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My local Chinese restaurant (Happy Chef on King St, Sydney for anyone who's interested) does a very simple dish of a half crispy skin chicken, served with rice and a sauce that they call 'Santon sauce'. It's the most ludicrously tasty sauce I've come across, but I have no idea what the magic ingredients are. Here's what I know:

  • It's about the consistency of, say, fish sauce or wine.
  • It's a clear, pinkish red, about the colour and transparency you'd expect from a red wine vinegar.
  • It's quite sweet, a bit sour, moderately salty.
  • The non liquid ingredients are shredded chillies (which have probably soaking in the sauce for a while as far as I can see), shredded coriander (cillantro) and sliced spring onion (scallions).
  • It has a strong, almost pungent taste which I think comes from something other than the chillies (although they undoubtedly contribute).
  • I have a reasonably decent knowledge of oriental flavours, but there is at least one flavour component which I'm completely unable to identify, or even say what it's similar to (not helpful I know!). I think it's some sort of herb or spice, which does something similar to fenugreek in terms of its flavour curve (lots of presence in the aroma, initial taste, slow fade).

Santon sauce appears to be just a name used by this particular restaurant; I can't find reference to anything similar online. Does anyone recognise it or have any suspicions?

Ingredients it might contain:

  • Sweet rice wine
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Fish sauce?

Ingredients it probably doesn't contain:

  • Soy
  • Any chance at all of a photo? – Jolenealaska Jul 29 '14 at 3:08
  • I'll take one next time I'm in there, but I'm afraid it won't be very illuminating: just a red-ish clear liquid with coriander, spring onion and chillies floating in it. – sjwarner Jul 29 '14 at 5:02
  • Even so, it'll help. It may not suggest what is in the sauce, but it may help us to avoid chasing red herrings. Another thing that might help is to get others to describe what they taste. A single descriptive word could be key to the puzzle. One last suggestion I offer is to bribe the bartender (or busboy). – Jolenealaska Jul 29 '14 at 5:26
  • Agreed - I'll reply with a picture as soon as I can. As for your other method, I already tried to get the staff to divulge the secret, but alas they remain tight-lipped! :-/ – sjwarner Jul 29 '14 at 5:49
  • Your description of the strong, almost pungent taste makes me think fish sauce. It sounds like it might be a variation of the vietnamese dipping sauce Nuoc Cham. How thick is the sauce? Nuoc Cham is very thin, no thicker than water. vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2008/11/… – Henrik Söderlund Jul 29 '14 at 11:15
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From what you have described it sounds like Santon sauce may be a variation of Shandong sauce which is often served in Chinese restaurants alongside Crispy Skin Chicken. Here is a basic recipe that can be found on many internet sites. Perhaps it can be a starting point for you.

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 chilies, finely chopped (I finely strip them rather than chop) 2 scallions, finely chopped (I thinly slice them) 1 tsp sugar 1 tsp sesame oil (I always use the light version) 2 1/2 Tbl chicken stock Pinch of MSG 3 tsp dry sherry 2 tsp wine vinegar

  • Heat a wok and add the garlic, chilies, onions, sugar, and sesame oil. Stir fry for 1 minute. Then add the chicken stock, MSG, sherry and vinegar.
  • Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 seconds.

I have found that the flavor varies depending on the type of chilies, sherry, and vinegar used. You can try different types of each to get the particular flavor profile you are looking for.

If you try this and get the taste you want I would be interested to know the final ingredients.

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    Oooh... "Santon"/ "Shandong" I think maybe you're on to something! – Jolenealaska Jul 29 '14 at 15:03
  • Yes, the name are hopefully too similar for it to be a coincidence! I will try this recipe asap and let you know how it turns out. If it is the right one, it's unfortunate for me as I will have lost the argument I was having with my friend about where this unidentifiable flavour comes from: he says it's the type of chilli, I say there's something else to it. Looks like he might be right! What's the typical variety of chilli you use when you make this? Is there a particular variety which could impart this unusual extra flavour? – sjwarner Jul 29 '14 at 23:47
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    @sjwarner Be sure to Google "Shandong sauce" there are variations, including some with soy and some with cilantro (and some with both). So far I'm unable to find one that specifies a particular chili beyond "red". – Jolenealaska Jul 30 '14 at 3:38
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    For fresh chilies I have used cayenne, Thai bird, and Fresno. I have also had similar, sometimes better, results using dried chilies. For dried I mostly use chili de arbol, but have also used cayenne and pequin with good results. – Cindy Jul 30 '14 at 10:44
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    Many recipes call for hot chili oil - not to be added to the sauce but to pour over the chicken. While that doesn't appeal to me I have added 2 - 3 drops to the sauce while heating. This seems to add an extra layer of flavor that you almost can't identify. If you try this please only use a couple of drops as too much can totally overwhelm the other flavors. – Cindy Jul 30 '14 at 10:49

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