Thursday, April 22, 2010

DIY Condiments #1: Worcestershire Sauce

Sometimes it pays to eavesdrop at the grocery store. Yesterday at Treasure Island as I was heading into the produce department I heard one of the produce ladies tell a customer, "Oh yes, honey, that pineapple is super sweet - I just cut that today and it is fabulous." (Ok, she may not have actually used the word "fabulous," but you get the idea.) They also happened to be on sale so I added one to my basket and chopped it up this morning. I just finished a bowl full of the freshest, sweetest pineapple I have tasted in a long time. Yes, it was fabulous.

Misreall and I have been having the hardest time finding a date that we can get together to sample and compare our Worcestershire sauces. I have been waiting to write about it so I could report on the comparisons, but I have decided to go ahead and post the process, before I forget what I did.

If you have ever thought about making your own Worcestershire sauce, I say go for it. If you haven't ever thought about making your own Worcestershire sauce, I still say GO FOR IT! This is the freshest, most flavorful, spiciest (without heat), magical elixir of flavor I have come across in a long, long time. And it's not hard to make.

It does, however, use a lot of ingredients. To my delight, I already had most of them in my pantry, but I did have to make a special trip for a few of these goodies. I have several varieties of dried peppers, but I did not have chilies de arbol. I also needed anchovies, molasses, green cardamom pods, fresh ginger, and star anise.

Actually, I didn't need the star anise, but that's another story. I was also looking at ketchup recipes, some of which do call for star anise, so I got it in my head that I needed some. Turns out I didn't, but I am now prepared for the ketchup phase of this project. Unfortunately, I didn't realize I didn't need it until after I took this photo, so there the star anise will sit through eternity, hopelessly aware that it does not belong, trying desperately to be as invisible as the jar in which it comes, thinking "please don't look at me. Look at the molasses - yeah! - and the onion - see how beautifully round it is! Just pretend like I'm not here, ok?" What you don't see here is the sugar, which for some reason I forgot to bring out until I needed it. Hmmm, and now that I am looking more closely, I see that I left out the garlic as well.

Ok, so it's not perfect. But you get the idea - lots of ingredients, some everyday, some a little more exotic. But nothing I could not find with relative ease.

Most of the ingredients go right into the pot. Be sure to use a pot with a heavy bottom. I used my go-to 3-quart reinforced bottom saucepan, and it worked just fine.

At this point, it's just a mishmash of ingredients and doesn't look like much. It smells mostly of the vinegar, too, which is not the most pleasant smell in the world.



After it has been simmering for a few minutes, however, the ingredients begin to come together and the most heavenly, sharp-sweet-tart-sour aroma slowly wafts out of the saucepan.

Before long, the smell has taken over your kitchen. It was about this time that I started having these vague thoughts of steak.



I am glad that I had already experimented with caramel sauce not too long ago, so I was not as intimidated as I might have been at the thought of melting the sugar. I am still just a little bit skeptical when I start with that pot of sugar that it is really going to melt.

You also want to use a heavy-bottomed pan to melt the sugar. If it is too thin, it is more likely that you will burn the sugar. It's one of those things that goes from golden brown to burnt beyond recognition quickly.

You can see here that the sugar has started to clump together in places. These lumps get hard and it doesn't look like they are going to melt, but if you are patient and just keep stirring everything around gently, they will. At this point, you will also start to see a little bit of liquid below all that sugar. Those hard lumps will slowly melt into that liquid as you stir it all together.



At this time, you want to be especially vigilant, because this is where it can go from done to burned in a heartbeat.

This is what it should look like when it's ready. The sugar has melted into a pool of amber. You want to remove it from the heat before that amber turns too dark.




Next you pour the sugar into the saucepan where all of the other ingredients are simmering.

The recipe should really come with a warning at this point. That sugar is so hot that it will make the rest of the ingredients start to boil as soon as the liquid sugar hits it. It will bubble up and make a fierce noise, so don't be startled. Just hang on and in a minute or two it will have subsided back into a nice simmer.

By this time, all of the ingredients have come together and the sugar fuses them into one big giant spectacular splendiferous aroma that fills all of your senses. If you are anything like me, you will be craving a steak by this time. Too bad you won't be tasting the sauce for a few weeks.

Here is the sauce fresh out of the saucepan and ready to go into the refrigerator for three weeks.

Another warning that I think should be included in this recipe is that you need a fairly large jar for the sauce with all of the ingredients still in it. I had two false starts before I finally found enough room in my old dill pickle jar. I wish I could remember exactly how big it is, but I do know it's bigger than a quart - maybe one-and-a-half quarts. There's a lot of stuff in there that has to be strained out before you reach the 2 cups, so I recommend you start with the biggest jar you have.

I put the jar all the way in the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and let it stay there for the required three weeks. It was a long three weeks, that I can tell you.

Finally, the three weeks had passed and it was time to strain the sauce and taste it. Even though I hadn't disturbed the jar at all, the seal was hard to break, and for a little while I actually had some concern that I would not be able to get the jar open. But with a little pushing and straining, and tapping the lid against the floor, I finally got the lid released and the jar opened.



Here all of those lovely spices and chilies and mustard seeds and onion and garlic and anchovy and general Worcestershire-y goodness. Oh, and that's the sauce down there in the bottom of the pan. True to the recipe's word, I ended up with about 2 cups worth.

This is a truly marvelous sauce, and it really does not take that long to make at all. And once you buy the ingredients for the first batch, you have most of what you need on hand for the next batch as well, and the one after that. And you will be making more batches, of that I can assure you. It is spicy and fresh and adds a burst of flavor to everything it touches, from soups to stews to sauces, salad dressing, eggs, pimento cheese, you name it.

I used the recipe I found in Saveur Magazine #117. I don't believe I would change a thing. You can find the recipe here. Go make yourself some. You won't be sorry.

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