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There are a few commercially produced sauces, usually vinegar based, that have become staples in many kitchens. If you’re not familiar with them, this is a good place to start. Of course, once you’ve started being adventurous, the best part is going out to your local gourmet shop and trying out the others that they have to offer. And remember, if you don’t try it, you can’t say you don’t like it!
Worcestershire Sauce Although this has mostly been known as a British flavouring, the original recipe for Worcestershire sauce is an Indian one. It is made from a recipe that is kept secret but is known to contain vinegar, soy, molasses, tamarinds, ginger, anchovies, garlic, limes, chili, and sugar. Use it sparingly on almost anything and watch how the flavours bloom. Here’s something to think about: many chefs use this as a secret ingredient in their signature dishes. Think of where you might add it to enhance flavour and then go for it. I can guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Tabasco This sauce is usually a thin sauce, made from a tiny Mexican chili. Brought to the southern states from Mexico in the nineteenth century, it has quickly become a popular flavouring indispensable to the strong flavoured dishes of many of the signature dishes of the south and Southwest especially used in cuisines such as Creole and Tex-Mex. Chilies, vinegar, salt and sometimes other flavourings such as garlic combine to make this a true taste “wake up call”. Try it sprinkled lightly over your morning scramble. Be daring and add a few dashes to your next pot of soup. Trust me, you’ll wonder why you never tried it before.
Anchovy paste Made from the pounded flesh of anchovies (the fish) this paste owes its roots to a condiment used by the ancient Romans. As well as adding intensity to most fish dishes it is also quite often included in the traditional English meat pies. And don’t forget, it’s an integral part of the recipe for Caesar salad dressing.
Tomato ketchup Made popular by the plethora of uses from condiment to ingredient, ketchup is one that is found in almost every household. Mostly tomatoes, it also includes vinegar, salt and spices. It is a key ingredient in most barbecue sauces. Not my favourite sauce, but so many people can’t be wrong.
Bean sauces All of the various bean sauces are important to Oriental cooking. Black bean sauce (or brown bean sauce) is a thick dark paste and can often be used in place of soy especially when a thicker sauce is needed in stir-frying. Yellow bean sauce is salty and pungent and is used in stir-frying and stews, most often in the recipes of Northern China. Find them in your local Chinese supermarket, available in cans of jars.
Hoisin sauce Thick and Soya based, this is most commonly used in Chinese recipes for shellfish, ribs, and duck. It has a slightly sweet though hot flavour.
Oyster sauce Is truly made from oysters. A blend of oysters and soy sauce. It adds its strong pungent flavour to Chinese dishes, which include beef, pork and poultry.
Sugar is something that is found naturally in plants and animals. There are many different types of sugar, most common source is cane sugar which is derived from the sap of sugar cane, a sub-tropical grass native to Asia but which is cultivated all over the tropics. As well as all the traditional baked goodies desserts and sweets, sugars also find themselves used in savoury dishes, especially in glazes for hams and vegetables.
Natural brown sugar These come from raw sugar cane and can vary in colour form golden to deep brown. They are moist and quite flavourful. Find them used in many cake and cookie recipes, especially fruit cake and gingerbread.
Light brown sugar These are refined white sugars coated with molasses. Although they are just as sweet as natural brown sugars, they are not as flavourful.
White refined sugar These include granulated, icing, and preserving sugar. Very refined, they retain little more in flavour except the sweetness. The only variation is the texture.
Molasses This is the natural syrup that comes from the sugar cane. It is intensely sweet with a distinct warm flavour. Used in many dishes, it is best known as an ingredient in Baked Beans and Gingerbread.
Maple syrup Delicious, aromatic, clear thin syrup that comes from the sap of the Maple tree. It comes in a variety of grades, according to quality, the best and most expensive is the lightest and clearest. Used in some limited ways in baking, it is mostly used as a condiment and poured -- generously -- over waffles, pancakes and French toast.
Treacle Treacle is basically refined molasses and has a slightly sweeter taste.
Golden Syrup This is a pale thin treacle, which is produced by further refining. Less sweet than sugar and is used like treacle in cakes and other desserts, especially as a topping for steamed puddings and is an ingredient for brandy snaps.
The last installment of Flavourings comes out next month and will include Truffles, Vinegar and Vanilla. Don’t miss it!!
Keep your emails coming . . . always love to hear from you!!
I’m off to Dallas for research into Tex-Mex and Barbecue . . . I’ll fill you all in when I get back.