They take up a good portion of the fridge, and they’re something the average American relies on daily.
Condiments sneak their way into most meals—maybe it’s hot sauce on morning eggs, mustard and mayo on the lunchtime sandwich, and ketchup or barbecue sauce at dinner. They even sneak their way into conversations: “You like mayo on your burger?” “You don’t like ketchup? Who doesn’t like ketchup?”
When we look at avoiding processed foods, it seems that condiments ought to be at the top of the list. Often filled with way more sugar and salt than one would imagine, many also include a great many preservatives, food colorings and fillers.
Erin Coopey, director of education at the Arizona Culinary Institute and author of The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook (Quarry), started making her own condiments due to food sensitivities. “I’m gluten-sensitive and can’t eat many grains, and wheat and corn are the base of many dressings,” she says. “When you’re making it yourself you can control anything: using less salt and sugar, or maybe using alternative sweeteners. And you don’t need preservatives because many ingredients, like vinegar, have natural preservative qualities.”
Jessica Harlan has always been drawn to the hands-on aspect of cooking, noting that her time in culinary school opened new doors for her to experiment in the kitchen.
“I’ve always been into making something that’s only available at the supermarket,” Harlan says. “I’ve always made my own salad dressing, for instance, and I wanted to make that approachable to other people.” Harlan started making a variety of condiments at home, and eventually wrote Homemade Condiments (Ulysses) to offer user-friendly recipes.
Not only is it rewarding and healthier, but making condiments at home can also supply a whole lot more flavor.
| Remoulade: Mayo Goes Upscale |
Remoulade is a French sauce that is classically served with julienne celery root as a salad. “You could say that remoulade sauce is fancy tartar sauce,” says Erin Coopey. “Both are mayonnaise-based and usually include some sort of salty addition, like pickle relish, and a little acid, like lemon juice or vinegar.”
However, Coopey believes that “remoulade is more flavorful than tartar by far. It excites the palate with a variety of additions, including fresh herbs, mustard and a little anchovy paste.” (The anchovy paste doesn’t add a fishy taste, just a little depth and saltiness.)
Coopey likes remoulade for its versatility. In addition to use as a dipping sauce for artichokes and as an ingredient in potato salad, remoulade, like tartar, is “outstanding with fried fish and crab cakes,” she says. “It makes a super dipping sauce for chilled shrimp too, especially if you’d like to cut back on sugary cocktail sauce. In Belgium, it’s served with french fries, and apparently they like it on hot dogs in Iceland.” Coopey notes that in the American South, “remoulade takes on a whole different style—hot and spicy, like any self-respecting Cajun sauce.”
A Flavorful Approach
Coopey says the key is to use the freshest available ingredients. “Using fresh ingredients gives you a huge jumpstart by adding dynamic flavors to dishes,” she notes. “The intensity we are chasing really comes from that natural freshness.”
Harlan agrees that the first step is quality ingredients, ones that are in season if possible. “If you’re shopping at farmers’ markets in the summer, you’ll be starting with something super-flavorful,” she says. “Then you can add way less salt and more fresh or dried herbs, chili peppers, all things with a lot of flavor but without one-dimensional saltiness.”
The flavors added to the condiments can vary depending on personal preferences, but herbs are more healthful and nutritious than the sugar and salt found in store-bought brands. “Fresh herbs are a great way to add bright flavors to your favorite dish without adding sugar, excess calories or fat,” says Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, CDN, who has an online consulting practice (chelseyamernutrition.com). “Plus, they’re a great way to jazz up favorite recipes that may be getting a little stale.”
Coopey says there are a couple of general rules when adding herbs to all condiments. “If it’s a long-cooking item, dried herbs are fine,” she explains, an example being ketchup, which cooks down. “Fresh herbs are more intense for something eaten fresh and on the spot, like a salsa or pesto.”
There are tips and tricks for different condiments, and some are more complicated to make then others. Vinegar, for instance, is one that Coopey prefers to “leave to the experts,” and although Harlan includes mustard recipes in her book, she admits that it’s a tough one for her to conquer due to the strong and spicy nature of mustard powder.
Here’s the lowdown on the most common household condiments.
Although it is somewhat time-consuming to peel, de-seed and cook tomatoes down to make homemade ketchup, the flavorful end result is worth the effort, according to Harlan.
“Homemade ketchup is so rich,” she says. “It’s not the sweet, sugary profile that we’re used to; you can really taste the tomatoes.”
Coopey relies on a food mill to remove the seeds and achieve a velvety traditional texture; she recommends staying away from the food processor, which tends to aerate and fluff the mixture too much. She adds a variety of flavors, including cinnamon, cloves, allspice, black pepper and mustard powder, along with the tomato and onion. In addition, cayenne pepper can add heat and brown sugar can add sweet.
Both Coopey and Harlan agree that using plum tomatoes is the way to go. “Slicing tomatoes are too watery,” Coopey says. “You get more from plum tomatoes; there are far fewer seed pods and more tomato pulp and flavor.”
“I love a good homemade mayo,” Harlan says. “The flavor, to me, is richer and creamier than what you buy in a jar, and it’s a great vessel for other flavors.”
For a quality homemade mayonnaise, fresh eggs are essential, says Coopey,“because salmonella is so rampant in poultry. If someone doesn’t have access [to farm-fresh eggs], I recommend coddling the eggs beforehand, immersing them for 90 seconds in boiling water, like a light pasteurization.”
Egg yolk and oil are the key ingredients here, and the choice of oil is an important element in creating a healthier version than many manufactured varieties, most of which have a canola or soybean oil base. Coopey opts for a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, and adds a little lemon juice along with spices. She also uses an immersion blender, which works faster than whisking by hand. “You’re mixing two very foreign things together, so it’s best to add oil at a steady drizzle,” she notes.
After making the base—which many enjoy plain—home chefs can get creative, adding more or less lemon, tarragon, sriracha, chipotle or dill, or other herbs, spices or sauces, to suit a dish or palate.
The problem with mustard powder is the heat factor it produces, and balancing that with sweetness is a trick Coopey teaches others through her book. “I love a good spiced mustard, a cross between whole grain and spice, but with a little sweetness to counter the heat,” she says, explaining that she uses a small amount of table sugar to accomplish this.
Coopey also finds it important to cook mustard on very low heat so it doesn’t become dehydrated and pasty. “It can be so hot, and when it’s cooked low and slow, it breaks down molecules and mellows if you do it right,” she says. “Then the sweetness helps to nuance that as well.”
Coming up with mustard recipes that weren’t too spicy was a challenge for Harlan, and she ended up enjoying the more grainy mustards; those are made with the whole mustard seed, which adds a nice texture, as opposed to the powder, which is more potent. “All the recipes in my book are good, but they’re not for the faint of heart,” she says. “I wanted to do a classic ballpark mustard, but it came across super-strong.”
Perhaps more of a marinade than a condiment, a good barbecue sauce depends on individual tastes, and much of that is defined by regional cuisine.
“It’s fun to make, and not super-hard, and there are so many different varieties here in the US—different schools of thought,” says Harlan. For example, “there’s a mustard-based one in South Carolina and a vinegar-based one in North Carolina.” In her book, she features three different types: one with a whiskey kick, a mustard-based sauce and a tomato-based sauce that uses her homemade ketchup.
“There’s always a sweet-and-tangy balance that’s needed,” Harlan adds. “I use ketchup and something else sweet, like molasses or brown sugar. The tang is the apple cider vinegar, and it’s seasoned with onion, chipotle powder, paprika and celery seeds.”
Coopey has fun playing with the levels of spice in a homemade barbecue sauce, and tends to go for a mustard base. “A mustard-based barbecue sauce has far less sugar naturally,” she says, “and it’s thinner for basting.”
Traditionally made with a base of basil, pine nut and olive oil, pesto can come in a variety of flavors. “You really just need something green and some sort of nut, some sort of dry cheese, oil, garlic and lemon,” Harlan says. “It doesn’t have to be a fresh herb, which can be expensive. You could use arugula or spinach, or cut the basil with spinach.” Coopey has even used carrot tops for the greens.
“The interesting thing is getting away from things like basil,” she says. “Sometimes I make it with cherry tomatoes, almonds and garlic as a tomato pesto.”
Whether they are closer to sauces or dips, there is a variety of nontraditional condiments that can add a layer of flavor to sandwiches, burgers and other recipes.
Try a mayonnaise-based remoulade, one of Coopey’s favorites, to add to a sandwich or use as a dip. She also enjoys fruit spreads and playing around with homemade salad dressings to add additional flair. The options for a flavor boost are endless.
Sweet and Spicy Ketchup
“I just love this ketchup,” says Erin Coopey. “The cloves and cinnamon intensify the
sweetness of the tomatoes, while the mustard and cayenne give it just a teensy kick.”
2 1⁄4 lb plum tomatoes
1 cup white vinegar
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper
1⁄4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the tomatoes and blanch until the skin breaks and the flesh becomes soft, about 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Drain the tomatoes and press through a fine-mesh food mill or sieve to remove skin and seeds. Pour sieved tomatoes into a medium-sized sauce pan. Add vinegar, sugar, cayenne, black pepper, cloves, mustard powder and salt; stir to combine. Bring tomato mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to 1/4 the original amount and thickened, approximately 1 hour.
3. Use a slotted spoon to remove the whole cloves. Stir in cinnamon and refrigerate until cold. Store, covered in the refrigerator, for up to one month.
Makes about 2 cups.
EXCERPTED FROM THE KITCHEN PANTRY COOKBOOK
(QUARRY BOOKS) BY ERIN COOPEY.
ET Web Extra: Remoulade Sauce
“I used to frequent a restaurant in Northern California that served grilled artichokes with remoulade sauce that was to die for,” says Erin Coopey. “This is my homage to Bandera’s remoulade.”
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp whole grain, dijon-style mustard
2 tbsp minced chives or green onions
1 tbsp cider or tarragon vinegar
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp minced fresh parsley or chervil
1 tsp minced fresh tarragon
1/4 tsp garlic puree
1 dash Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 hardboiled egg, finely chopped (optional)
Mix all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl; chill until ready to use. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
EXCERPTED FROM THE KITCHEN PANTRY COOKBOOK (QUARRY BOOKS) BY ERIN COOPEY.
Hailing from the Provence region of France, tapenade “has a robust, pungent flavor,” says Jessica Harlan. To roast the garlic, she advises tossing the cloves with olive oil, wrapping them in aluminum foil and roasting them for about 30-45 minutes at 350°F“ until they’re soft and mashable.”
8 oz pitted Kalamata olives
2 tinned anchovies, bones removed
3 medium cloves garlic, roasted
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for storage
½ tsp minced fresh thyme
½ tsp grated lemon zest
In a food processor, combine the olives, anchovies, garlic and capers. Pulse to chop and combine the ingredients. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, thyme and lemon zest,
and process until the mixture makes a chunky paste. Transfer the tapenade to a covered container, such as a glass jar, and pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top to help preserve the freshness. The tapenade will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 9 oz.
EXCERPTED FROM HOMEMADE CONDIMENTS (ULYSSES PRESS) BY JESSICA HARLAN.
Carolina-Style Barbecue Sauce
“Carolina-style barbecue has a decidedly piquant flavor in comparison to its ketchup-based cousins,” says Erin Coopey. “I love this sauce with grilled chicken and it makes a mean pulled pork sauce. You can even use it as marinade before grilling.”
3/4 cup ballpark style yellow mustard
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp hot paprika*
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
Mix ingredients in a medium sauce pan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Sauce can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to one month. (If you plan to use this sauce as marinade, be sure to cool it in the refrigerator before adding the meat.)
*For a lightly smoky flavor, you can substitute Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika);
look for picante (hot).
Makes about 2 cups.
EXCERPTED FROM THE KITCHEN PANTRY COOKBOOK (QUARRY BOOKS) BY ERIN COOPEY.