Soy sauce wears many hats. It boosts the flavour of a bowl of steamed rice. It can jazz up soups and stir-fries, or lend its salty, meaty tang to delicate sushi and sashimi. Talk about versatile.
The condiment, universally used throughout Japan and China as freely as salt (and often in place of salt), is also widely enjoyed in Southeast Asia. And we in North America aren’t immune to its charms, either. Such lofty status for this humble brew that’s traditionally made from defatted, steamed soya beans and roasted, crushed wheat that are mashed together, inoculated with a starter culture, allowed to ferment, then mixed with a strong salt solution, a second starter and yeast, and finally fermented again for eight to 12 months.
Soya beans have been grown in China for at least 3,500 years, but soy sauce’s creation is comparatively recent. Indeed, soy sauce was developed sometime during the Zhou Dynasty (1134 to 246 BC) and likely evolved in tandem with fermented fish sauces. Early versions of soy sauce were a solid paste that was known as sho or mes. It eventually developed into two products, liquid shoyu and solid miso. In Japan, both are used equally, while in China, the liquid version definitely rules. The European name “soy” (virtually the same in all languages) originates with 17th century Dutch traders who carried the sauce back to Europe where it became popular despite its high price. Incidentally, the beans are called soya or soy after the sauce, not the other way around.
Typicaliy, soy sauce is available in light and dark varieties. The most extreme of the dark varieties is the thick Indonesian “kecap” made from black soya beans. The Japanese favour the light type—amber-coloured and saltier than the dark varieties—common in the Osaka region. Tamari is a soy sauce made without wheat from whole or detatted soy beans only, and is darker than the typical kind. Possessing a distinctively mellow flavour, tamari is used mostly as a table condiment and dipping sauce, or for basting.
For those who prefer their soy less salty (or if you’re on a low-salt diet), manufacturers have created low-sodium versions—a satisfactory compromise that allows you to have your soy and eat it, too. Like salt, use soy in moderation. Your doctor will thank you. Two juices (orange and lemon) and fresh pineapple and papaya lend a fruity, South Pacific tang to this simple-to-make baked chicken. Serve over steamed rice and you’ve got a meal fit for a South Seas king!
Polynesian Baked Chicken and Rice
2 frying chickens, cut up (or chicken parts) 1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lb butter
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 fresh pineapple, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1 fresh papaya, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Place chicken parts, flour and sait into a sealabie plastic bag. Shake bag, making sure to coat each piece of chicken with the flour and salt mixture. Rub 2 tbsp of butter into a large baking dish. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt remaining butter. Place chicken in a baking dish and brush melted butter over each piece. Place the baking dish into oven and bake for 50 minutes or until chicken is browned and juices run clear.
3. Meanwhile, combine the orange and lemon juices, sugar, cornstarch and soy sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When liquid is clear and thickened, remove from heat and add fruit.
4. Pour mixture over cooked chicken, coating each piece, and bake 10 minutes more. Garnish with chopped parsley or finely chopped green pepper and sesame seeds, if desired. Serve over steamed rice.