I’ve never been a ketchup person. This thick, sweet and salty concoction that has forever been reluctantly blopped onto foods all over the western world from Heinz and other bottles, has never been my choice to top a side of fries. Or anything else. A splash of malt vinegar, a dollop or three of mayo? Certainement. I’m simply one who prefers luscious love apples as they are, or served up as anything but ketchup.
That said, I’m still very much a sauce person. I was charmed, and right there with them, when chef Hassan and his Marguerite picnicked in the sunshine of France in The Hundred Foot Journey. What a sensual scene when they seductively dipped into what many agree are the mother sauces of culinary Europe. Versatile velouté, rich brown Espagnole, creamy white béchamel, pasta-loving tomate, tangy and terrific hollandaise? Classics every one.
But important as this happy family is — the beginnings of so many other tastes — there are many more. All kinds of spicy and other sons and daughters, in kitchens far, far removed from the apron strings of mother France.
I’ve been a fan for years of commercial Thai sweet chili sauce and shamelessly swamp it over almost everything. Made of pickled red chilis, vinegar, garlic and the inevitable xanthan gum to thicken it up a bit, it complements every kind of protein and gives ordinary, too-familiar tastes a burst of exotica. Unlike fiery Tabasco, the heat of it is barely discernible, but there’s enough to make it interesting.
In the same Southeast Asian family, but with more heat, is Sriracha, again with a heart of chilies and named after the coastal city of Si Racha in eastern Thailand. You may have seen it on the table at some restaurant — identified by a rooster on the label and a green squeeze top. If you know it, you’re likely to be addicted. Like the mothers of Europe, which can often be the starters for other sauces — think cheese in your béchamel, onions and mushrooms in the tomate — mayo mixed with Sriracha makes a great dip.