Choosing the best stir-fry sauce is largely a matter of personal taste and preference, but most successful varieties have a few key features in common. Oil is an essential component of a good stir-fry sauce, and sesame oil is typically preferred. Most such sauces include a pronounced salty component, often in the form of soy sauce, and many recipes include a sweet component as well, since this accentuates the salty flavor. A variety of other herbs and flavors can be added to tweak a stir-fry sauce for specific dishes. Home-made stir fry sauce is very easy to make, and prepackaged varieties are also widely available.
Any sauce used for cooking stir-fry works best when it contains at least a modest amount of oil. This oil serves to draw moisture from food more quickly and allows food to cook more evenly. Having an appropriate amount of oil in a stir-fry sauce also aids in forming a delicious crispy exterior on foods and in making sure that breading becomes pleasantly crispy when cooked.
Typical Asian stir-fry sauce has a rich salty flavor. This most often comes from soy sauce, which can be added in quantities ranging from a few teaspoons to a ladleful, according to taste. Even a small amount of soy sauce can add a good deal of flavor, without adding too much sodium to the finished sauce. Other salty sauces, such as fish sauce, are used in many recipes and provide additional flavor notes to the finished sauce.
These sauces often include a small amount of sugar or other sweet ingredient. Some types of stir-fry sauce are meant to taste quite sweet. In other cases, the addition of a bit of sugar serves primarily to highlight and accentuate the saltiness, spicy heat, or other flavors in a sauce. Too much sugar can actually throw this type of sauce out of balance.
Most types of stir-fry sauce include other ingredients to enhance the flavor of the finished dish. Garlic, red pepper, ginger, and many other spices can serve in this capacity. Personal preference is a key consideration when making or buying this type of sauce as is the mixture of ingredients that are destined to be stir-fried.
Some recipes call for the addition of cornstarch to a sauce, and many Asian stir-fried dishes make use of a light cornstarch breading in place of flour batter. Cornstarch fries very nicely, and some corn starch will dissolve into the sauce, where it serves as a thickening agent. Commercial sauces often include some cornstarch or other thickening agents to mimic this effect and produce a thicker sauce.