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Sunday, October 28, 2012

5 Condiments I'm Loving Right Now

I've been thinking about this post for a few months. I had a friend over for dinner and ended up spending the evening answering questions about the unusual ingredients in my fridge and pantry. I didn't realize, until that night, that when it comes to cooking - I'm a bit of an oddity.

Since I was eighteen and able to do my own grocery shopping, I've been drawn to unusual foods. There is a crack-high thrill that comes from finding an ingredient or dish that no one's told me about, and tasting it for the first time. My poor husband gave up arguing with me after the first year. I've never been a shoe maven (my feet are too big to have that problem) nor do I get the whole $600 purse craze. My splurges come in short bursts of strange flavors from around the globe.

And let me tell you something - I am not afraid to eat things most people hide from. I remember last year at a friend's retirement party, scooping out the tongue of the roasted whole pig and trying to convince people to take a taste. It was porky and chewy, a bit like bacon wrapped octopus. I loved it. I have a rule about food - always try it twice. With that thought in mind - let me share with you some of my favorite ingredients I always have on hand. If you like to experiment in the kitchen as I do, you may find you love some of these flavors too!

1. Kekap Manis:
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I found this thick, syrupy and sweet soy sauce at an Asian grocer a few years back. I was trying to find the ingredients to make Pad See Ew, giant river noodles stir-fried in a spicy sweet sauce, made with kekap manis. I have since fallen in love with this concentrated, umami-rich condiment. Use it in stir-fries, as a marinade base for meat, even in Asian inspired stews! I use a whole chuck roast, a few tablespoons of kekap manis, a star anise pod, ginger, garlic, onions, chili flakes and Chinese-five-spice and beef broth to create an amazing pot roast stew.

2. Sriracha:
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I hope that most of you already know about the fabulous, garlic-chili hot sauce called Sriracha. I discovered this sauce at our favorite Vietnamese phö restaurant in Kaneohe, Hawaii almost ten years ago. It quickly became a staple sauce in my home. I use it in soups, stews, on eggs and even mixed with mayonnaise and spread on a bun to make a spicy burger. The uses for Sriracha are endless. If you've never tried it, and you enjoy heat that also has flavor, you should give this bottle a try! 

3. Shitto Sauce:
Don't let the name fool you. I've already blogged about this amazing new find, Shitto sauce. It's a Ghanian condiment pepper sauce that combines dried ground fish, chicken, onions, tomatoes, hot chiles and more! The color is a deep red-brown with pearls of oil beaded throughout. The flavor is a smack of super-charged deliciousness. Nowadays, many West Africans use this sauce in soups, rice dishes, as a meat glaze, and traditionally as an accompaniment to fried fish. I am constantly learning new ways to incorporate this complex sauce into my cooking. Most recently, I chopped up turkey lunch meat, tossed it with a spoonful of Shitto and sauteed it before adding to the an omelet. I'm even thinking about using this as the main seasoning for my Thanksgiving turkey! Plus, what could be cooler than pulling out a jar of Shitto sauce to impress your friends? I didn't think so.

4. Xiaoxing (Shaohsing/Shaohxing) Rice Wine:
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Ching-He Huang from the Cooking Channel first introduced me to this Chinese staple rice wine. It has since replaced my rather bland Kikkoman rice wine vinegar. I love this stuff. It makes its way into every stir-fry I make, as well as many of my marinades and salad dressings. My newest favorite is to pickle too-hot chili peppers and English cucumbers in xiaoxing with sugar and salt. I even use this fragrant vinegar in a hogwash recipe that is spooned on raw oysters before slurping. Divine! 

And finally-
5. Ghee:
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Ghee is simply clarified butter. It hails from India, where a lack of refrigeration required home chefs to concoct a way to store butterfat in hot temperatures. It is easy to make ghee at home, simply melt down unsalted pure butter on medium heat until the butterfat and the milk solids separate. When the solids have turned golden, carefully strain the fat and viola - you have ghee. It does not have to be refrigerated, and can keep for up to a year in your cupboard, in a tightly covered jar. I love the rich, nutty taste that ghee imparts on food. It has a higher smoke point than most oils too.

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These are just five of many flavors you can add to your cooking repertoire. One of my favorite websites for finding new, fire-laced condiments is Hot Licks. They have a giant inventory of amazing, flavorful products. Also, I love hitting up local international grocers to find flavors that are unique and hard to find.

I recommend you take a chance and try a new ingredient for yourself. Every item featured in this blog is under $5, so they wont break the bank and you won't feel terrible if you decide you don't like them. I am always on the search for something new, so if you have an ingredient you want to talk about - let me know! 


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