Condiments may seem simple, but, as chef Marcus Samuelsson writes in New American Table, “They reflect who we are more than any other food.”
Not only do condiments offer flavour, they contribute colour, texture and aroma to any dish. They can speak of culture and history. Take ketchup, that all-American accompaniment. It was created in Asia, with nary a tomato in sight, at least for a century or two. It’s easy to experiment with different flavours and textures. Always buy ballpark mustard? Consider something Dijon-style studded with green peppercorns or soothed with honey. Think ketchup a bore? Consider a salsa, flavoured vinegar or even a chutney in its stead. Use your imagination.
Here are some of the world’s favourite condiments, the ones you’ll find on the dining tables of each continent. You can find most of these exotic condiments at supermarket chains, INA market and even in some local grocery stores in the city. Find out how you can use them in your kitchen.Dijon mustard
Made by mixing powdered mustard or mustard seeds with a liquid, often vinegar, water or wine, and adding herbs, spices or other flavourings as desired. Assertive yet adaptable, French Dijon mustard may be stirred into sauces and vinaigrettes, used as a coating for grilled chicken and salmon or served as-is with cold cuts, sausages.
Whether green and peppery or golden and buttery or somewhere in between, olive oil comes in various quality grades. Extra-virgin olive oil, the first pressing from the olives, is considered the best (and is priced accordingly). Drizzle on cooked fish, chicken, mashed potatoes; use in vinaigrettes, sauces.
Called “Jamaican ketchup,” this brand-name sauce is made with cane vinegar, tomatoes, onions, sugar, mangoes, raisins, tamarinds, peppers and spices. It is aged one year in oak barrels for a taste described by the makers as “sweet but mellow.” Used to give snap to cream cheese, it can also be used to season meats, vegetables, fish, poultry.
As ubiquitous in Southeast Asian cooking as salt is in the West, fish sauce is stirred into curries and stir-fries, whisked into sauces and dressings or used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls and satay. Made from fermented, salted fish, the sauce is intensely briny and smells pungent. Names vary by country: nam pla in Thailand, nuoc nam in Vietnam, patis in the Philippines, shottsuru
Hot red pepper sauce
Made with chilies, salt and vinegar, different Latin hot sauces give heat to all sorts of dishes, from chili stews to tamales. Plus gumbo, stewed greens and chicken wings.
From North Africa, a spicy blend of oil, chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and other spices. Serve with couscous, soups, stews.
Piri-piri (or peri-peri) is the word for the small, incendiary bird’s eye chilies of Africa. That gives you a clue to the fire in the sauce, popular in southern Africa and Portugal. Use it as a marinade or sauce with chicken, seafood, soups. Major Grey’s Chutney Salute Major Grey, whoever he was, for though the sun long ago set on the British Empire, this Raj-era condiment remains popular around the world. Made from mangos, onions, raisins, vinegar and brown sugar, it adds a spicy lushness to any plate. Pair with grilled lamb chops, curry dishes, rice casserole.
A thickish hot chili sauce from Thailand with just enough sugar to curb the fire and deepen the flavor. Use it to zip up everything from stir fries to sushi.
Fermented from soybeans, wheat flour, water and salt, soy sauce adds depth and complexity to foods. Soy sauces come in a range of flavours, intensities. Japanese soy sauce tends to be lighter than Chinese versions. Use in marinades for chicken, beef, fish; pour as a dipping sauce for sushi; use as a secret ingredient in meatloaf; jazz up a vegetable stir-fry with a few spoonfuls.
This brown vinegar made from malted barley is a favourite sprinkle on fish and chips in England (and Rhode Island too). Consider using in place of other vinegars in sauces, salad dressings.
A bit of India on your table
Named for an English county, this condiment is believed to have roots in India. Ingredients include tamarind, garlic, onions, cloves, molasses and anchovies. Dash on steaks or broiled fish, mix into Caesar and other salad dressings, spike oysters on the half shell or Bloody Marys.
A mix of chilies, brown sugar and salt in its most basic form, sambal is spooned up in Indonesia, Malaysia and southern India to serve with rice and curries. Use as a garnish for noodle dishes, cucumber salads.