« Instant coffee (Recipe: espresso sorbet) | Main | Unsalted butter (Recipe: cardamom shortbread) »

Hoisin sauce (Recipe: grilled tofu with soba noodles) {vegetarian}


Authentic Asian cooking requires a pantry-load of smelly ingredients.

Fish sauce (also called nuoc mam or nam pla).

Fermented black beans.

Shrimp paste (also known as belacan or blachan, which always makes me think of blecchhh, the sound you make when you're trying to expel a bug that flew into your mouth, which seems totally appropriate when describing the taste of shrimp paste).

Smelly, one and all, but absolutely necessary to achieve the real taste of real Asian food.

And then there's hoisin sauce.

Blissfully not smelly. Not at all.

Sweet, thick and gloppy, just salty enough and completely addictive, hoisin (pronounced HOY sin) is made from sweet potato, fermented soybeans, sesame seeds, garlic, chile pepper, wheat flour, salt and sugar (and in most cases, sugar is actually the first ingredient listed).

Known as Chinese barbecue sauce or Peking Duck sauce, hoisin is both a dipping sauce on its own, and an ingredient in dishes like pork and broccoli stir fry, barbecued chicken, snow peas and red pepper, salad with hoisin vinaigrette, Asian-style ribs and Chino-Latino wings.

Look for hoisin in the Asian foods section of your regular grocery store; mine sells the Lee Kum Kee brand in handy-dandy squeeze bottles for less than $2.00 -- easy to use, and lasts forever in the fridge.

If you can't find hoisin in your market, here are two suggested substitutes that you can whiz up in your blender. I haven't tried either one, because I'm never without a bottle of the real thing, so let me know how these work for you:

  • 3/4 cup pitted prunes + 2 cups of water + 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, then add 1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce + 1-1/2 tablespoons dry sherry.
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce + 1/4 cup plum sauce + 1 teaspoon flour + a pinch of five-spice powder + a pinch of garlic powder + sugar or honey or agave nectar, to taste. Of course, if you can find plum sauce, you can probably find real hoisin, too.

With the official start of barbecue season just a few days away, why not make a big batch of hoisin barbecue sauce tonight?

It's delicious. And it smells great.

Grilled tofu with soba noodles

Inspired by several recipes in Nina Simonds' Asian Wraps, this dish can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold. It's perfect for picnics. Serves 6.


2 lbs extra firm tofu

For the marinade:
3/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup rice wine or sake
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1-1/2 Tbsp finely minced garlic

Five 10-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water to cover for an hour, or other skewers

For the vegetables:
1 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp chili paste with garlic
1 small onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into chunks
1/2 lb fresh snow peas, ends snapped and strings removed
1-1/2 Tbsp rice wine or sake

For the sauce, mix together:
3-1/2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil

1 lb soba, cooked according to package directions and drained


Cut tofu into 1-inch slices and place in a bowl. Add 2/3 of marinade to the tofu, tossing gently to coat. Let sit for an hour at room temperature. Thread tofu onto skewers, reserving remaining marinade in a bowl for basting.

Prepare a medium-hot fire for grilling, or preheat broiler. You might want to brush your grill with some canola or peanut oil, or spray with canola spray (do this before you heat the grill.) Place skewered tofu about 3 inches from heat source and cook 8-9 minutes on each side, turning once, basting occasionally with the marinade. Remove tofu from skewers, cut into 1-inch cubes, and set aside.

Heat wok over high heat. Add oil. Add minced garlic, chili paste, onion and bell peppers, and toss lightly for 1 minute. Add snow peas and rice wine; continue cooking, tossing lightly, until snow peas are tender, 2-3 minutes. Add sauce, and toss to coat.

Place cooked soba in a serving bowl. Spoon vegetables on top. Arrange tofu cubes on top and pour the reserved barbecue marinade over everything.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Asparagus wonton wraps
Moo shu chicken
Salmon and Asian pesto potstickers
Spicy peanut sauce
Vegetable dumplings

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I don't keep hoisin sauce in my pantry but I do have one of the smelly ones - shrimp paste!

I love the taste of hoisin sauce. I like the alternatives though and may try one. I haven't made my hoisin chicken in some time now. Yum!

You really make me consider start cooking Asian food, Lydia!

I have tried so many different hoison sauces, and have yet to fall head over heels. I'm trying this brand next, since I trust your judgment.
That is so exciting that you're going to be on the radio! I won't be able to listen today, but will there be a way to access it online later?

The Whole Foods house brand of hoisin sauce comes in a bottle. It is a pourable liquid instead of the more viscous hoisin that comes in a jar. It works well in barbecue sauce or marinade recipes I've tried, and has a nice flavor too. FWIW.

I haven't had anything with hoisin sauce that I didn't love- had no idea it came in a squeeze bottle, now that is a good invention!

Hi Lydia, just wanted to say how great you sounded on Mario's show today. I wasn't able to call in but I did want to let you know how much I enjoy your website. I am a fairly new reader and love your Saturday feature of "peaking in other peoples pantry".

My favorite sauce, Lydia! It's my go-to sauce whenever I want to make something Asian but can't think of what to do. Everything always tastes great with a glob of this on it!

Oh the joy of hoisin sauce! I tried my first hoisin sauce in a recipe just two years ago and I've been hooked ever since! Great stuff. Don't think I've seen your brand but will look now

love hoisin sauce! And it is indeed great on tofu.

Mmmmm...I love hoisin sauce, too! May have to re-do the plans for dinner this week to fit some in. :)

Oh I didn't know that Hoisin is actually Peking Duck sauce, I absolutely love this one! Congrats on your radio appearance! :)

Tigerfish, I do think shrimp paste is the smelliest -- but it's so necessary to get the real flavor in your cooking. I keep a very tightly sealed jar in the fridge!

Gretchen Noelle, hoisin chicken sounds delicious. If you've posted your recipe, please share the link.

Patricia, I promise to keep trying to convince you, because I am so in love with Asian food.

Susan, hoisin is like many Asian condiments; each brand tastes different, so you have to keep trying until you find the one that tastes most like the food you like in restaurants. I don't know if the radio segment will be available online; if it is, I'll let you know. It was great fun!

Mae, I've never tasted the Whole Foods brand, and I'm curious about how it compares to the brands I find in my Asian grocery store. To me, sometimes, the Whole Foods brands taste a bit off, but that's probably because I'm so accustomed to Lee Kum Kee and other Chinese condiments.

Callipygia, the first time I saw the squeeze bottle in the market I was so excited. I think I'm getting more mileage out of my hoisin now, because it's easy to squirt just a little bit into all kinds of sauces.

Helen, thanks a million -- I'm so glad to know you were listening!

Toni, hoisin is one of my favorites, too. Maybe because it's sweet instead of funky?

MyKitchen, we've probably been eating hoisin for years but didn't know what it was -- but it's the sauce that comes with moo shu in Chinese restaurants, too. I'm totally hooked on it, too.

Veron, what about a hoisin macaron???

Bridget, here are a couple of ideas to get you started -- use hoisin on grilled vegetables, or mix with some soy as a marinade for chicken.

Noobcook, thanks -- the radio show was great fun. And yes, hoisin (usually just as it is) is the sauce used on Peking Duck, and moo shu, and sometimes as a dipping sauce for fried wontons.

This is in response to your comment to Susan. I wrote you a comment right after the end of the radio show today. What I neglected to mention was that I had listened to it online. It was so cool to listen to you and Mario talk about your "23 must haves" if you were stranded on a desert island. As I listened, I brought up your post listing your "must haves" and it made me feel more a part of the conversation. It was interesting to hear why each item was selected. It is obvious that you have given this much thought. Since your topic today is about hoisin sauce, I should mention that I have hoisin sauce in my pantry. I purchased it to make a specific recipe and then never made it. I will have to try it soon.

Oh man, am I with you on the hoisin sauce. When I first got into Asian cooking I had to be restrained from tossing it into every dish. This recipe sounds great, I may try it out this weekend.

I hope I´m never, ever, without a bottle in my fridge. In fact, I´ve left one in my mother´s fridge, just to make sure all bases are covered.
Is Nina Simond´s Asian Wraps as good as Asian noodles? Because that one is incredibly amazing.

Squeals of joy!!!! I love hoisin sauce. I first had it on mandarin pancakes when I was eating my first mu shu pork. Then I had Peking duck. But, now I know that it can be used in so many ways.

The WORC household would not be complete with out Hoisin! Love it!
I'm really interested in your two suggested methods of making them from scratch. We'll definitely try these for sure!
We're trying to listen to your radio episode, but can't find the link. Where is it?!?

I want to listen to the radio episode as well. So exciting, my dear friend.

Never heard of hoisin sauce before. But I love Asian food. Especially when it is made by someone else ;)

I'm so jealous of these people who got to hear you on the radio!

Grilling tofu is on my to-do list, now that I've finally cooked it. Love the tips for making hoisin from scratch, which I'll definitely try because sometimes it has more sugar than I want in the real thing.

That's so cool about the radio! I will have to look it up and have a listen.

Now I have all sorts of Asian-flavored BBQ in my head and am craving hoisin sauce. Also, congrats on the mention on the radio! That's really awesome! :-)

Helen, I'm so glad you were able to follow along on the radio and the actual post -- I was doing the same thing! I did give a lot of thought to what would be in my "desert island" box -- and I also think that on any given day, I might change an item here and there. Now, time to get that hoisin out of the pantry and cook with it! If you do a search with the search box on this site, you'll find a few ideas for how to use hoisin. Thanks again for listening to the show.

Darrylq, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Hoisin is a little bit addictive, isn't it? Salty and sweet -- an irresistible combination.

Lobster, I use both of the Nina Simonds books all the time. Asian Wraps is as good as Asian Noodles, but the two together are almost all you need for great Chinese cooking. I'm a huge fan of her writing.

Sher, this is really one of the only Asian condiments that you just want to eat with a spoon!

White on Rice, stay tuned. I think Kalyn (see her comment) will try the homemade versions, too. We'll report back to you! And the radio show -- I don't know if you can listen to an archived version, but it will rerun this coming Sunday at 5 AM eastern time. Of course that's 2 AM for you....

Warda, I think you'd like hoisin sauce. It's the kind of thing that works well in lots of dishes, anything that needs a bit of salt and sweet. I haven't tried it in my tagine dishes yet, but I will, if only to convince you that it will work!

Kalyn, thank you so much. Grilled tofu is great -- just be sure to get firm or extra firm, or it will fall apart on the grill.

Aimee, if I figure out how to find the radio clip online, I'll post it. It really was a fun show.

Mike, now that I've made my radio debut, I'm going to settle in for the holiday weekend and make some barbecue sauce, too. Hoisin adds such rich flavor; I think you'll love it.

Ok, I tried making the dish, and my question is how in the heck do you grill tofu without it sticking to the grill? Mine stuck to the grill, and then when I tried to turn them, they fell apart.

The dish was pretty yummy even so...

Elizabeth, I'm so sorry -- should have added in the recipe that you might need to season the grill with oil or canola spray (not on a hot grill!) depending on what kind of grill you use and how well seasoned it is. A really well seasoned grill that's very hot is the way to go here. But a bit of oil would help. I'm going to add this in the recipe. Thanks.

Congratulations on your mention on the radio show! I've been watching a lot of Kylie Kwong and have decided to try and sweep away my makeshift Chinese cookery habits (as in *everything* in a wok and dump a load of sauces in) and try and learn more about the cuisines. Bought one of her books and two days later a publisher sent me a FABULOUS cookery book (which will be reviewed in July).


Jasmine, I haven't yet tried Kylie Kwong's new book, so I'm looking forward to your review.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.