Filling the Fridge – Sweet and Sour (Extra: Soy-Pickled Shiitakes)

As we continue our exploration of the dark reaches of the fridge and what you need to stock a brand new one, let’s look at the sweet and the sour.  A lot of sour (vinegar) is in my spice/pantry cabinet, but that’ll come later. I’m still avoiding spicy, although a few of the items on today’s list cross that line.

Oh yeah — the previous creamy and fatty dressings post probably should have included Butter as Essential.  I have Margarine too, but that’s a bonus. It’s mainly there for when my kosher-keeping daughter-in-law is around, and there’s a dish that calls for butter with a meat-based meal.

Some of the sweet things below are dessert or breakfast, some are more savory. Asian spicy food seems to be complemented by sweet flavors. Some are homemade.

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Essential

  • Maple Syrup. Grade B if you can get it — it’s now going to be called Grade A Dark (rolls eyes). Here’s one that shouldn’t have an ingredient list.  It’s just maple syrup. Currently what I have is a jug from Costco, but I’ve been very happy with a Vermont producer called Jacques Couture, at http://www.maplesyrupvermont.com/
  • Pickles – Klaussen kosher or garlic dills.  Usually we just get the whole pickles, since we can slice them, but you can’t put sliced ones back together again. Sometimes there are hamburger dill chips, but I’m not a fan.
  • Relish. I’m a big fan of Vienna/Chipico’s radioactive-green stuff, don’t care as much about the darker-green variety, although there’s a bottle of that too.
  • Hoisin Sauce – Perhaps this should have been in the salt/umami list, but I consider its sweet to be more powerful (it’s used at least as much as an Asian ketchup as Sriracha is)
  • Jelly/Jam – We’re not big jam eaters, and certainly not with peanut butter, but you’ve got to have some. Right now it’s Smuckers’  Strawberry, and a Fig Jam we bought for cheese (a Port Jelly also held a position of prominence for this purpose while it lasted)

Important

  • Sundae fixin’s – Hersey’s syrup, maraschino cherries (need to find me some real ones in Maraschino liqueur), homemade chocolate and caramel sauces
  • More pickled things – These are all homemade: Preserved lemons for Morroccan, pickled mustard seeds as a sandwich spread (Momofuku recipe), soy-pickled shiitakes (also Momofuku), Cathy’s sauerkraut. Sour veggies brighten a sandwich or meat, have something like this around. Pickle relish, and various spicy things (soon, I tell you, I’ll list the spicy stuff) fit this bill.
  •  Barbecue Sauce – Right now there’s a bottle of Lum Taylor’s I picked up when a shop was closing, and Sweet Baby Ray’s (my wife’s favorite). Don’t use while grilling, use it on the side if needed, or on a turkey sandwich.
  • Tamarind Chutney – Mainly for samosas and similar Indian snacks, and especially for my Indian Seven Layer Dip, which I’ll have to make again soon and post here.  Other chutneys and such will be mentioned when I get to Spicy.

Bonus

  • Duck Sauce and Sweet Chile Sauce – can probably get by with packets from takeout
  • Dark Sweet Soy / Kecap Manis – Essential to make dishes such as Pad Se-Ew (Thai wide fresh rice noodles with beef and broccoli), but I don’t make that often
  • Tomato Jam, Vidalia Onion Jam: The former homemade, the latter from a farmer’s market
  • Tare – Essentially Japanese BBQ sauce. The brand I have is kind of weak on flavor, but to make Momofuku’s version takes most of a day. Useful for homemade ramen.
  • Tonkatsu Sauce – Basically a thick, sweet worcestershire, for Japanese pork cutlets.  We don’t make that as often as we used to, maybe we need to

Sweet might be addictive, but sour really wakes up your mouth. Pickled items should be around just about every meal, especially as garnishes or appetizers. You wouldn’t think of a charcuterie plate without cornichons, or nachos without pickled jalapeño rings. Momofuku’s soy-pickled shiitakes are something really special, especially as they were developed as something to do with the dried, rehydrated mushrooms that had been used to develop broth. They’re sweet, sour, and umami. I keep meaning to puree them into a ketchup-like sauce. They’re great on sandwiches, ramen, salads, or just grab a couple slices with a fork.

Recipe: Soy-Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms

4 cups dried shiitake mushrooms – get these at an Asian grocer or you’ll need a home loan
1 cup sugar
1 cup soy sauce (it says light, but I don’t stock light, and it works fine with regular)
1 cup sherry vinegar (I’m not sure if it would be significantly different with wine vinegar; I’ve found the best prices for this at World Market)
3-4 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced lengthwise
2 cups of soaking liquid (see below)

Soak the mushrooms in very hot (just-boiled) water for about a half-hour (you may need something to weigh them down to keep them in the liquid). They won’t be as soft as fresh ones, but they’ll expand beyond this in the steps below. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon, then strain the liquid through a fine strainer to make sure there is no dirt or grit. Keep 2 cups of the liquid. Tear any stems off the mushrooms and throw them away. Using a poultry shears or knife, cut into 1/4″ slices.

In a medium saucepan, place the sugar, soaking liquid, soy and vinegar and bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar.  When it’s dissolved, add the ginger slices and mushrooms.  Simmer gently for about a half-hour, then allow to cool. You can discard the ginger, but I don’t see any reason to do so.

The recipe says it makes about a quart, I got three pints out of this. Pack into containers and cover with the pickling liquid, which is pretty good on its own as a salad dressing.

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Filling the Fridge – Dressings and Mustards

OK part 2 of the “what would you run out and buy if you had an empty fridge to fill?” exercise.

This time, let’s concentrate on fatty condiments, and mustards. I’ve got an aversion to plain old yellow mustard, can’t stand it on sausages, burgers, etc., but it’s fine as an ingredient. I used to think I despised mayo too, but it turns out what I really hated was miracle whip. Even so, I’m not ever going to be seen putting mayo directly on a sandwich unless it’s mixed with other things… and often, I’m happier with the “other things” without the mayo (chipotle, wasabi, roasted garlic…).

So what’s in my fridge today?

Essentials

  • Hellman’s Mayo. If you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line, Duke’s is your choice, I’m sure.
  • Dijon-style mustard. Mild, smooth, perfect for sauces and vinaigrettes.
  • Dusseldorf/ballpark mustard. Best for sausages, a little spicier than ordinary or dijon mustard.
  • Yellow mustard.  I may use this in a slaw or BBQ rub, but it’s just not for my hot dogs.
  • Sour Cream. Probably my all-time favorite condiment, but right now I’m out (trying to lose weight). Berries to Potatoes, it’s fantastic stuff. It’ll probably be on my tombstone as what killed me.
  • Tahini. I don’t use it all that often, but there’s no substitute when making middle-eastern foods. I swear half the items in Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” use it. I’ve got a jar of Chinese Sesame Paste too, which is pretty close but a little toastier.  I could probably skip that and just use Tahini with some Sesame Oil (which isn’t in the fridge).
  • Plain Greek Yogurt. Like I said with soy sauce, the fewer ingredients, the better. I also have a big tub of Fage Fruyo Vanilla from Costco, but that’s food not condiments.

Important

  • Thousand Island Dressing. Yeah, could make it myself, but for a Reuben sandwich, gotta have it. (Thanks, Cathy, for the homemade sauerkraut)
  • Blue Cheese Dressing. Again, could make it myself, but it makes a good semi-healthy snack as a dip with with raw veggies.
  • Walnut Oil. Some kind of fancy oil should be on your list, for special occasion salads.
  • Chili Oil. If you use commercial, probably doesn’t need refrigeration. I use Gary Wiviott’s recipe with garlic in it, so in the fridge it goes to try to keep the botulism out.
  • Deli (Horseradish) Mustard. Less-used now that I’m stocked in Dusseldorf again.
  • Chinese Mustard. Or keep a few extra packets from carryout, it’s probably not necessary to have a whole jar.
  • Japanese “Kewpie” Mayo. Nice for Japanese-style spicy mayo, some salad dressings. Sweeter and sourer than American mayos.

Bonus

  • French Dressing. Every once in a while you don’t want to make your own salad dressing, and this is what you want. It’s got an orange glow and it’s sweet and just right. Guilty pleasure.
  • Argan Oil.  I think I’ve used this twice.
  • Submarine Sandwich Oil and Vinegar Dressing. I think I bought this for a party.
  • Nam Prik Pao. Essential to make Thai Tom Yam soup, good for a chicken salad too.  I think I’d like to either have this or Rick Bayless’ Chipotle Paste around at all times but it seems extravagant to have both and the Chili Oil.
  • Honey Mustard. Not sure why I bought this when I have honey and dijon around (1:1).
  • Horseradish Sauce. For when I want to replicate that Arby’s experience with real meat.
  • Prepared Horseradish. I buy a new jar every Passover for the gefilte fish (which I can’t stand). I’ve got a couple recipes which use this.
  • Truffle Oil. I can’t remember what I bought it for… probably needs to be thrown out.
  • Miracle Whip. I think son #2 left this when he moved back from his college apartment.
  • Submarine Sandwich Dressing (oil and vinegar). I probably bought this for a party, I’m certain it’s past its expiration date.

Filling the Fridge – Salt and Umami

One of the things that got me thinking I need to do this blog is the thought, “What would you run out and buy first if your fridge and pantry were somehow lost?”
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  • Perhaps, like Felix Unger, I would need to move in with an old friend (unlikely, Sue+Joel=Forever).
  • Perhaps you’re a recent graduate just moving into your first apartment
  • Perhaps there was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!

The answer, of course, is condiments.

(Darn, perhaps the title of this blog should have been “The Condimentor”)

The actual picture of my refrigerator door to the right is almost completely condiments.  The butter compartment has butter, margarine and a (ahem) spare piece of cooked bacon; the bottom shelf has two spirits (an old bottle of Lillet, and a bottle of Eiswein).  The shelves of the fridge have even more, although right now there’s a lot of space taken up by produce and leftovers, and other jars of things that have been accused of being condiments but are really ingredients. I’ll be dividing these into EssentialImportant, and Bonus sets. Essentials are things that get used frequently enough that you had better have them on hand.  Important ones are useful enough to have, but there may be a substitute or you may not use frequently enough to justify stocking it up.  Bonus items are ones I just happen to have.

So today, let’s think about some of the categories of what you should fill your fridge with, starting with salty and umami.  Interestingly, they seem to be a single category, as the seriously umami-laden sauces and such are usually salty. If you don’t know what umami is, you’re probably reading the wrong blog, but go to Wikipedia.  I’ll wait until you come back.

Essentials:

  • Heinz Ketchup. Umami? Yes sir, tomatoes are full of it. Salty, definitely. I don’t typically salt french fries if I’ve got ketchup around. It’s a cure for a pale, wan burger. I may mention it again under salty and sour, because Ketchup is the most flavor packed food out there (I’m guessing #2 is Skippy Peanut Butter, but it’s short on sour). Why Heinz? It’s the only one that’s just right.
  • Soy Sauce. Maybe my palate is busted when it comes to salty, but I can’t tell the difference between light and dark soy. I only stock one, a big bottle of Kikkoman (sometimes I get the Organic version, sometimes I’m cheap). Get one with the fewest ingredients possible: soy beans, salt, water.

Important:

  • Fish Sauce. Right now, it’s Three Crabs, LTHForum has a whole thread on recommendations for fish sauce. If you don’t cook southeast asian food, it’s less likely you’ll need this. This is usually more of an ingredient than used as a condiment on its own, except for the occasional Pho.
  • Anchovies. I keep a tube of anchovy paste: it’s the least economical way to store, but it keeps forever and is convenient.  I also have some salt-packed ones in the freezer. No, they don’t go on pizza, but they enhance braises, and are essential for a Caesar Salad — either whole fillets on the top or as an element of the dressing.
  • Worcestershire Sauce. A quick jolt of this can be used to improve beef or pork, some salad dressings.
  • Miso paste belongs on this list, but it’s more of an ingredient — I’ve never just plain added it to a dish, although Momofuku mixes it with butter for things like corn on the cob.
  • Olives.  Usually several varieties reside in the fridge. Chopping some up make a quick pasta dish, green ones go into Shrimp Veracruz, and they go on almost every salad.

Note that the first three items above are not vegetarian. That’s only a worry for me when I’m cooking for a group, but it’s something to remember.

Bonus:

  • Oyster Sauce. Again more of an ingredient, I never use it by itself. Again, not vegetarian.
  • XO Sauce. Sort of a thicker, spicier version of Oyster Sauce, even less vegetarian (usually has cured pork products).
  • Shrimp Paste. Even less of a condiment, this has the concentrated funk and umami of fish sauce.  I only use a couple teaspoons of this a year.
  • Tomato Paste. Again, a squeeze tube is wildly expensive compared to a can, but for some reason, wasting 2/3 of a 99-cent can bothers me more than buying a $5 squeeze tube with a smaller quantity.
  • Capers. These have a flavor I put somewhere between mustard and formaldehyde… but are quite appealing in small quantities in sauces.  The Jerusalem cookbook has an amazing caper and leek sauce for fish.
  • Steak Sauce. There’s a bottle of A1 on the bottom shelf, but I can’t think of the last time it was used.
  • Chili Sauce. Needed it for a recipe… I don’t use it much. Can substitute ketchup in many cases, although it’s preferred for making some barbecue and cocktail sauces.

That’s enough for now.  A few of the salty items also fall under sweet (thick soy/kecap manis) or spicy (Cholula, Tabasco, etc.), but I’ll put them on a different list.