According to Wikipedia, Chinese black bean sauce is "made by fermenting and salting soy beans. The process turns the beans black, soft, and mostly dry. The flavor is sharp, pungent, and spicy in smell, with a taste that is salty and somewhat bitter and sweet."
I have to admit, I cook the least with black bean sauce. I use it in addition to other sauces, and usually when I'm marinating meats. It's the saltiest of the three sauces, with hoisin sauce tasting a tad sweet. My favorite of the three to cook with is oyster sauce.
Also, notice I prefer Lee Kum Kee brand. There's a reason for that.
According to Wikipedia, "Oyster sauce is prepared from oysters, brine, and umami flavor enhancers such as MSG, and typically contains preservatives to increase its shelf life. The sauce was invented in 1888 by Mr. Lee Kam Sheung, in Nam Shui Village in Guangdong province, China. His company, Lee Kum Kee, continues to produce oyster sauce, to this day, along with a wide variety of Asian condiments."
In case you're concerned about eating locally or of the quality of imported goods from China, Lee Kum Kee sauces are made in the USA, in the city of Industry. They even have a distribution center on Date Avenue in Alhambra if you want to eat even more locally.
I cook with oyster sauce the most, using it in fried rice, as a marinade, for stir-fries, or to make sauces. If you've never had oyster sauce, I'd say the taste is of very concentrated oysters. Think of how concentrated smoked oysters taste, but in a sauce form. For vegetarians, there's a mushroom sauce equivalent that may be used instead. Lee Kum Kee is widely available, but if you can't find it, make sure there's actually oyster extract on the ingredients list. I've sometimes used Thai oyster sauces with good results too but don't have any specific brand recommendations for that.
As for hoisin sauce, I usually only use it as a side accompaniment when I make Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup). And in fact, in Vietnamese, it says tuong an pho (sauce for eating pho). I prefer fish sauce for dipping Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Salad Rolls), although hoisin dipping sauces are popular too.
For Chinese cooking, I've used it in marinades and for stir-fries, but that's usually in addition to oyster sauce. Hoisin sauce is commonly used for Peking duck, barbecue (it's one of the ingredients in my recipe for Char Siu (Chinese Barbecued Pork), and moo shu pork. The sauce is sweet potato-based with sugar, water, soybeans, salt, sesame seeds, garlic, wheat flour, chili pepper, and spices.
All these sauces should be stored in the refrigerator after opening.
And because of Mochachocolata-Rita, I've now added to my pantry Indonesian kecap manis (Some say this is where the word ketchup comes from.). There were actually three kinds at the San Gabriel Superstore. I ended up buying the red label. After I got home and double-checked her blog, it was the exact same bottle as on her masthead. Subliminal messaging!
According to Wikipedia, Kecap manis is an Indonesian "Sweet soy sauce, which has a thick, almost syrupy consistency and a pronounced sweet, treacle-like flavor due to generous addition of palm sugar. It is a unique variety; in a pinch, it may be replaced by molasses with a little vegetable stock stirred in."
It actually does have a molasses-like consistency and flavor. If you've been intimidated by caramelizing sugar for kho (Vietnamese braised dishes), then you can use a little kecap manis for color and sweetness.
Unlike the other sauces, kecap manis may be stored at room temperature.
I've only recently started to cook with kecap manis so I'll post those recipes later. While the four sauces are slightly different from one another, their similarities in regards to the thick black viscousness means that they may be substituted for each other. Of course, you'd need to make adjustments of sugar and salt depending on which sauce you use.
With the exception of oyster sauce, the black bean, hoisin, and kecap manis sauces are appropriate for vegetarians.
Some of my recipes that feature either black bean, oyster, or hoisin sauces:
Beef and Broccoli Stir-fry
Bo Bia (Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Chinese Sausage, Dried Shrimp, and Jicama)
Char Siu / Xa Xiu (Chinese Barbecued Pork)
Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage, Mixed Frozen Vegetables, and Eggs
Ma Po Tofu (Pockmarked Old Lady's Tofu)
Nuoc Tuong Cham (Hoisin Dipping Sauce with Chili and Crushed Peanuts)
Pad See-Ew (Thai Rice Noodles with Soy Sauce, Broccoli, Chicken, and Eggs)
Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup)
Steamed Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) with Oyster Sauce
Steamed Oysters with Black Bean and Scallion Sauce
1 year ago today, my first blogging gift, a handmade apron.