No oyster sauce? No problem! When the recipe calls for oyster sauce but you can’t get it, turn to these substitutes.
Made from the cooked juice of oysters and flavored with salt and sugar, oyster sauce is a sweet, salty, dark brown sauce that adds richness and umaminess to stir frys, steamed vegetables, and other Cantonese dishes.
A Cantonese chef once told me that no stir-fry is complete without oyster sauce. But what do you do if you can’t find any, or if you’re allergic to seafood and need a substitute?
We rouned up the best substitutes for oyster sauce. To see the list—and get our tips on how to make the most of them—read on below.
Fish sauce is a good substitute for oyster sauce for most recipes. Prepared from anchovies or krill that are coated in salt and fermented for two years, fish sauce is a favorite flavoring agent of East and Southeast Asian cooks.
Just bear in mind that fish sauce is saltier, fishier, and more watery compared to oyster sauce—so if you need it as a thickener, you’ll probably need to reach for one of the other options on this list (or use the hack we’re about to share below).
How to make it work: To substitute fish sauce for oyster sauce, use the same amount of fish sauce indicated in the recipe for oyster sauce. To make fish sauce thicker, add cornstarch or arrowroot powder.
Teriyaki, a Japanese sauce used as a chicken marinade or glaze, is traditionally made from soy sauce, sake, sake, ginger, sugar, honey, and garlic. It’s consistent and thick, which makes it a suitable substitute for oyster sauce, including texture-wise.
Note that teriyaki is slightly sweeter than oyster sauce. Depending on the recipe, you may need to taste-test your dish and add a little soy sauce or a pinch of salt to make up for the difference.
How to make it work: Replace oyster sauce with teriyaki in a 1:1 ratio, adding fish sauce, soy sauce, or salt to your dish if necessary to make it more savory.
What cannot be said about soy sauce, the umami Chinese sauce made from fermented soybean paste, roasted grains, and salt?
Soy sauce is a very good substitute for oyster sauce because it’s affordable, easy to find, and has a very similar aroma and flavor profile. Still, soy sauce is on the saltier and more watery side, so you may want to sweeten up and thicken your dish depending on the recipe.
How to make it work: Substitute the same amount of soy sauce for the amount of oyster sauce specified in the recipe. If necessary, you can sweeten the dish with sugar, maple syrup, or honey.
Tamari is the Japanese answer to soy sauce. It’s also made from fermented soybeans, but has a thicker consistency and tastes less salty than its Chinese counterpart.
Tamari is a suitable substitute for oyster sauce due to its mildness and viscosity, especially when it comes to adding consistency to the sauce or cooking liquid. It has a distinct flavor because it’s made from the juice of the pressed miso paste (rather than fermenting and brewing soybeans).
How to make it work: Swap out tamari sauce for oyster sauce in a 1:1 ratio.
If you’re looking for a substitute for oyster sauce whose thickness is on par with the original, hoisin sauce is just what you need.
Hoisin sauce is prepared from fermented soybean paste, red chilies, fennel, and garlic. It’s both a sweet and salty sauce used in traditional Cantonese cuisine as a dip and as a glaze for meat—and a formidable substitute for oyster sauce.
How to make it work: Replace the oyster sauce with hoisin sauce in a 1:1 ratio. Do a quick taste test and adjust the saltiness or sweetness as you see fit.
If you’re looking for a vegan, soy-free substitute for oyster sauce, there’s hardly a better option than mushroom stock. You can even make it yourself at home if you follow Mark Bittman’s mushroom stock recipe at NYT Cooking.
How to make it work: Thicken the mushroom stock with cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Substitute it for oyster sauce at a ratio of 1:1.
Say you’re preparing a stir-fry with beef and you need oyster sauce—but you don’t happen to have any of it in your fridge and it’s too late so your local grocery store is closed. Try using dark and hearty beef broth instead.
Yes, beef bone broth tastes nothing like oyster sauce and it’s definitely not as thick. But if it’s all you have, do you really have any other choice?
Plus, your dish might turn out better than expected. There’s only one way to find out!
How to make it work: Thicken the beef broth with cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Substitute it for oyster sauce at a ratio of 1:1.
Anchovies aren’t necessarily oysters and a mince isn’t necessarily a sauce. Still, if the recipe calls for oyster sauce and anchovies are all you have in the fridge, they’re obviously the best substitute around.
Just make sure to mince the anchovies finely and cook them until they have dissolved in the cooking liquid of your dish, and their aroma and flavor have melded together with those of the rest of the ingredients.
How to make it work: Finely mince 1-2 anchovies for every 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce called for in the recipe. Consider adding a dash of brown sugar to emulate oyster sauce’s dark, caramel-like sweetness.
It’s not just you, you know. We have absolutely no idea how to pronounce the name of this sauce either. But we do know that it makes a decent substitute for oyster sauce, especially if you’re looking for one that doesn’t taste as, err… fishy!
Created in the 1830s by two pharmacists in the city of Worcester in England, Worcestershire sauce is a sauce traditionally prepared from fermented anchovies, onion, and garlic with vinegar, molasses, salt, and sugar.
Although it contains anchovies and has their distinct, savory flavor, what we like about Worcestershire sauce is that it lacks the strong fish flavor of other oyster sauce substitutes on this list (like fish sauce).
How to make it work: Swap Worcestershire sauce for oyster sauce in a 1:1 ratio. Add a little sugar, honey, or maple syrup to your dish to sweeten it up.
Black Bean Paste
Black bean paste, a staple in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine about as common as ketchup is in the West, is a sweet, salty, sour, and spicy paste with a hint of garlic that makes an excellent substitute for oyster sauce.
The main difference between the two—and this is really important for you, the cook, to keep in mind—is that oyster sauce is smooth and silky, while black bean paste is chunky and textured. So only reach for black bean paste if you’re willing to change the mouthfeel of your finished dish.
How to make it work: Substitute 2 parts black bean sauce for 1 part oyster sauce indicated in the recipe. The black bean sauce can be blended for smoothness.
Miso is a traditional Japanese paste that’s made from fermented soybeans. The soybeans are mixed with salt and koji, then the mixture is fermented for several months to a year (even longer in the case of artisanal miso pastes).
The result is a thick, funky, and salty paste that takes any dish it is added to to a whole new level. When you can’t find oyster sauce in the Asian foods section of the supermarket, see if you can find miso paste.
How to make it work: Substitute 2 parts miso paste for 1 part oyster sauce that the recipe calls for. To mimic the sweetness of the oyster sauce, you can add some brown sugar to your dish.