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.