Give Cocktail Meatballs An Umami Boost With Oyster Sauce

If you aren't thinking "oysters" when you're thinking about "cocktail meatballs," then it might be time to think again. Cocktail meatballs are the savory, protein-packed finger food tailor-made for entertaining. Guests can graze and nourish, not just snack on cheese and crostini (which we love, but a little variety can be a very welcome offering on the food table), and turn the unexpected-flavor-dial up to 11. It's time to break out the oyster sauce.

If you haven't worked with it before, oyster sauce (which might have been invented by accident) is a popular condiment in Chinese cuisine characterized by its syrup-like consistency and dark brown, nearly black opaque color. It's made by slow-simmering oysters until the cooking liquid caramelizes, and includes sugar, salt, and sometimes a cornstarch-soy sauce slurry. The dominant tasting notes in the condiment are umami, salty, and slightly fishy. It can be found in your local pan-Asian supermarket or specialty grocery shop, or ordered from a variety of online retailers.

Thanks to its viscosity, oyster sauce makes a rich, luxurious glaze that's thick enough to coat the meatballs without running off the sides and pooling in the bottom of the serving tray. You can simply brush the meatballs with it when they come out of the oven for an instant glaze. For stronger flavor, place your meatballs in a plastic container, cover 'em in oyster sauce, and leave 'em to soak overnight in the fridge, giving those mini meaty morsels a chance to absorb all that umami power.

Oyster sauce brings the umami facelift your cocktail meatballs have been crying out for

Oyster sauce is a cocktail meatball superstar on its own, but it can be elevated even further with help from a friend (or two). To serve, you could sprinkle your meatballs with black and white sesame seeds, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and chopped scallions for a pop of color. Or, add a little oyster sauce to the glaze on these sweet and sour chili meatballs. Pineapple jelly, sweet chili sauce, spicy chili oil, bourbon, grape jam, toasted sesame oil, low-sodium soy sauce, jarred umeboshi plums, Creole horseradish honey mustard, gochujang paste, white miso, or grated fresh ginger would all make complementary, flavorful additions to your oyster sauce meatball glaze. The lush, sticky sauce can be spooned over your cocktail meatballs, or guests could spear individual meatballs with a toothpick and dip 'em in a bowl of the sauce.

Steer the profile more savory and add oyster sauce to these BBQ meatballs or these stuffed pork meatballs with tangy romesco dipping sauce. Don't eat red meat? Try adding a splash of oyster sauce for a pescetarian take on these lentil and mushroom BBQ "meatballs." After hosting a legendary cocktail hour, you could even transition any leftover meatballs into entree territory by serving them over white rice and stir-fried veggies like sugar snap peas and Chinese broccoli, or add 'em to this Walnut Broccoli Stir-Fry