across the strait to Taiwan. Growing up in a Taiwanese household, my family mostly used it as a dipping sauce for hot pot, mixed in with a bit of soy sauce, white vinegar, some chili and a raw egg yolk.
Shacha is also commonly used to season thin, papery slices of beef in stir-fries and is mixed in on high heat over a wok, with a heaping of green vegetables for a bit of a crunch. The nutty, seafood tones of shacha pairs especially well with beef, and can also be used to mask the gaminess of lamb.
Different regions have specific blends of shacha, though one of the most internationally recognized brands is Taiwan’s Bullhead brand, packaged in an iconic shiny silver jar with bold red font and popularized on the island in the late 1950s. The sauce is preserved underneath a generous layer of oil; it can be eaten straight out of the jar, or added to a heated wok with a flurry of aromatics and sauce. It’s also great for dressing up a plain noodle soup. While southern Chinese and Taiwanese shacha is radically different from its Southeast Asian predecessor, it fulfills the same function as a conduit of flavor and color.
This recipe is a really simple beef stir-fry with water spinach that showcases the full range of the shacha sauce. If water spinach isn’t readily available, leeks or scallions will work nicely. The final dish pairs well with a bowl of hot white rice.
Cooking time: 10 minutes (excluding marinating time)
1. Marinate the beef in soy sauce and sugar for 2 hours.
2. In a wok over medium heat, add oil. When hot, add the garlic. When garlic becomes fragrant, throw in the marinated beef with the sauce and cook until beef is slightly opaque. Add in the shacha sauce and water spinach. Stir thoroughly, then add a bit of chicken stock and turn the heat up to high. Cook until the spinach wilts.
3. Deglaze with Shaoxing wine, then turn off heat and serve.
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