Shrimp sauce unveiled

Watching my friends pour that pinkish shrimp sauce all over their Japanese style chicken and beef and rice for years has always made me uneasy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff, too –  I was just watching them as I waited for my turn at the squeeze bottle. But I tend to use it sparingly because it tastes too rich to be good for you. Dipping everything in it had to negate any of the healthy cabbage and lean meat on the plate at the Japanese steak house.

I suspected it was not a Japanese sauce but an American invention – because it had to be mayonnaise-based and it masked the other flavors on the plate – a big no-no for Japanese cuisine. The uneasiess came because I wanted to make this stuff at home – but I was afraid to find out just how unhealthy it is.

I took the plunge anyway and found that “Japanese” shrimp sauce, or yum yum sauce or Sakura sauce, is basically another version of  Thousand Island Dressing.  It was created for American diners who just couldn’t take that step toward stir-fried dinners without a little help. I guessed that the pink color came from tomato paste – and in some of the homemade recipes it does. In others, it comes from paprika.  I will use both, because I like pink.

The sauce owes its flavor to fat – and not just one kind, but two. It has mayo and melted butter. Not exactly anyone’s idea of healthy.  And just in case you think you can subtract some calories with “diet” ingredients- all of the recipes declared that you absolutely cannot imitate the restaurant sauce with low-cal or “substitute” mayo or margarine.

So, maybe now you know that your are adding hundreds of calories to your dinner with each squirt, you’ll reconsider. Or not. I mean, really, has any of us given up fried chicken or sausage biscuits?

But, I’m going to include a healthier alternative  – a ginger dipping sauce  –  below the shrimp sauce recipe. Maybe you can use it during Lent next year. Although, I have never, ever heard anyone declare they are giving up shrimp sauce. Maybe that’s just asking too much…

Shrimp sauce

1 cup mayonnaise (No Miracle Whip!)

2 tsps. tomato paste (do not use ketchup)

1 Tbsp. melted butter

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1/4 tsp. paprika

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. If it is too thick, add up to 1/4 cup water. Cover with an airtight lid and refrigerate overnight to let flavors blend. Serve at room temperature.

Ginger Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp. water

1 Tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger

zest and juice from half a lime

Mix all ingredients thoroughly with a whisk.

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