Oysters and the Chinese Saucerer

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.   founder-of-lee-kum-kee---mr                                                  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 alee-kum-kee-premium-oyster-sauce-510g 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.images-3

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.

IMG_2325I 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





About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
This entry was posted in Food & Drink, Recipes, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Oysters and the Chinese Saucerer

  1. Eha says:

    Have used ‘forever’! Never knew the history for which ‘thank you’ . . . . and how did you know what I was going to ‘do’ with that broccoli in the crisper at lunch: pretty much ‘your way’ . . . .

  2. Christine Novak says:

    Thank you Pauline, from those of us who so enjoy Jo’s bolg.

  3. Helen says:

    very interesting and thank you for the recipe. It has been on my mind to do a Chinese style stir fry and I have all the ingredients including LKK oyster sauce and LKK sesame oil in my kitchen! Just need to get the broccoli.

    • herschelian says:

      Helen it is easy-peasy lemon squeezy. You can cut the amount of Oyster sauce if you want. So good with simply grilled meat or fish, or as part of a ‘Chinese’ meal.

  4. Haha yeah those sauces are just classic. I still remember when I encountered them first time in my life at my best friends home in Germany (they are Chinese so natural the kitchen was something else in the eyes of a small German boy).

    • herschelian says:

      You are right, they are absolutely classic. The sauce I use most is LKK’s ‘Chili and Garlic’ sauce, it is a wonderful sauce that can spike up a pasta sauce, a casserole dish or be used in a stir fry. I love it to bits!! BTW – ages since I saw a blog post from you!

      • Yeah I haven’t been that active in the past half year, only had like 2 maximim 3 posts a month.
        I believe those sauces are something which are pretty much a stable ingredient around the world by now 🙂

  5. Delia Charton says:

    I always wondered what oyster sauce was made from and why it was called that! And the last thing I thought it was made from was definitely NOT oysters! Just goes to show!

    LL Dxxx

    Delia Charton “Poplar Grove” 6, The Valley Close Constantia 7806 W. Cape South Africa 082 415 3363

    271, Main Road Eastcliffe Hermanus 7200


  6. herschelian says:

    Duh! what did you think would be in it – giraffe meat?? Seriously though, it doesn’t really taste of oysters. Can I cook a Chinese meal for you all when in CT in Feb? would love to do it!!

  7. camparigirl says:

    Always wondered, whenever I bought it, what the origins were. Thank you for the answer

  8. Alistair Michie says:


    Great blog!

    We should talk more and enabled you to add a final twist to the story……

    The LKK group also purchased London’s landmark Walkie-Talkie skyscraper in July 2017 for £1.3bn, which was a record-breaking transaction for a single building in the UK….

    Turning sauce into glass and concrete?



    Date: Sunday, 14 January 2018 at 20:36
    To: Alistair Michie
    Subject: [New post] Oysters and the Chinese Saucerer

    herschelian posted: “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”

  9. Behind the Story says:

    I’ve always sort of wondered about oyster sauce. Oysters seem such an unlikely thing to make a sauce out of. Thanks for explaining the origin of it.

    I love the title of your post.

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