Here's what you can substitute for oyster sauce

Oyster sauce is a condiment that adds its own unique spin to stir-frys and other Asian dishes. A little sweet, a little spicy, and really not too fishy despite the fact that yes, it is made from actual oysters. With the rise in popularity of Asian ingredients, as home cooks increasingly turn to internationally-inspired cuisine, oyster sauce shouldn't be too hard to find in most well-stocked grocery stores, and of course, it's readily available at Asian markets.

What if you are stuck in a food desert, however? Or it's the middle of winter and you just don't feel like making a grocery run for one ingredient? Depending on what you've got on hand in your pantry, there are various options you can try for an oyster sauce substitute.

The best oyster sauce substitutes

Stone Soup recipe blog suggests several different options for replacing oyster sauce in a recipe: soy sauce, the Indonesian condiment kecap manis (a sort of thicker, sweeter soy sauce), hoisin sauce, and fish sauce. Taste Essence also endorses a soy sauce substitute but recommends adding 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of Worcestershire to the soy sauce to more closely replicate the flavor of oyster sauce. Bon Appétit, however, declared that they've come up with the best oyster sauce substitute: a 50/50 mixture of soy sauce and hoisin. This creates "a sweet, salty, umami-forward sauce, with just a bit of funk," and one which should be close enough to oyster sauce to pass muster for all your Asian cooking needs.

Homemade vegan 'oyster' sauce

Maybe the reason you're avoiding oyster sauce is that you don't do animal products. There are commercially available vegetarian versions of "oyster" sauce and both soy and hoisin sauces are vegetarian, as well.

If you really want a go-to vegan version of oyster sauce, though, Taste Essence has a recipe which calls for mushroom broth (made from a bouillon cube), brown bean sauce, sugar, and cornstarch. When prepared properly, the sauce should be sufficiently thick, sweet, salty, and umami-rich to stand in for oyster sauce while keeping things meat-free.

Making your own oyster sauce

If you're a dedicated DIYer, and/or you find yourself in the enviable position of being inundated with fresh oysters, you can actually concoct a homemade oyster sauce. Taste Essence also says that all you will need is oysters (1/2 pound) and their liquid, along with a little salt and both light and dark varieties of soy sauce. Sure, making your own oyster sauce is going to be far more labor-intensive than making a run to the grocery store, but think of the satisfaction! Once you've reached the level of creating your own condiments, you'll know you've got some next-level cooking skills.