Kecap Manis – a great quick ingredient

I bought this ingredient years ago from a supermarket because I had no idea what it was and I was curious. As time has gone by I’ve used this Indonesian sweet soy syrup more and more as I’ve found more uses for it. Basically it is a mix of soy sauce, sugar, galangal (a strong variant of ginger) and spices. It’s pretty sweet but not overpowering, less salty than plain soy, but it still has that soy-y umami thing going on. It’s sticky so it makes a great glaze and it gives a nice dark brown color when added to a dish. I first started using it in stir fries when I thought something was maybe a bit to sour, adding kecap manis would balance the sourness without diluting the saltiness and umami. Once I was in a bit of a rush and I didn’t have time to make a glaze for some salmon I was putting under the grill (broiler in the US), so I spooned some on and spread it around and it was really good. I usually will cut it with a bit of vinegar when I use it as a glaze just to balance out the sweetness, it’s thick enough it will still coat and stick.

Lately I’ve found even more uses for this versatile sauce. If I need a teriyaki sauce I don’t bother with the traditional method of heating the soy, sugar, and spices until it all dissolves, I simply pour some kecap manis into a bowl, add some rice wine vinegar and maybe some water, and whisk. You can also cut it with more plain soy depending on what you are marinading. Maybe if I want some extra kick I’ll mix in some chilli powder or powdered ginger (or grated fresh if there meat will be marinading long enough, otherwise there’s not enough time for the flavors to mix). It may not be as good as taking the time to cook a traditional teriyaki sauce but I swear I can’t tell the difference. This is because the ingredients for a teriyaki sauce are extremely close to that of kecap manis, ie soy, sugar, and spices. (I know teriyaki sauce doesn’t traditionally have vinegar in it but I add it to mine when I’m marinading chicken, a bit less for pork, and very little for beef. It just works.)

My best example of how amazingly useful this stuff is was this past weekend when I realized I had no barbecue sauce. I had guests coming in half an hour and a lot of work to do to prepare, so I had no time to cook a traditional bbq sauce. I grabbed a bowl, poured in some kecap manis, an equal amount of tomato ketchup, a teaspoon of mustard powder, then a tablespoon or so of white wine vinegar. 10 seconds of whisking and I had the best bbq sauce I’d ever made myself and it took less than a minute to make.

Where to find it:: I’ve found small bottles of it at the supermarket in the asian section but I go through those fast. Best go to an asian supermarket or grocery store.

How to use it: I wouldn’t add it to everything but it has a multitude of uses. I’ve even added it to gravy once when I needed to balance some acidity from some red wine. I use this as the main ingredient for glazes, some bbq sauces, and it’s useful in marinades. I’ve tried adding it neet to a stir fry but the result wasn’t good as the high heat burnt the sugars and made the end product bitter, also it beaded up and didn’t coat. If you cut it with a bit of regular soy or water that won’t happen.

If you like asian cooking and don’t have it pick some up. Even if you don’t it’s still handy if you like asian marinades and bbq sauces.