It’s all about the sauce, don’t you think? Well it is for me.
Although I’m mostly a dry food person, I really like a little bit on the side, so to speak, just to liven things up.
A good sauce or condiment [a word which thanks to memories of my puerile adolescence will always be sniggeringly associated with prophylactics] should be a complimentary thing, not a mask to the flavours it’s paired with. A little heat maybe, some sweetness, some sharpness and texture . Its matter of accent I suppose. I’m obviously not alone in my fondness for a dollop; as all cultures have their many and varied sauces, salsa, pickles, relishes, pastes, pesti and so on. Just consider the vast tracts of real estate given over to this theme in supermarkets the world over.
I think our taste for such embellishment stems for that age old human need to personalise everything and in the case of masochistic chilli sauces, to make a statement of bravado and machismo, kind of like pimping out your ride. They allow us all a form of expression where even the most narrow minded can show a willingness to step out of the meat and three confines of supper-time suburbia.
We’re fiercely loyal and more than a little parochial when it comes to our sauces too. Once we get hooked [and that addiction is more often than not passed down from our parents] it’s generally for keeps.
Until not so long ago down here in the colonies that mostly meant Watties tomato sauce, various so-so brands of Soy, Worcester sauce, malt vinegar [which tastes like acidic sweat to me] and maybe plum sauce if Nanna was handy with a preserving pan.
Being as we are, about 2 million miles from anywhere worth visiting, we New Zealanders have taken advantage of cheap[ish] airfares in recent years and made something of habit of getting out of the backblocks and going off to and see and perhaps more importantly, taste the world. So our tastes are now somewhat fluid; we are by and large far more outgoing in our eating habits than most Europeans, who stick doggedly to their admittedly rather decent national cuisines. For example, hands up if you have a bottle of Thai sweet chilli sauce in the pantry. As I suspected. I’ll also hazard a guess that this would have been a different story 15 years ago. Not much gives me hope about our species anymore, but the seemingly mundane arrival of a spicey, sweet South East Asian standard in the cooking vernacular of middle New Zealand fills me with a dram of optimism. It’s kind of like the condiment equivalent of the recent US election results. A pleasant surprise and not something you could have predicted a decade back. Ok so it’s a grossly stretched analogy but I’ve been desperate to politicise things lately and I seem to divide people enough as it is without flying my local colours.
Rather disturbingly on a recent trip to Thailand I found a bottle of Worcester sauce made right there in the land of reclining Buddha’s [or is that Cambodia?] under official licence. Nothing per se against a splash of Worcester on my poached egg, but the thought of Thais splashing it across their shame-inducingly elegant food bring sons a panicky weakness in my bowels. Maybe it’s just made for all those Brits who loiter about Phuket complaining about the heat and the prevalence of ‘foreign muck’.
Anyway, the point I was getting at is that the sauce preferences of an average household in any given country speaks volumes of the national and possibly local food culture. In most western spots you don’t even need to check out the sauces. Just stop by at the local purveyor crud and check out the chips on offer. It’s a pretty good indicator that a flavour has been fully accepted by a people when it appears as a potato chip; think pesto, sweet chilli, tzatziki etc. The recipe for artificial Hummus flavour must be causing industrial food chemists many sleepless nights.
So anyway, down to business. Something you can make and hopefully enjoy as much as I do [quite a bit]. I’m not about to offer up yet another rendition of sweet chilli, or ketchup or Piccalilli [heaven forbid]. Plenty of those about the place already and why bother when the ready-mades are so very… adequate? Besides, I hate my house reeking of vinegar.
No, Instead I’m going to give you just one sauce, of my own invention [I think]. It takes but moments to make and doesn’t require any cooking
Call me unimaginative, but this is the only name we know this stuff by in our house. It’s a pretty accurate name though as the sauce is a pleasing red/orange colour and has a very red flavour, if you know what I mean. Its tres tres summery too; being largely composed of capsicum and despite its creaming, silky texture is not especially fatty. Think of a light mayonnaise with a warm, smokey capsicum flavour but is miraculously free of eggs. It’s essentially a salad sauce if there is such a thing and goes particularly well with cold chicken, on crisp leaves, waxy new potatoes and asparagus… you get the idea. I’ve finished off a few batches on crusty fresh baguette too.
Char-grilled Red Peppers [capsicums] -preserved or home made
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
White wine vinegar
Spanish smoked paprika
Ground dried chilli
To a blender or food processor add skinned, char-grilled capsicums. For each whole capsicum add 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika and ½ teaspoon white wine vinegar. Blend on high and start drizzling in the EVO until the sauce takes on a thick and creamy appearance. Taste, season with salt and chilli and then blend again for a moment or two. If too thin add a little more oil while blending. This stuff keeps well in the fridge [we practically lick the bowl clean, so storage has never come up] but it may separate at room temperature. Another spin in the blender should sort it out.
Now you may notice that I haven’t laid in to the nations favourite sauces. I suspect doing so would open a whole hornet’s nest of angry, buzzing antagonism. Instead I thought it would be far more fun to let you name [and shame] you’re favourite and most hated sauce sand condiments. So let’s have it then; Sauces: the good the bad and the fugly…