Tuesday, November 18, 2014

卤水 鹵水 Lǔshuǐ Chinese Master Sauce

One of the most difficult to translate foodstuffs of China is, what in the West is sometimes called: Master Sauce but goes by a myriad of names depending on which cookbook author you are reading. Translated from the Chinese, it is lǔ shuǐ and  sounds like low-schway when spoken in English, yes, only 2 syllables.

Prefatory Remarks. Please take them for what you find as worthy in them.

1 - Good food is work. Period. You cannot stint, shortcut or cheat. 

2 - Master sauce must be returned to a boil every few days. More frequently in summer than winter. Refrigeration will allow a day or two more of avoiding the work of re-heating, but the object of this sauce is to be using it up and replenishing it with more soy, gin (see Notes, below) and spices. The brine becomes more sophisticated with each addition of more flavors. Legend has it that there are pots of lu shui going back in families for generations.

3 - there is an -almost a debate at eGullet about Mastersauce. One poster suggests leaving the fat on top to prevent oxidation, while the sauce is refrigerated, I find this to be contrary to the thousand or so years that the Chinese have used this recipe. The URL to the discussion is: 

Lu Shui Chinese Master Sauce

Mastersauce, as I will call it, is used for parboiling. As a technique, it is a variant of the Chinese Red Cooking. The viand to be cooked is first simmered in water or stock until ¾ cooked. Then it is transferred to a pot of simmering Mastersauce.

Much like Chile con Carne, every family has it's own version of this sauce. Northern Chinese use some ingredients that are not used in Southern China. And vice versa. If you cook more duck than pork, you might like to use more tangerine than licorice. If you cook more fish than meat, you might like more licorice. The variations are nearly infinite.

Here is the recipe I used, based on Yan-Kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook

“12 whole star anise 
1/2 oz. cinnamon 
1 pod black cardamom 
Fruits of Visit to Chinatown
1 tsp cloves 
3 tbs fennel seeds 
4 tbs Sichuan Prickly Ash pericarp (peppercorns)
1/5 oz licorice 
1 oz dried ginger root 
2 ozs fresh ginger, unpeeled, bruised 
5 pints water (100 ozs)  
2 to 3 large pieces tangerine peel 
2 tbs. salt 
16 ozs thick soy sauce (this is sweetened soy sauce AKA Kecap Manis) 
2 ozs. thin soy sauce (also called light soy or superior)
5 ozs. sugar 
6 ozs. Shaoshing Wine 
2 tbs. mei-kuei-lu "wine" or gin (rose wine at 98 proof!) 

This is the basis of lu shui. 

Put the all in a triple layer cheesecloth pouch. Add water to a stock pot, add the pouch, fresh ginger and tangerine peel. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. This will make a ‘tea’. Add the soy sauces, salt, sugar, wine and rose ‘gin’. Simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar. Simmer 30 minutes total cooking time.” The author goes on to say that this sauce must be returned to a simmer every 10 days, between refrigeration. The author, writing and being published in England, give 5 pints of water as 100 ozs. That is English measure, 20 ozs. per fluid pint of liquid. In the U.S., use 3 quarts and 4 ozs.

I got lucky and found a cotton bag for 99 pennies. It is reusable. 
12 x 16 CM

Question: What is the purpose or use for Master Sauce?

Answer: To make delicatessen meats.

Per the instruction to parboil the viand, add the meat to a pot of simmering Master Sauce and finish cooking in it. Allow the food to cool in the sauce. It may then be served cold, or used as an ingredient in another dish, hot or cold.

I cannot give a better recipe than can be found at:

Soy Sauce Poached Chicken 豉油雞 and Master Sauce 鹵水


This is Chinese "gin". It is rose scented. Quite powerful, but not as powerful as Mao Toi. Not as expensive, either. 

Usually written in English as lu shui with no accents, you may also see it as lo shu and lu shu and other variant spellings. Google will bring all or almost all variant spellings in the search results using lu shui.

The recipe given makes enough for 2 batches. One for beef and duck - strong flavored. Another batch for pork, chicken, tofu and eggs. Ideally, the batch of 100 ounces could be divided into 3 parts. One for meats, one for poultry and another for seafood. The cooking instructions are that the sauce in the pot must be surround but not cover the ingredient being simmered. That means a small pot to ingredient size ratio. Unless you are a restaurant, cooking large portions for sale, this will work. I cook a breast or a chunk of beef or pork and the quart size works very well.

ADDENDUM January 6th, 2015. With the help of Deborah Xu, a native of Guangzhou, China, I learn that her Father adds pig's feet to his lu shui. I have done the same with mine. If you like, have your butcher slice the pigs feet in half. This will help extract the osmazome from the feet. Upon cooling the lu shui will take on an entirely viscous state, which melts quickly once re-heated. I have made lu shui eggs with this and recommend it.