Kecap manis is one of those ingredients that you often see in recipes accompanied by a note saying that you can swap it out with balsamic vinegar or hoisin sauce. And while I am all about a logical swap out, especially when it is an unfamiliar ingredient that may not be available at the local grocery, I have to say that I am so glad to know this product, and I think you will be too.
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Distantly related to the origins of our beloved ketchup, this Indonesian bottled sauce is pretty widely available at Asian markets, and online. A thick, sweet soy sauce with the consistency of maple syrup and a flavor that is deeply complex, like balsamic and soy and molasses had a baby, I find myself turning to this flavor bomb over and over again.
Any time a sauce or stew needs a little something extra? A teaspoon or two of kecap manis brings a hat trick of sweet, salt, and umami. I add it to my chili if it feels a bit wan. I add it to stir fries and fried rice. I drizzle it on roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash. I put it into any salad dressing that usually calls for honey. I mix it with white miso paste and melted butter for a glaze that goes on anything from fish to chicken wings.
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But because it is sweet (the name translates to “sweet sauce”), it can also be a funky addition to desserts. I have used it instead of vanilla paste in brownies, instead of molasses in pumpernickel bread, as a back note in coffee ice cream, and an addition to the cinnamon swirl in coffee cake. Mix with mayo for a “special sauce” that is ridiculously good as a dip for fries or a smear on a burger. Drizzle over goat cheese for an appetizer, or instead of balsamic glaze on your next caprese. Seriously, once you start with this stuff, you are going to put it in everything.
Can’t find kecap manis near you? I have a hack that will tide you over until you can source the real deal. Mix equal parts soy sauce and either palm sugar or dark brown sugar and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens to a syrupy texture. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.
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