3 Basic Stir Fry Sauces You Can Master in Under 20 Minutes

Words: Jess Spiro

Stir fries are the ultimate anytime meal and are a great way to use up bits and bobs of leftover veggies in the fridge. Simply because you’re repurposing leftovers doesn’t mean that you can’t throw together a stellar meal. Below are three basic Asian condiments that you’ll find any (well-stocked) pantry; take your next wok creation up a notch with one of these 3 basic stir fry sauces that you can master in under 20 minutes.

Soy Sauce

What was once an exotic ingredient, is now a basic everyday staple in every well-stocked kitchen. Soy sauce is a by-product of fermented soybeans and wheat that have been mixed with brine. Moulds are then added and left to grow for three days after which it’s combined with salt water in vats where another bacteria, that breaks down sugars into lactic acids, is added. The resulting mixture is then left to ferment for a further six months, at least, before being strained, pasteurised and bottled to be sold as the delicious salty condiment we know and love. If you’re au fait with Soy sauce, comfortably adding it to anything, then upgrade to ponzu sauce. Ponzu is essentially a citrus flavoured Soy, with the main punch coming from the elusive Yuzu, a Japanese citrus with flavours similar to a marriage of grapefruit, lemon and orange. If you’re a ponzu fan, it’s surprisingly easy to make your own.

Basic Stir Fry sauce using Soy Sauce:
Ponzu Sauce Recipe

In a saucepan, mix ½ cup (125 ml) of Soy sauce, with a ¼ cup (60 ml) of bonito flakes (dried, fermented and smoked tuna flakes, readily available at any Asian food store), 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of lime juice, 2 tablespoons each of mirin (30 ml) and rice vinegar (30 ml) (also both available at Asian food store), a small piece of kombu (edible and flavour-packed kelp, available from Asian goods store) and a teaspoon (5 ml) of red pepper flakes. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and allow to sit for 30 minutes in the pan. Strain, with a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container and cool completely before storing in the fridge. Ponzu will last for about a week and can be used as a zingy addition to stir fries, simply pour over once everything is cooked.

Fish Sauce

‘Fishiness’ is a dividing matter. Some people love ‘fishy’ things such as anchovies, sardines and, well, fish paste, whereas others are not as enamoured. Both sides are vocal about their love too. When it comes to fishy fish, you either love it or hate it. Fish sauce however, transcends these boundaries and manages to sneak its way into your shopping basket and comfortably finds a spot in your cupboard, if only to be used two drops at a time when the Thai curry craving hits, even in the homes of fishy-haters. Ironically enough, fish sauce, or nam pla, is simply made up of anchovies and salt, which is then fermented. That’s it. But the result is something truly savoury and surprisingly un-fishy. It adds a saltiness to dishes that differs from Soy and is also a good base to use to develop flavours. We especially love making a fish sauce caramel out of it, which can either coat sticky chicken wings or be used a stir fry sauce.

Basic Stir Fry sauce using Fish Sauce:
Fish Sauce Caramel Recipe

In a medium sized saucepan, mix together 2 cups (500 ml) of sugar, ¾ cup (180 ml) of water and the juice of ½ a lemon and heat gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to bring the syrup to a rapid boil and allow to turn a deep, rich caramel. Remove from the heat, add 1 ¼ cup (310 ml) fish sauce (watch out for splatters) and whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool and transfer to a glass jar and store in the fridge.


If you’re serious about your Japanese cuisine then mirin deserves a place in your kitchen. It’s a rice wine, very similar to sake, but with a much lower alcohol content and higher sugar level. That alcohol also evaporates during the cooking process, leaving no trace behind. Due to the high sugar content, it has a slightly sweeter taste, making it a perfect partner for Soy in other sauces. It’s used to finish miso soups, make dips and glaze and most famously, it’s used in a teriyaki sauce.

Basic Stir Fry Sauce using Mirin:
Teriyaki Sauce Recipe

Combine ¼ cup (60 ml) each of soy sauce, mirin, sake and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. In a small bowl, mix together 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of Maizena and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of water to make a slurry. Whisk this into the sauce, reduce the heat and reduce to a thick consistency. Taste and adjust with soy sauce and sugar if necessary.

Inspired? Try these tasty Asian recipes:

Basic Stir Fry Sauces - asian-steak-salad
Basic Stir Fry Sauces - sticky-asian-lamb-riblets-wilted-greens
Basic Stir Fry Sauces - deep-fried-vegetable-wontons-sweet-chilli-dipping-sauce recipe
Basic Stir Fry Sauces - teriyaki-chicken-tempura-avocado-on-cucumber-carrot-noodles

Ready to get cooking? See this article on how to stock your Asian pantry and then get cooking!

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