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Your condiment cupboard

Friday, 9 September 2016 | Tags: , , , , ,

Anytime I get to spend time with a professional chef, I am shameless about seeking free advice on technique, flavour combinations or tools that will make my life in the kitchen more successful. And if there is one secret I have uncovered from poking my head behind the scenes in professional kitchens, it's that having a supply of flavour boosting condiments on hand will make all the difference in your meals.

Like the finishing touch in an outfit that makes you look pulled together, homemade condiments are what will elevate your meats and vegetables. They are what will take that broccolini from ho hum to holy moly that’s the best brocollini I’ve ever had.

And that arsenal of dressings, sauces, pestos and emulsions is key to creating those high flavour dishes with low stress.  Of course, these are meant for people who cook regularly – because they don’t last forever. (Most, about a week.)

Many good cookbooks include a whole chapter on condiments and sauces and how to use them. Gjelina, which was my favourite book of 2015, is a great example. Chapter one, Condiments & Pickles is reason alone to pick it up.

Of course you can also just Google a list of condiment recipes. They’re all dead easy. Here is my list of essentials and how I use them.

Pesto

Pesto is a broad topic and traditional basil pesto is just the beginning. You can make up your own by combining in a food processor an herb (basil, mint, sage, etc) with a seed (pine nut, walnut, cashew, pistachio, even pomegranate!) with a cheese (like parmesan or pecorino) and olive oil, salt and maybe a little lemon juice. It is the most versatile of condiments and can be spread on toast, meat, fish, layered in a sandwich or tossed in a bowl of pasta.

Salsa verde

Salsa verde imparts fresh, herbaceous flavours to fish. It’s also delicious atop flank steak or in a tomato salad. Professionals say that with any vinegar emulsion, it’s best to make the base in advance and add the vinegar right before using to avoid oxidation. But for me that sort of defeats the purpose of convenience. I’ve made salsa verde two days before I use it and it seems fine to me. But then again, I’m a hack.

Garlic confit

Take 4 heads of garlic (preferably Canadian or US grown.) Separate the cloves. Put in baking dish with herbs of your choice like thyme, oregano and rosemary. Cover completely with olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until soft, about an hour. This will take your roasted vegetables to that special place. Put it on a pizza. Or mashed potatoes. This is one condiment I have on the shelf at all times (see picture above). When in doubt I throw in a clove or two.

Pomodoro sauce 

Another kitchen workhorse. It’s great with eggs, pizza or pasta of course. Be sure to use “San Marzano” canned tomatoes from Italy (available at grocery stores). And a bit of shredded carrot in the recipe is key for me. This sauce freezes well for several months.

Preserved lemons

Sliced on top of grilled salmon? So delicious. You’ll be surprised how often you use them. They also look beautiful in the jar and make an excellent gift for anyone who loves to cook (hint hint). They’ll keep for 6 months.

Harissa

This North African condiment is a must for anyone who likes hot sauce. I put it on….everything that tastes better with heat. Especially fried potatoes.

Aioli

Garlic enriched mayonnaise makes anything better. Sandwiches and grilled fish in particular. Slather it on top of ripe tomatoes, asparagus or a hard boiled egg and you’ll never go back. It can also be the base of a delicious salad dressing (thinned out with lemon juice) and it’s a good condiment to add roasted garlic to. Or olives. Or anchovies. You get the idea.

Bagna cauda

A lot of people think they don’t like anchovies, but they’d be wrong. I promise you there’s a little anchovy in a lot of restaurant dishes that you think are delicious! Bagna cauda is basically a combination of anchovy, olive oil, salt and garlic. Put out a raw vegetable platter with bagna cauda dip and you’ll be the life of the party. Then spread the leftovers on toast the next morning.

Keep a couple of these condiments in your cupboard and your meals will be a cinch to prepare and more flavourful then ever. The best of both worlds.

Happy Friday everyone!

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