Can you remember the first time that you ate something that made you sit up and take notice? The very first time that you said to yourself “Hell, there is more to this eating business than just staying alive”. I genuinely believe this is the great divide between those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. My personal epiphany came at yum cha – aged 11.
I was a guest of my school friend’s father at a lunch in Chinatown. The details are sketchy to me now; however I remember being overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and new tastes that came thick and fast that day. Most likely I would have kept to safe fare such as dumplings and BBQ meats, yet the one taste that has stuck with me over all these years is the sauce they served with the char siu, otherwise known as BBQ pork.
It was a revelation – punchy, spicy and savoury, yet at the same time perfectly balanced. Mysterious and foreign, but comfortingly familiar all at once. I was hooked straight away and I didn’t know why. I was too young to ask questions about what it was, I just knew that I liked it, and I wanted to eat it again.
7 years passed, when a delicious young lady and I went to the famous BBQ King Restaurant for a dinner date. For most of the night she had my unbroken and doe-eyed attention, but when the BBQ pork was brought our table and the waiter asked “Would you like some ginger sauce?” Things rapidly changed. I said yes, not understanding that the ginger sauce was “the” sauce. Once I tasted it, all those years came flooding back – I was elated and determined - “How do you make this sauce?” I asked of the waiter. He gave me a polite shrug, a laugh, and the general disdain that pesky gweilos receive when they are too inquisitive. I could see that I was getting nowhere, but my interest was piqued. I had to find the recipe for this sauce.
I thumbed through Chinese cookbooks for years afterwards, made the recipes, and time and again came to the same conclusion – disappointment. The only option left to me was reverse engineering, or figuring out the recipe through taste alone. I'm not saying I have got it perfect, but the recipe below is as close as I have ever got to that original awe I enjoyed all those years ago.
Ok, so enough about the sauce – what do you serve it with? Well, traditionally it is served with Cantonese fish dishes, but I have never taken it thus. The best time I have had with this amazing sauce is with char siu (Cantonese BBQ pork), suckling pig, or roast duck. This however, is only the start.
At home, it is sensational with all sorts of poached poultry dishes like this and this. And if you want to move away from Chinese dishes, a nice slab of grilled thick fish, like tuna or swordfish, or grilled chicken, would be just sensational with this sauce. Make it a day ahead if you want, because it just gets better with a little time.
Green onions are usually bought in a whole bunch, but you won’t need that much for this recipe, just 6 stalks, so keep the rest for another dish. Cut the roots off the onions and discard, trim away any loose of floppy tips. Slice the onions quite thinly (about the width of a house key) and place into a mixing bowl.
Grate the ginger on the finest holes of your grater and add to the green onions. Add the salt and vegetable oil, and using the back of a fork, lightly crush the onions, mixing well.
Place the sauce aside for at least half an hour, of if you want to keep it (for up to 3 days), cover and place in the refrigerator. Before serving, Bring to room temperature, crush again with a fork and stir well.