The 10 best condiments
I love condiments. I really love them – a meal isn’t a meal without a sauce, chutney or a mustard. My cupboards bow under the weight of pickles, curry pastes and vinegars. My fridge door greets me with a pleasing symphony of jar on jar whenever opened. My life revolves around food and my food revolves around condiments, making them pretty much ‘the stuff of life’.
When I dig deep for charity at the Rotary Club sausage sizzle, don’t be wasting time asking me if I want tomato sauce on my it. Yes, obviously! The question you should be asking is if I want a sausage with my sauce!
Kebab shops have it right – the first question that pops out the little man’s mouth is not ‘can I interest you with a bit of salad, my good man?’ No, it’s ‘What sauce you want?’ It’s enough to make me throw a swag down by the drinks fridge and move in!
So in an attempt to create some kind of mental clarity it’s time to decide the top ten condiments. In a bizarre twist I am applying logic to this list – limiting the criteria to foodstuffs used, in this example, solely to embellish finished dishes. (Although that doesn’t preclude them from being used as ingredients in their own right – that’s how good condiments are!)
Heinz tomato ketchup
I make no apologies to this site being littered with mini eulogies to the mighty Heinz TK. None. It makes the world a better place.
Masterfoods Hot English Mustard
There are hundreds, nay thousands, of mustards available to perk up a salad dressing, or enliven a cold cut, but I find none clear the tubes quite as well as this Australian brand’s confusingly named Hot English Mustard.
The mere inhalation of the fumes is enough to get the nasal passages burning with joy – pain which can only be tempered by barbequed meat.
Smokey and unctuously brown, this US staple can be the best of sauces or the worst, depending on the balance of sweet, smoke, salt and acidity. It can transform a burger into a sublime life-changing event or just leave you wishing you’d asked for tomato sauce!
Despite bringing balance to any civilised place setting, correctly seasoned food has little need for table-side salt (boiled eggs excepted). So I have chosen to separate the co-joined condiment, leaving just pepper to represent both these kitchen constants.
Baked Beans, mayonnaise, steaks or scrambled eggs are just a fraction of the foods which are obscenely naked without a hefty grind of the black stuff.
Sarsons Malt Vinegar
Sometimes you actively collect things and other times you find yourself in the middle of a collection that has occurred through stealth. Seemingly filling your shelves whilst you were watching old episodes of Columbo.
Exhibit A – vinegar. I seem to have amassed all manner of this fermented liquid, from thick Balsamics, through ciders to raspberry. All, at some point, intrinsic to a dish, none of them, ever showing signs of depletion.
There is one that is always in danger of running out – the magnificently 70’s Sarson’s malt vinegar. Be strong and resist the offer of ‘non brewed condiment’ when offered in the chip shop and wait until you get home to shower your quarry with the real stuff.
[Special mention must go to Chinese black vinegar, which no self-respecting steamed dumpling should be without!]
Lingham’s Sweet Chilli
Sweet chilli sauce is at best a beautiful combination of sugar and heat, the perfect counterpoint to anything mild needing a lift but not to be overpowered. The darkening congealed rim is a handy built-in use indicator, something you never have to worry about with Lingham’s. This Malaysian concoction, with its majestic yellow livery looks like it walked straight out of an Edwardian club – it’s the Gentleman’s gentleman of condiments.
Chilli sauces are everywhere these days, each one trying to out-do its spicy neighbour in levels of heat of wackiness of name.
The truth is they all start with the same thing – chillis, and then they add to them, but sometimes adding lots of things subtracts from the joy contained within the core ingredient.
So you may as well seek out that core ingredient – chilli, in this case dried.
A crafty shake of the wrist improves all manner of comfort foods, adding a level of heat and complexity otherwise missing.
Masterfoods Hot Chilli Sauce Doner Kebab Style
The answer to the kebab question posed in the introduction is always ‘Barbeque and Chilli please mate’. Whilst one could always find a suitable barbeque substitute, the magic bottle of chilli elixir was never to be found outside the kingdom of The Kebab. Then in, what must have been, a daring raid on the fortress of the spinning stick, Masterfoods managed to get their hands on the magic formula, bringing light to the once dark hot sauce shelves.
Available in an ever-dwindling number of Australian supermarkets, this brightly coloured orange bottle – weirdly the same colour as the sauce – is the nearest you get to Friday night in a condiment.
Pickles and chutneys come is every shape, flavour and piquancy, worthy of a list in their own right (although my pear and jalapeno is the rightful king) – they are represented here by British stalwart Branstons. This dark brown pickle is best suited to cheese sandwiches and poorly thought through ploughman’s served in pubs.
It is a worthy example of a mass produced version of a traditionally homemade product. Capturing the acrid tang of pickle, if not all the subtleties of the more intimately concocted fare.
Yes it’s a condiment! And I can prove it.
You make yourself some toast, spread on an ample pat of butter, letting it melt to give a delicious lustre to each slice.
You take a bite.
Hmmm… good, but not quite holding its own against that nice cup of Earl Grey.
I wonder what I can add to this ‘dish’ to improve the final flavour?
I know Bovril!
Q.E.D it’s a condiment.
Just accept it and consider yourself lucky I didn’t crowbar gravy and custard on to the list – because I came close!