Citizens, your saucy Leader – the toothsome TFD! – would like to share with you today a staple of Cantonese and Fujianese cuisine: lo shui, or ‘master sauce’! 🙂
A master stock (Chinese: 鹵水 or 高汤) is a stock which is repeatedly reused to poach or braise meats. It has its origins in Chinese cuisine and is typically used in Cantonese and Fujian cuisines. Foods poached or braised in the master stock are generally referred to as lou mei.
The base of a master stock is made from typical Chinese ingredients, namely water, soy sauce, rock sugar and Shaoxing or rice wine. A variety of other spices and flavourings are usually also added, such as spring onions, shallots, star anise, dried citrus peel, cassia bark, sand ginger, Szechuan pepper, garlic, ginger, and dried mushrooms.
Once the base stock has been prepared, it is then used as a poaching or braising liquid for meat. Chicken is the most common meat that is cooked in a master stock, although squab, duck, quail, and pork are also often used.
The defining characteristic of a master stock from other stocks is that after initial use, it is not discarded or turned into a soup or sauce. Instead, the broth is stored and reused in the future as a stock for more poachings sometimes for up to 100 years!
With each use, the poached meats and other ingredients absorb the stock’s flavor while imparting their own back into the stock. In this way, over time, flavor accumulates in the stock, making it richer and more complex with each poaching, while subsequent poached meats absorb this flavor and likewise become more flavorful.
In theory, a master stock could be sustained indefinitely if due care is taken to ensure it does not spoil. There are claims of master stocks in China that are hundreds of years old, passed down through generations of cooks in this way.
After use, if the master stock will not be immediately reused, it is usually boiled, skimmed, strained and cooled quickly to kill any microorganisms in the stock.
The growth of microbes in the stock can potentially spoil the flavour of the stock or pose a health risk. The stock is then refrigerated or frozen until required. Refrigerated stocks may be kept for up to three days, while frozen stocks may be kept for up to a month. If the stock is to be kept longer it must be boiled before being returned to storage.
Ideally, you should make 3 different batches of this – one to cook meat, one to cook poultry and one to cook seafood. It’s not totally necessary, but prevents off-flavors from contaminating the sauce.
As noted by the master chef Ah Leung on eGullet:
You may use the sauce for flavoring all Cantonese braised dishes (e.g. beef brisket, abalone, pork belly, etc.)… or use it to cook soy sauce chicken. Or use it to cook tea eggs.
For home-cooked soy sauce chicken… I only do split chicken breast with ribs and not a whole chicken. You may cook a small whole chicken with it. (I am not sure if the above portion is enough to cover the chicken, so adjust if needed). Bring the sauce to a high-heat boil. Add the chicken/breasts/thighs. Boil for about 13 minutes or so. Turn off the heat.
Let the chicken/breasts/thighs continue to cook in the sauce for about 15 to 20 more minutes at least. Remove, chop up and serve with some braising liquid.
This pot of “Master Sauce” is like the mother dough of your sourdough bread. Filter out all the spices and residues. Follow the safety precautions noted in the post – they are important!
Next time you make another round of soy sauce chicken: add more ingredients of everything. The soy sauces – probably use about ¼ of the portion suggested above. Spices – about the same. Rock sugar – only 1 cube.
Citizens, my master sauce version is based closely on Ah Leung’s, with a few TFD magic touches such as adding pigs feet and a few other spices. TFD very much prefers this brand of Soy Sauce and this brand of dark soy with mushroom essence. You can get golden rock sugar here.
Once sampled, I have every confidence you will fall in love with this Chinese culinary elixir! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo