Ask a Chef: Changing Up Your Condiments

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Ketchup or mustard? It's the eternal battle of summer, rending families apart over hot dogs and Heinz. Okay, maybe it's not that dramatic, but I've gotten into more than one argument over my preference for spicy mustard on sausages over the pedestrian ketchup. However, the problem may not be this simple dichotomy, but rather that we are limiting ourselves in our condiment enjoyment. What if we experimented with more than just ketchup and mustard? What if we had different kinds of ketchup? What if we made them ourselves?

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That's exactly what Chef José Andrés of America Eats Tavern in Virginia things we should be doing. Of course there’s nothing wrong with good old-fashioned tomato ketchup, but there are just so many more options. "We don't just have a tomato-based ketchup. We have fruit-flavored ones like plum, cherry, and blueberry that go great on a hamburger and hot dog, but also on elegant meat and fish dishes, too." Ketchup on fish may sound a bit strange, but he also suggests trying mustard on there too. 

Essentially, Chef Andrés wants to expand our condiment palates. "For too long we have become too comfortable with how we use our condiments," he says. "It's important to remember that these things are there to change and to experiment with." So how does one start experimenting? The simplest way may be with one of the most versatile condiments — mayonnaise. A basic recipe of olive oil, egg yolks, and water is all you need. Chef Andres explains the process artfully: "Olive oil is the aristocrat in the equation, who doesn’t want to be mixed with water, the poor man. In comes the egg yolk, the diplomat, who is able to work around the oil and create a creamy emulsion between the three ingredients, and then they are all happy." Once you have your happy condiment, you can add nearly anything you like, from Old Bay to chopped kimchi to capers. "Every time, you’re going to make a new one."

RELATED: Kimchi is Giving Classic American Food a New Kick 

For inspiration on making your own ketchup, you may want to look to the past. It’s only recently that the word "ketchup" became synonymous with a thick tomato sauce. The word allegedly comes from the Chinese term for "preserved fish sauce," and eventually morphed into a ketch-all term for many dark sauces, often made with mushrooms and walnuts. If you’re so inclined, you may want to look those up. "One of my favorite books, The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, has recipes for all kinds, both sweet and savory, like mushroom and oyster,” says Andrés. “When you try these, your life is going to change, because you’re going to discover all of these flavors that once existed a long time ago."

The key is to keep experimenting. Put that ketchup on a fish. Put seaweed on a hot dog. Put turmeric mayonnaise on a bacon burger. The sky's the limit, and if all else fails, I'm sure you have a bottle of Heinz around.

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