STAR IN­GRE­DI­ENT

Get ready for an umami ex­plo­sion with th­ese mouth-wa­ter­ing new recipes from con­tribut­ing food ed­i­tor Diana Henry

BBC Good Food - - Inside - Pho­to­graphs TOBY SCOTT

Diana Henry cooks with soy sauce

You can get any in­gre­di­ent you want th­ese days. Some­times I surf the pages of souschef.co.uk (prob­a­bly the best sin­gle source of the ex­otic) and won­der what you do with some of the foods they sell. I’m al­ways will­ing to try the new but sweet po­tato starch, pre­served radish, anar­dana pow­der? I’ve never used any of th­ese. Soy sauce, though, has had a place in Bri­tish kitchens for decades. In the 1970s, when I started to get in­ter­ested in what was in my mum’s cup­boards, I could find Fern’s curry paste (rich and dark and smelling of spice and fruit) and soy sauce. The soy sauce was hardly ever used – though I tried to make egg fried rice one night, end­ing up with some­thing like scram­bled eggs with rice flecked through it – but it be­came fa­mil­iar. At 15 I cooked chicken thighs with soy sauce and honey, a sticky mor­eish dish that

I make to this day. Soy is ad­dic­tively salty and beefy – umami in a bot­tle. When mixed with sweet in­gre­di­ents, most of us find the re­sult­ing flavour ir­re­sistible.

Soy might be the ex­otic in­gre­di­ent that broke through be­fore all the oth­ers, but for ages I knew hardly any­thing about it. Made from fer­mented soy beans and wheat, its de­vel­op­ment started in China about 3,000 years ago. Early on it was a paste but it even­tu­ally be­came a sauce of which there are now sev­eral kinds. Here you most of­ten find soy sauces from Ja­pan and China (Ja­panese sauce is more preva­lent – the ubiq­ui­tous Kikko­man brand is Ja­panese) but Asian shops also sell a thicker, sweeter kind from In­done­sia called ke­cap ma­nis (its sweet­ness comes from the ad­di­tion of palm sugar).

In gen­eral, Ja­panese soy sauce is slightly sweeter than Chi­nese soy sauce and has a more rounded flavour; Chi­nese soy sauce has a saltier fin­ish. There are also light and dark ver­sions. When you see ‘soy sauce’ listed in the in­gre­di­ents for a Chi­nese recipe the light ver­sion is as­sumed, the dark ver­sion (which is slightly sweeter be­cause of the ad­di­tion of mo­lasses) will al­ways be spec­i­fied. You’ve prob­a­bly heard of tamari too. That’s a Ja­panese soy sauce made with­out wheat (or with only a small amount of wheat). It’s ever so slightly thicker than reg­u­lar soy sauce.

I used to buy soy sauce in­dis­crim­i­nately un­til I read about the many in­fe­rior prod­ucts. There are plenty of chem­i­cally pro­duced sauces made by pro­cess­ing soy pro­tein and adding flavour­ings, corn syrup and salt. Read the la­bel. The fewer in­gre­di­ents in your soy sauce the bet­ter, and look for the term ‘nat­u­rally brewed’ too. I keep sev­eral types – light, dark, ke­cap ma­nis, tamari – and am much more care­ful about what I buy. Any­one who wants to cook good Chi­nese or south-east Asian food takes soy sauce se­ri­ously. It doesn’t have to be kept just for Asian cook­ing, though. Its salty bee­fi­ness is in­cred­i­bly use­ful for adding to meaty braises and the com­bi­na­tion of soy and but­ter? Try it. Salty, fatty heaven.

Good Food con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor Diana Henry is an award-win­ning food writer. Her lat­est book is How to Eat a Peach (£25, Mitchell Bea­z­ley). @di­ana­hen­ry­food Gen­eral Tso’s chicken, p84

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