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Massive flavor in a little bottle: A hoisin primer

  • In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

    In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) Purchase photo reprints »

  • In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

    In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) Purchase photo reprints »

  • In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

    In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) Purchase photo reprints »

  • In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
  • In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
  • In this image taken on Jan. 9, 2012, Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders with spicy tomato relish are shown in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Mmmm. Nothing says good eats like soy residue.

Except that in Chinese cooking, it really can. And you very likely have enjoyed that soy residue, many times and in many ways.

I’m talking about hoisin, a classic ingredient for sauces — both for dipping at the table and basting during cooking — in China. Hoisin is a thick, dark red-to-brown sauce that blends sweet-spicy-savory flavors, a profile not all that different from ketchup.

It is made from the leftover mash of fermented soy beans produced when making traditional soy sauces. That mash is combined with sugar, chilies, garlic, vinegar, salt, sometimes five-spice powder and either flour or cornstarch (to thicken). Though hoisin is widely used on grilled meats (as a barbecue sauce) and in dipping sauces, it’s best known for a starring role in Peking duck and moo shu pork.

The trick with hoisin is to use it sparingly. Unlike ketchup (which I firmly believe should be served by the gallon), a little hoisin goes a long way.

To make a dipping sauce, thin a teaspoon or so with sesame oil and soy sauce. Uncut, it can be brushed directly onto meats for grilling.

You’ll usually find hoisin in glass jars amongst the grocer’s other Asian ingredients. Refrigerated after opening, it should last months. For more ideas for using hoisin, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/QTxLLa

Hoisin Turkey Meatball Grinders With Spicy Tomato Relish

Serves 4

1 egg

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

Zest of 1 lime

¼ cup hoisin

Salt

1 1/3 pounds ground turkey

¾ cup panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 plum tomatoes, diced

½ cup creme fraiche

1 teaspoon hot sauce

Four 6-inch sub rolls

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the egg, cilantro, scallions, garlic, ginger, lime zest, hoisin and 1/2 tablespoon salt. Mix well. Add the turkey, then knead well with your hands until evenly mixed. Add the breadcrumbs and mix again. Form the mixture into about 20 balls.

In a large skillet over medium-high, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add half of the meatballs and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, then repeat with the remaining butter and meatballs.

Bake the meatballs for 7 to 8 minutes, or until cooked through and a thermometer inserted in meatballs reads 165 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix the tomatoes, creme fraiche, hot sauce and ½ teaspoon of salt. Spread a quarter of the mixture down the center of each sub roll. Arrange 5 meatballs in each roll. Serve immediately.

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