Always Use a Condiment
When it comes to food, my slogan is “always use a condiment”. I’ve been a big fan of sauces and condiments ever since I was a little kid, and the habit hasn’t abated in adulthood. Here are some of my favorite sauces:
Ketchup is my favorite condiment. Yeah, it’s common, but it’s still the king of sauces. Ketchup is great because it’s sweet, salty and tangy all at the same time. It’s a trifecta of flavor. But ketchup is just one of many different tomato sauces. Salsa and marinara are two more of my favorites. In fact, just about every savory food is improved by tomatoes or tomato sauce.
I had some friends over to my house one night. We were eating tamales and someone asked me if I had any hot sauce. I laughed and pulled five or six bottles out of the fridge. Tabasco Sauce, Louisiana Hot Sauce, Frank’s Red Hot, Sriracha and that sauce where the jar is full of little yellow peppers. Of these sauces, Frank’s Red Hot is my favorite. I put it on eggs and leftover pizza. I’m also a big fan of Sriracha, that spicy pepper paste with a rooster on the front. Sriracha is a lot like ketchup made with peppers instead of tomatoes. It’s got that same sweet-salty-tanginess, but this time with a good deal of cayenne heat.
If Ketchup were Neil Simon, mustard would be Art Garfunkel. Mustard often plays second fiddle to tomato sauces, but it’s pretty damn good in its own right. Yellow mustard has a lot less salt and sugar than ketchup, so it’s a slightly healthier alternative to condiment geeks like me. But yellow mustard is just the tip of the pyramid. There’s also Dijon, Grey Poupon, honey mustard, horseradish mustard, and a zillion specialty mustards available at your local organic grocery store or epicurean market. And yet, there’s nothing better to me than yellow mustard on a good ole American hot dog.
If a meal comes with a sauce or condiment, I’ll probably use it. That said, I’m not a huge fan of white sauces. Mayonnaise is good, but only in small quantities. I enjoy the European-style french fry dipped in mayonnaise, but I can only eat two or three fries before switching back to ketchup. The same goes for Italian food. I like the taste of Fettuccine Alfredo, but after a few bites of Alfredo sauce, I’m ready to switch back to marinara. White sauces are too rich and heavy for my tastes. I even feel the same about ranch dressing. I don’t dislike it, but a few bites is all I really need.
The best sauces are made up of vinegar. Besides the aforementioned ketchup and mustard, there are many good vinegar-based condiments: Worcestershire sauce, pickle relish and dozens of kinds of steak sauce. Hell, even vinegar by itself is a damned good condiment. Balsamic vinegar is the best, but I’ve also seen plain white vinegar used as a condiment at a diner in Vermont. And then there are the vinaigrette and salad dressings out there, far too many to list. Vinegar really is an amazing substance.
Sweet sauces, jams and jellies
I grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and to this day, the humble PBJ is still one of my favorites. It’s really just a condiment sandwich. And when it comes to jelly and jam, just about any kind will do, from cheap grape jelly to fancy artisan preserves. One of my favorite kinds is jalapeno jelly, which combines the sweet jelly texture with a nice medium hot sauce. And of course, there’s always chutney, which is really just a dinner jelly designed for more savory foods.
Salt and pepper
There are hundreds, if not thousands of condiments out there, and I could go on all day, but instead I’ll look at the most common of all: salt and pepper. Strictly speaking, salt and pepper aren’t condiments. They’re seasonings. But with salt and pepper shakers on every table in every restaurant in America, these two seasonings are hard to ignore. And in fact, most of the above sauces and condiments are really just combinations of salt and pepper (and maybe some sugar and vinegar). Salt and pepper are there for you when you need just a little more flavor. Even if there aren’t any good condiments on the table, you can always rely on salt and pepper.