I Love This Soy Sauce So Much, I Always Carry It in My Purse

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(Image credit: Dramalens/Getty Images)

You might think it would be embarrassing to whip out your own personal stash of soy sauce when you go to a sushi joint. But you’d only think that if you haven’t had Bourbon Barrel Foods’ small-batch soy sauce aged in bourbon barrels. Once you’ve had this sultry, complex soy sauce, you’ll never go back.

Really? You might think. It’s just soy sauce.

Bluegrass Soy Sauce
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Bluegrass Soy Sauce
$8

Oh, but that’s like saying white truffles of Alba, Italy, are just mushrooms. The usual suspects on the table — I’m looking at you, Kikkoman — are a harsh salt bomb compared to the silky, smoky beauty of this stuff that’s microbrewed with Kentucky soybeans, soft red winter wheat, and the same limestone-filtered Kentucky water that makes our bourbon so good. The soybean mash is fermented and aged in re-purposed bourbon barrels, lending it a faint sweetness, like bourbon, actually. Even the spendier top-shelf soy sauce at the grocery store (sorry, HemisFares Double Brewed Soy Sauce, you made a valiant effort) is no match for my one true soy sauce love.

I first tried the stuff when the maker (brewer?) Matt Jamie launched his company Bourbon Barrel Foods here in Louisville, Kentucky, a number of years ago. I was lucky enough to sample a few of his products for a review in a local food magazine I edited. With one sip I was smitten (likewise with the bourbon-smoked paprika, my kitchen’s secret weapon). In those early days he’d set up at local food events with samples that came in little paper single-serve pouches. Like an over-zealous trick-or-treater I’d scoop up as many as my greedy little fists could hold, and stow them in my purse for sushi outings. (I also bought the flask-size size bottles for home use, lest you think I was just a freeloader.)

Maybe in bigger cities sushi restaurants offer a higher-end soy sauce, but, alas, the ones I’ve been to in my town serve their sashimi with standard-issue Kikkoman. Dipping a beautiful, delicate sliver of salmon in that mass-produced stuff is sacrilege. But kissing it with this lush sauce? Magic. The umami of the soy sauce with the sweet, buttery salmon makes for the same irresistible combination found in kettle corn or any other sweet-and-savory combo. Oh, and when we make our DIY Costco sushi? Just a bit of wasabi, a swipe with this soy sauce, and heaven awaits.

If I’m headed out for sushi now, I make sure I have a bottle of this stuff in my purse. It’s a rule.

I’ll even share how far my obsession with this stuff has gone, even though it’s possibly weirder than carrying it in my purse: I made a brief foray into competitive powerlifting that resulted in a couple of instances when I needed to weigh as little as possible for a weigh-in, but pack on as much weight as possible before the actual lifting meet the next morning. (It’s all about the ratio of bodyweight to lifted weight, and leverage, what can I say?) After one weigh-in, I headed to my favorite local restaurant at the time where the chef prepared a feast for a champ. To help with the temporary weight gain, I needed a bunch of salt in order to retain water. So I literally drank this soy sauce with a spoon. And I did it happily!

Even when we were living on the most shoestring of grocery budgets during a period of unemployment, my husband and I found room to splurge on this soy sauce (priced at eight bucks a bottle). We used it in a beef noodle soup from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes and the resulting complexity and depth of flavor — from mere spoonfuls — elevated an inexpensive noodle bowl to something spectacular. It wasn’t a punishing low-budget meal — it was a royal treat.

Yes, just like they say not to cook with wine you wouldn’t drink, I even use this in any recipe that calls for soy sauce. Even though a very little goes a long way, I should really just invest in the 32-ounce bottle. But that wouldn’t fit in my purse like the flask, so maybe I’ll just stick with that!

Have you ever had this soy sauce? What other surprising foods do you keep in your purse?

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