It’s Bye Week. Let’s talk about condiments that we didn’t expect to use much when we first bought them and now can’t imagine life without them. It’s not like any of us are entertaining for a game.
I hate Bye Week. I get that it’s necessary to have a break to heal and rest but the players are the ones that need that, not me. I can be petulant and listless when I don’t get my Alabama Game if I want to be. I still enjoy watching football all day. There’s usually a good matchup or three, but I hate the absence even though I understand the need. All appetizers and no main course. The team will come out of this week off better for it and better prepared to finish the rest of the season, but I’m bad at delayed gratification so forgive me if I pout.
So, since we have no gameday party to cook for or tailgate that needs a grill master let’s look at some things that will make next week’s food all the better.
This is not about ketchup, mustard, or even formerly exotic potions that have become commonplace over the last twenty or so years like sriracha. These are things I’m betting most don’t have in their pantries – some will - but are great to have on hand if a dish seems to lack something as it cooks.
Calabrian pepper paste is great to serve to unwitting friends that don’t handle hot food well. I initially bought it to stir a teaspoon or so into a few quarts of soup but after tasting a dab to be sure it was what I hoped it would be I started spreading on toasted baguette and eating it strait. It’s got a pleasant flavorful burn and I like spicy.
My wife can handle one slice served that way but no more. My sister in-law took one bite, spit it into a napkin, and reached for her wine. I eat four or so in a sitting and the beauty is that even with some water the heat stays with you for twenty or so minutes.
I started with soup and bread and later added it to tomato pasta sauces – not always because it has a strong pepper flavor and that’s not always what I want. Now I’ll occasionally use it in lieu of pasta sauce. I toss pasta with a bit of olive oil and the chili paste and it’s great as a quick snack.
I’ve got a Williams Sonoma version right now that I haven’t tried yet, but my favorites so far are from Tuttocalabria. They have a straight Crushed Calabrian Chili Pepper Paste and another called Rose Marina Little Fish Nonnata di Pesce. The name seems redundant to me on the latter, but what do I know. It says little fishes because depending on the time of year that the paste is jarred they add anchovies or whiting, whatever is in season.
The next one is familiar to just about everyone but rarely used outside of a sushi place. Wasabi is listed on most packages as Japanese horseradish. That’s not exactly true. Outside of major cities real Japanese horseradish, so real wasabi, is pretty hard to find. Most of what we see in America is horseradish paste and green food coloring, which is fine.
When I lived in Savannah, my wife and a chef friend and I would go to this place called Sushi Time Towa. We’d sit at the counter, drink, beer, and eat whatever they put in front of us. We got to know the sushi chef and his staff. One time our chef friend got hold of two items that were very hard to find at the time: monkfish liver and real wasabi root. We went into Towa and he gave the root and liver to the sushi chef as a gift. He told us to sit down and disappeared to the back.
He returned with a portion of the root ground and pasted in a bowl which he set before us and then sent out more courses than I care to count. The first was a giant clam with a tubular foot sticking out. He slammed it on the table to make the foot start moving so we new it was still alive and then he started to slice it razor thin. It was almost transparent. I’m an adventurous eater but even I was suspect about eating a part of a creature that was still alive. There was no saying no though. The sushi chef was beaming so we dabbed a little wasabi on it and ate.
I can tell you from that meal, which culminated with some of the monkfish liver, real wasabi is immeasurably better than the tubed stuff we get here, but horseradish dyed green is pretty damn good.
In addition to sushi it’ll light up a New York strip. Like the Calabrian paste a bit stirred into soup brightens flavors and adds a little kick. My favorite non-sushi use is to add a bit to cream cheese and use that as a spread on toast for a BLT.
Another reason to keep it around, and this has nothing to do with food, is that a gummy bear sized measure of the stuff held in your mouth for just a few seconds or so clears nasal congestion like nothing you’ll find on pharmaceutical aisle.
I bought Hoisin to make Mongolian chicken and figured that would be it. In a year I’d toss after staring at it in the fridge and wondering what kind of shelf life it had. That didn’t happen.
I’ve used it mixed with soy and citrus as a dipping sauce for pork dumplings, I’ve stirred minced garlic and five spice into it and tossed chicken wings, I tried it on a hot dog which was a disaster, but it redeemed itself as a salmon and pork chop glaze.
As it turns out, per the bottle it has a two-year shelf life. I’ll use it up by Christmas.
Finally there is HP Sauce. It’s that rich brown sauce you get in British pubs and is known there as either pub sauce or brown sauce. It’s the greatest thing to ever happen to fish and chips and yes, I say that having had malt vinegar.
The flavor is similar to A-1 but the sauce is thicker and the tartness is subtle. There’s a touch of black pepper in there too.
Obviously, use it everywhere you would use A-1 so clearly on steaks. I think it might be my favorite thing to put on a burger. I usually just pour a bit on the bun but sometimes I’ll dice onion and pickles and toss them together with HP for a homemade Milo’s burger. I’ve brushed some on chicken legs as they grilled and that was good, but I preferred when I held off adding as the drumsticks were on the heat and used it as a dipping sauce. That was more better awesome.
Maybe Saturday I’ll mix all four condiments together and see what that’s like.
I’d love to hear you uses for a favorite condiment in the comment sections. I’ll check the site regularly on Saturday because though I read it every week, I’m going to be returning to WAKE UP! over and over to see what unwatchable filth I’ll need to fill the emptiness.
Damn Bye Week.
Enjoy something with too much sauce, I guess we’ll be injury free, and practice your Roll Tide.