Create Custom Condiments
By Piet Jones
You spent months experimenting with different cuts of beef to get just the right amount of fat content for your grind. Hours with different seasoning combinations. Visits to every artisan bakery within driving distance for just the right bun. Finally, all the components of your signature house burger are ready and you’re going to top it with a dollop of… Heinz ketchup?
No, probably not. Like many other chefs and restaurateurs, you’re going to make your own condiments from scratch. That is what your house burger and specialty sandwiches are crying out for. The nice part, you’re only limited by your imagination as to what you can do.
Traditionally, a condiment is a pickled or preserved food that is used to enhance and complement the flavors of a dish. In America, we’ve narrowed that down to a few. For burgers and sandwiches it’s ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. Add relishes for hot dogs and then cocktail and tartar sauces for seafood. But there’s a certain sameness to all those and, in the competitive world of dining, you need to stand out. Fortunately, there’s a way to make condiments that will help you separate from your competition.
Get Started on Yours
Ketchups - Tomato, spices, and vinegar. Not overly complex but you can easily mix it up. A little cayenne can add a spark. Curry ketchups are popular in Northern Europe, especially for fries. Add a little sweet chili sauce for a Thai inspired ketchup or even a little hoisin, soy sauce, Chinese five spice, and a touch of honey for an Asian flair.
Mayos/Aïolis - First, the difference. Mayonnaise is typically an emulsion of egg and canola oil. Aïoli uses olive oil and is typically begun by crushing garlic into a paste with a mortar and pestle. Either one is immensely customizable. Garlic, of course, is popular but so is tarragon - perfectly suited for a smoked chicken sandwich. Yes, you can use Sriracha to spice things up but that is close to being an overdone trend. Instead, try roasted hot red peppers blended to a paste to get just the right heat and color you desire.
Remoulade - Similar to mayos and aïolis but often with a little added relish. Squeeze out the excess liquid from the relish or else it could become too runny. Add in Old Bay seasoning for a Cajun flair or mustard powder and turmeric with a touch of sugar for an incredible dipping sauce for french fries.
Mustards - The hardest part about making your own mustards is finding the right seeds. White, yellow, and black mustard seeds have their own characteristics and can be manipulated with toasting and by changing the texture of the grind. Once ground, you mix the seeds with water and vinegar and refine the flavors and heat with neutral or more complex vinegars. Initial results can be a bit harsh but will mellow if allowed to rest for a few weeks.
Relishes/Chutneys - Relishes are typically minced pickled cucumber and can range from sweet to spicy. Chutneys can be a little more expansive, including fruits like mango and fresh herbs or ginger. The result is often a little brighter flavor and usually a crisper texture. Perfect for spring dishes that can use a little color and spark.
Mignonette - If you serve raw seafood, you need this condiment. Simply vinegar, fine chopped shallots and fresh cracked pepper. It’ll bring a sharp brightness to clams and oysters that a cocktail sauce simply can’t match. Try a sherry vinegar for just that right amount of sweetness.
Fish Sauce - To those not in the know, fish sauce doesn’t always sound appetizing but the flavor it imparts is sublime. Fermenting fish can be a tricky and lengthy process but the end result isn’t fishy and can be something delicate or akin to a Worcestershire sauce. More simple, but equally tasty, is an XO sauce - made with dried shrimp and scallops, ham, garlic, and chilies. Spoon it out on wok-fried fish or noodles for an explosion of flavor.
This is just the beginning. There are tons of other condiments to help enhance the flavors of your food, from Basque chimichurris to Bulgarian pindjurs. All easily modifiable to match your cuisine.
That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place for commercially prepared condiments. Take Chef Jason Alley, owner of Comfort in Richmond, Virginia. Summer, a slow time for the restaurant, was approaching and a major city project was disrupting parking and access. To simplify service and appeal to diners on the go, Alley switched from his normal lunch time sit-down service, featuring Southern comfort food, to a pop-up dishing up Philadelphia-style sandwiches.
To achieve the signature taste of the Philly sandwiches, Alley eschewed his normal made-in-house ethos and opted for traditional “cheez whiz” and jarred peppers because, as he puts it, “it just tastes right.” Something his diners agree with as his summertime lunch pop-up is now entering its sixth month of operation.
Condiments can help you finish a dish, to bring it to life and complete your culinary vision. Much like getting the right tool for the job, here you just need the right ingredient for the dish.