130 years ago, in 1888, there was a young man called Lee Kum Sheung who lived in Nanshui, Zhuhai, a small town not far from Shanghai. He had a take-out shop which served oyster soup. One day he must have been distracted, as he left his big pot of oysters (which were being cooked to make the clear broth) for far too long, the ‘soup’ overcooked and became a viscous thick, brown liquid.
Not wanting to waste the oysters he had bought, he decided not to throw the thick liquid out, but to sell it as ‘oyster gravy’. To his surprise it was very popular. So he made some more, refined it by adding some sugar, salt and cornflour and poured it into bottles – calling it ‘Oyster Sauce’. He then started his own small company – Lee Kum Kee – to make it commercially, and the rest is history.
The sauce rapidly became an essential component of Cantonese cuisine and was widely used for cooking in Vietnam and Thailand.
The company went from strength to strength, producing not only the original Oyster Sauce, but many other sauces such as Hoisin, Chili & Garlic, Chili Oil, various Soy Sauces, Fish Sauce etc., etc.
Mr Lee moved his HQ from rural Guandong Province to Macao and eventually to Hong Kong, but the company’s biggest factories remain in China.
After he died, LKK continued to grow and expand under the management of his sons and daughters, and now it is run by his grandchildren.
Just as in Mr Lee’s day, the oysters are sourced from inner bays along the South China coast where freshwater and sea waters converge. They are gathered and then sent immediately to the factory where they are cleaned and cooked whilst still very fresh. After 10 hours of boiling to get the thick oyster ‘extract’ during an intensive production cycle the other ingredients are added, and everything is monitored to ensure the sauce meets International food hygiene standards.
The LKK products are sold in 100 countries around the world – as well as being the big brand leader in China.
If I am asked by western friends what to buy in a Chinese supermarket when they want to make Asian food (where the choice can seem overwhelming), I always tell them to look for the Lee Kum Kee sauces – they are high-quality, and usually available.
I have bottles and jars of LKK sauces in both my kitchens – Beijing and Scotland – and use them in many dishes both western and Chinese.
Below is a recipe for a simple vegetable dish I often make as a side dish to meat or fish, if you have laid out your ingredients in advance it takes only moments to make, so be sure all the other components of the meal are ready.
Stir-fried Broccoli with Oyster Sauce:
(for 4 people)
A large head of broccoli, cut into florets (or equivalent amount of tender-stem broccoli)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons water
3 Tablespoons LKK Oyster Sauce
Dash of LKK light soy sauce,
Dash of LKK toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Heat your wok or a deep frying pan until hot, then add the oil and swirl it around. Tip in the broccoli and stir for a minute or two then add the water (it will sizzle and hiss), keep stirring – once the water has evaporated the broccoli will be cooked but still crunchy – then add the oyster sauce, keep stirring. Add a dash of soy sauce and of sesame oil, stir, sprinkle on the sesame seeds, stir some more, then tip onto a heated serving dish and take to the table.
(BTW you can substitute Bok choi/Pak choi for broccoli if you prefer.)
Some may have noticed that I have not written a Blog post for quite a while, but a few nights ago a during a long conversation with my old friend Pauline A, Oyster Sauce was mentioned and it made me get my act together – so I am back in the blogging business! Thanks Pauline! this post is dedicated to you XX