Of all of the sauces to explore for this mini American-Chinese sauce series, hoisin was the most intriguing to me—it's one that I use most often, yet never considered what actually goes into making it.
You probably won't find it in little packets like duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce, but hoisin is a staple in many American Chinese dishes—almost anything labeled "barbecue" is sure to have it, and you'll usually find it alongside moo shu pork and peking duck.
Trying to unravel its ingredients was a bit perplexing. Each ingredients list I studied was different than the last, and one of the few recipes I found online said fermented bean paste and peanut butter were interchangeable.
So I bought a couple of different bean pastes and other sauces from the Asian market along with a few different hoisins for comparison.
I began with equal parts brown sugar and a black bean and garlic paste, then mixed in the other ingredients, looking for that familiar taste. At this point, I realized my sauce wasn't sweet enough. I kept adding more sugar, along with honey, until it reached the right point where the sweet was dominant at first, but slightly faded into the tang of vinegar after a few seconds. It had the familiar deep Asian flavors that I love in hoisin.
The recipe calls for a few items that aren't cupboard staples, which makes me wonder if I'll ever actually make it from scratch again. I am still happy to know that this recipe is pretty spot-on.