Condiments is an intriguing and unusual concept for a book, bombarded as we are on every supermarket and deli shelf with condiments of seemingly endless variety. In her single page introduction, Caroline Dafgard Widnersson explains that making condiments is her own personal hobby, likening it to raising children, and her mission in bringing the hobby into your own home is to improve the flavour of your condiments and to allow you to avoid additives.
Here she and I would have an in-depth discussion about the much-maligned yet scientifically harmless MSG were we in the same room – fortunately for her we’re not and I skip her comment on my beloved umami bomb with a raised eyebrow. Her flavour improvement ethos I can get behind whole-heartedly, looking forward to experimenting with adaptations of an old favourite. I also relate to Caroline’s advice on best before dates: “if it looks good and smells fine, it’s generally good to eat”; a woman after my own parsimonious heart.
Reading between the lines, it seems this book was originally published in Sweden then translated for the Australian market before finding its way to the UK. This may explain a few things: the delicately styled Scandi feel to the photos, almost entirely muted pale blues, greys, greens; the glossary picking out our ubiquitous maple syrup, molasses and turmeric as worthy of description and sourcing advice; and the statement that you can find ingredients in “a British store”. It’s a quietly elegant book, laid out in categories with a reasonably effective index (I would have liked to be able to find recipes based on country, like pebre from Chile for example, or by major ingredient – I have a surfeit of coriander languishing in my fridge right now). It also has a basic tools and tricks section which is worth reading up front, despite the fact it’s at the back of the book.
The contents page describes the categories as follows: Mustard, Ketchup and Mayo (think Dijon, Curry Ketchup); Hot Sauces (the famous Sriracha or less familiar Green Hot Sauce); World-Famous Sauces (e.g. American Barbecue Sauce or Ponzu); Vinegars, Pickles and Preserves (Pickled Jalapeños through to Preserved Lemons); and Spice Blends divided into wet and dry (such as Tahini, Mushroom Powder, Salad Spice and Garam Masala). Each category has a useful single page intro (as a serial smoke-alarm abuser, tips on how not to set your kitchen on fire are always welcome, let’s be honest!) There’s also a handy simple guide to chillies in the Hot Sauces section.
At the start of each category, there’s a collated photo of most of the recipes to follow (not in book order, strangely – I got a bit irked with this design quirk which a little judicious editing could have resolved) with the occasional individual photo alongside some of the recipes themselves. There’s also a single recipe in each category using one or two of your homemade efforts (Grilled Mackerel with Pickled Green Tomatoes and Cress for example).
As for the recipes themselves, there’s a fairly standard layout for each: a description of the quantity it makes; the ingredients, of which some are readily available, some less so; the method, which is rarely more than six steps and often as few as one or two; and a boxed description of the background to the recipe, its variations and/or usage.
A quick note that usage information can be a little flaky (the index could be improved on this front). I had to hunt through the book to find out that the Leek Ash recipe (which is completely silent on its application) is used to make Taco Spice and Ash Salt; and both Onion Powder and Garlic Powder are founding ingredients for a number of recipes in the book, which would be good to be able to easily reference.
I always like to try a few recipes and that quintessentially British condiment coyly referred to here as English Brown Sauce (HP to you and me) jumped out as a great starting point. It was a simple recipe, well described and very straightforward to make (albeit with a long list of ingredients). I made the sweet version indicated in Caroline’s description and still found it extremely tangy to the extent that next time I would increase the ratio of sweet to sour, but I’ll definitely make this again. It was just perfect daubed on a slice of bubbling hot cheese on toast and the next day dolloped as a condiment to a spiced cottage pie I’d whipped up.
Next on my list was Hoisin Sauce. This is notoriously difficult to source gluten free and I noted from the ingredients that I could simply replace the soy sauce with a gluten free equivalent to make my coeliac husband a very happy man. Again, a straightforward recipe, lots of ingredients but in this case a phenomenal outcome: a rich, nuanced, umami pot of joy! I’ve used it in three different dishes and each time the end product sings with the complexity, sweetness and savouriness of the hoisin. This is going to be a staple recipe in our household and it beats every hoisin sauce I’ve ever tried hands down.
I’ve been a dedicated pickler during lockdown in a concerted attempt to avoid waste, so it was a pleasure to find something other than the usual suspects from the Pickles and Preserves category: I’d eaten Pickled Mustard Seeds once in a restaurant but never made them so seemed an interesting choice. This recipe couldn’t have been simpler to make and as the seeds were ready within days, they’ve had an outing on a thick rare roast beef sandwich and as a piquant addition to a couple of salads (including a classic niçoise), both of which were well received. I can envisage them on a tuna tartare or a grilled mackerel salad, cutting through the richness of the fish like a dream.
A quick note on quantities. Be prepared to be flexible and read some recipes closely. Both the English Brown Sauce and the Pickled Mustard Seeds made quite a bit more than indicated, so I was rushed into a last minute sterilizing frenzy. Conversely the Hoisin Sauce resulted in about 2/3rd of the advertised amount. For Herbes de Provence “a handful” of three different herbs when I analysed the recipe turned out to be 120 grams of each (definitely more than I could hold!).
This book has a few idiosyncracies to get past, it’s true, but Caroline has a convert to her hobby in me. If my results are anything to go by, you’ll produce some store-cupboard boons to easily rival standard supermarket/deli offerings, and there’s the opportunity to trial some novel condiments that’ll liven up your repertoire.
Recipes from Condiments
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Condiments by Caroline Dafgård Widnersson from publishers Murdoch Books. Book cover provided by Murdoch Books, all other images by Nicky Bramley.