Shacha sauce

How to make Chinese hot pot dipping sauce with a shacha base

Shacha sauce (or sacha sauce, or sa cha) is a condiment made from dried shrimp, soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chilis, and brill (but you can also get a vegetarian version made from...dirt?). According to legend, the name shacha is a transliteration of "satay," which refers to the spicy peanut sauce that we all love on our chicken skewers, but the two sauces are not related except that they make everything taste better. 

shachaSacha sauce is a staple in Chinese kitchens

The first character,  沙 [sha], means "granule" or "sand" which makes sense to me since that is a pretty good description of the texture: it's a sticky, oily sand, maybe something like asphalt. (The second character, 茶 (cha), means "tea," but like I said, it's a transliteration, not a perfect translation.)

shacha sauceShacha sauce is grainy and oily and smells fishy, but the salty flavor is addicting

If the list of ingredients and the description of the texture hasn't turned you off, then you, my friend, are about to enjoy a flavor explosion that cannot be replicated elsewhere (unless you know how to make vegetarian sacha sauce). It's salty, a little fishy, and packed with umami. The spicy version also has a nice heat to it. 

When we talk about sacha sauce in Taiwan, we just call it "barbecue sauce," with the understanding that it is nothing like the sweet and tangy ketchup-based barbecue sauces we know from back home. However, it's often sold with a brush and slathered over thin pieces of meat as they are grilled for barbecue. It's more of a wet rub than a marinade, though.

Shacha is also used as the base for a Chinese hot pot dipping sauce, where it's mixed with any combination of sesame oil, soy sauce, black vinegar, chopped coriander, chopped green onion, sugar, crushed peanuts or peanut powder, hot peppers, and raw eggs. Scroll down for my version!

You can also use some sacha to flavor the broth, but to be honest, I prefer to use a mildly flavored broth that takes on flavor from the ingredients as they're cooked. If you start off with a strongly flavored broth and then cook a lot of meat, vegetables, and processed ingredients in it, you're going to end up with a pretty overpowering soup at the end. I like to be able to sip the clear broth at the end of the meal, so I don't like it to be too salty or oily.

Eating shacha sauce

Shacha sauce is now a staple in our kitchen and we use it often to make hot pot dipping sauces or as a dipping sauce for grilled meats. 

How I usually make hot pot dipping sauce:

Ingredients:

  • A lot of shacha sauce (like 1/4 cup)
  • A generous splash of soy sauce
  • A generous splash of Chinkiang black vinegar (white vinegar or rice vinegar is okay, too)
  • A little bit of sesame oil (be stingy)
  • Some cilantro, chopped fine
  • Some garlic, chopped fine
  • Some spring onions, chopped fine
  • Some hot peppers, chopped fine
  • Optional: some sugar to taste
  • Optional: some crushed peanuts
make shacha suaceShacha sauce and black vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce...these are a few of my favorite things

Directions: 

Put all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix with your chopsticks. As you remove cooked items from the hot pot, dip them in the sauce before eating. 

hot pot dipping sauceThis picture of hot pot dipping sauce always makes my mouth water.

Serving:

When we have hot pot for dinner, we put all the condiments and hot pot dipping sauce ingredients on the counter and let everyone make their own. That's also how it's typically done in restaurants here. 

If you're interested in trying more recipes with sacha sauce, you can't go wrong with this shacha chicken stir-fry from Ann at Pig-Pig's Corner. She's also got a recipe for shacha beef which looks very tempting! 


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