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Exploring Sauces: The 10 Red Sauces of World Cuisine

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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10 Red Sauces of World Cuisine

Red sauces—a colorful idea with world-wide appeal. They occur everywhere around the globe, rely on simple, local ingredients, and necessitate only basic kitchen skills. Each culture uses the bounty of their gardens to create these sauces that accompany the foods they love.

Let's explore the origins of ten of these sauces and learn how to make them for your friends and family.

Cocktail Sauce, United States

Cocktail Sauce, United States

1. Cocktail Sauce (United States)

There are some who say that British chef Fanny Cradock created the original shrimp cocktail in 1967, but according to food historians, the concept of fresh seafood cooked, chilled and served with a spicy sauce originated in the United States sometime in the late 19th century. Constance Spry published a seafood cocktail using Dublin Bay Prawns in 1956.

Let’s not quibble about “who did it first.” Let’s enjoy the perfect seafood cocktail sauce. This recipe is from the blog A Southern Soul.

Enchilada Sauce, Mexico

Enchilada Sauce, Mexico

2. Enchilada Sauce (Mexico)

Enchiladas are a dish made of corn tortillas rolled around a filling and covered with a spicy red sauce. They originated in Mexico, near the Yucatan in pre-Columbian days. There are countless recipes on the internet, and cans or bottles of the stuff can be found in almost any grocery store, but take a look at the list of ingredients in that recipe or on the label. If you see “tomato” this is not an authentic red enchilada sauce.

The “real deal” relies on whole chiles roasted to release their essential oils, then simmered with other vegetables to soften. There are no tomatoes. The lovely red hue comes from the chiles.

You can certainly do that, but Ali (of the blog GimmeSomeOven) has a wonderful recipe which relies on a flour roux, chili powder (the work of roasting, simmering, and straining already done for you), broth and spices to create a luxurious enchilada sauce 100 times better than anything you will buy at the store.

3. Harissa (North Africa)

Harissa—the word comes from the Arabic harasa, meaning “to pound” and that is exactly how the sauce/condiment is formed. Most food historians believe that chiles arrived in Africa when the Spanish occupied Tunisia in the early 16th century. Although recipes vary from region to region (resourceful cooks rely on local ingredients) everyone can agree that the basic components are smoked peppers, garlic, and olive oil.

This recipe for harissa paste from SimplyDeliciousFood toasts the whole spices in a pan to release their essential oils, then grinds and mixes them with peppers, tomatoes, and garlic to create a boldly-seasoned paste.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
  • 2 large red bell peppers, charred, skins removed (see video below for how-to)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 fresh red Serenade or jalapeno peppers
  • 1 fresh red bird's eye chili
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Toast the whole spices over medium heat in a shallow saute pan until fragrant.
  2. Grind toasted spices with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder until fine.
  3. Drain the canned tomatoes, reserving the juice.
  4. Place the drained tomatoes, toasted/ground spices, and remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process until a vibrant red paste is formed. If paste seems too thick, dribble in a bit of the reserved tomato juice and process again until desired consistency is achieved.
Ketchup, Great Britain (or China?)

Ketchup, Great Britain (or China?)

4. Ketchup (Great Britain or China)

In the barest of kitchens, even in the cupboard of Old Mother Hubbard, you are almost certain to find a bottle of ketchup. It’s estimated that ketchup can be found in 97 percent of U.S. households, but this ubiquitous condiment did not originate in America. Food historians believe it was discovered sometime in the late 17th to the early 18th century by British travelers to southeast China. Since fermented fish sauce (the main component) was not available at home, British cooks tried to replicate the flavor by using mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, and even anchovies. Obviously, this was nothing like the condiment we know and love today.

But then, tomatoes were introduced to the European garden plot and the world changed. The first known tomato ketchup recipe in printed form appeared in 1812, created by James Mease, a prominent American scientist and horticulturalists. His version contained tomato pulp and brandy, but no vinegar or sugar, so it still lacked the “tang” that we associate with ketchup.

The condiment was appreciated because of its long shelf life but some of the preservatives being used were potentially harmful (would you like to have a little bit of coal tar and sodium benzoate with your French fries?). Enter Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, an American chemist who is credited with passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. He partnered with Henry J. Heinz . . . and the rest is history.

Ashley (FrugalCouponLiving) has developed a recipe for ketchup that you can easily make with ingredients you already have in your pantry and guess, what? No cooking needed. Just blend, chill, and serve.

Marinara, Southern Italy

Marinara, Southern Italy

5. Marinara (Southern Italy)

Questions, questions, so many questions. Marinara (the name itself refers to its origin) was born in southern Italy, near the sea (mar). Both Sicily and Naples have been suggested as the “where.” The tomato was a fruit of the New World, so the “when” is some time in the 16th century. The “why” is not known, but there are several fanciful theories. One is that it was made by Neopolitan sailors. Another says that the wives of those sailors made it as a quick meal for their hungry husbands (wink). Or maybe someone just had an over-abundance of ripe tomatoes.

What we do know is that marinara:

  • Is a simple, basic sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and herbs
  • Does not include red pepper flakes (that makes it arrabbiata)
  • Does not include meat (that’s a ragu)
  • Anchovies? That’s puttanesca

This recipe for marinara from "ItalianChef" brings us back to the basics. Simple ingredients, simple preparation, and simply wonderful.

Red Curry Paste, Thailand

Red Curry Paste, Thailand

6. Red Curry Paste (Thailand)

Kristen and I have so much in common.

  • She's a food blogger.
  • She loves creating fresh-in-the-kitchen as opposed to from-a-jar-at-the-supermarket.
  • She believes in making reasonable ingredient substitutions.
  • And, she has a wicked sense of humor

All four of those points shine through loud and clear in this recipe that she created for Thai red curry paste.

Romesco, Spain

Romesco, Spain

7. Romesco (Spain)

Catalonia, an autonomous community on the northeast tip of Spain, covers an area of nearly 12,400 square miles. The rugged Pyrenees rise to the north and beautiful Mediterranean beaches form the south and east borders. The cuisine of the area is heavily influenced by an abundance of seafood. Catalonia is the birthplace of paella, esqueixada (salted cod), and romesco, a nut- and red pepper-based sauce. For more than 600 years fishermen in this area have made this sauce to be eaten with fish. That's just the start.

I love romesco with chicken, as a dip for vegetables, stirred into mayonnaise, or used as a pesto and tossed with hot cooked pasta. Nagi (her blog is RecipeTinEats) calls this "magic Spanish romesco sauce."

Salsa, Mexico

Salsa, Mexico

8. Salsa (Mexico)

This combination of chilies, tomatoes, and other spices) can be traced to the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. It was “discovered” by Spanish explorers upon the conquest of Mexico in 1519-1521 but was made centuries before that with the Aztec domestication of the tomato.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 5 medium)
  • 2 fresh jalapeño chiles
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs (tops only), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Slice tomatoes in half horizontally. Remove seeds with a small spoon and discard. (This is easy with large Roma tomatoes that have just 4 seed-filled sections. Other tomatoes often have many little seed hiding places. For those I hold the tomato half over the sink and use my fingers to push out the seeds).
  2. Cut tomato into small (1/4-inch) dice and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  3. Wearing rubber gloves, cut chilies in half, remove seeds and finely mince. Add to tomatoes in a bowl. (Please be careful when handling fresh chilies. Don’t rub your eyes or mouth). When you have finished preparing the chilies, remove and discard the rubber gloves.
  4. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir; add salt and pepper to taste. Can be made one hour ahead and kept at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers, but plan to use within 24 hours.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Sriracha, Vietnam

Sriracha, Vietnam

9. Sriracha (Vietnam)

Sriracha might just be the world's coolest hot sauce. It's EVERYWHERE and seems almost as ubiquitous as ketchup. Less than two years ago the producer of the original Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods, sold 20 million bottles.

David Tran, CEO of the company, immigrated from Vietnam to Los Angeles, California in 1980. He states that try as he might, he could not find a reliable substitute for the beloved hot sauce of his homeland, and so he created his own with jalapeños, vinegar, sugar, and garlic. This home-produced condiment is now created in a facility that produces 3,000 bottles every hour, 24 hours a day, six days a week.

I can't promise that this recipe for Sriracha by Nicole tastes exactly like the sauce in the bottle with the rooster logo, but it uses fresh ingredients, and that is precisely what makes David Tran's sriracha so special—despite pressure to expand he has never compromised on quality. All of his ingredients are fresh, always.

Sweet Chili, Thailand

Sweet Chili, Thailand

10. Sweet Chili (Thailand)

Sweet chili sauce (also known as Thai sweet chili sauce) is a popular condiment of red chile peppers, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, and sugar. Appreciation of this sauce is no longer confined to Southeast Asia. This yin-yang of sweet and spicy is loved not only as a dip for egg rolls but as an accompaniment to burgers and fries, as well.

© 2018 Linda Lum

Comments

Suzie from Carson City on December 10, 2018:

Will do! Thanks so much. Awaiting #63!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 10, 2018:

Paula, I'm so happy that you found me (again). I will have an answer for you next Monday. Look for "Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers #63"

Suzie from Carson City on December 09, 2018:

Diva....Sauces, sauces....I love sauces of all kinds! and I will make them often for certain dishes.....

Great article but I'm actually on a mission. I tracked you down to ask a question I've had for some time. I'm "hoping" you can help me. DelMonte sells this large container of Citrus sections (oranges, & pink & white grapefruit in their juices.) Simple as that and I LOVE it. (I think) it's fairly expensive so it's strictly a treat to myself when I've been a good girl. Now I realize I can search for info and I will....but I'd like to know if you have ever skinned citrus sections...how and did it work out well? Peeling a citrus fruit is simple and even shaving off the inner white (whatever that is) from the whole fruit.....BUT..how on earth can the membrane be removed from each section without tearing them to shreds? This Del Monte that I buy.....the sections are perfect, plump and meaty. There's obviously a trick/process to do this.....Oh mighty food Genie...have you ever done this?? Can you tell me how?

manatita44 from london on December 09, 2018:

Sure, why not? Last I heard, (Some two years ago, perhaps) he had become a great motivator, travelling around and teaching kids and young people to succeed.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 09, 2018:

Angel, use that inspiration and hunger to go into the kitchen and whip up something fabulous! I hope you have a wonderful day.

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on December 08, 2018:

Great article Linda. I'm hungry now, lol.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 07, 2018:

Manatita, I will put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and do some super-sleuthing on this. May I add this to my weekly Q&A series? T'will be #63.

manatita44 from london on December 07, 2018:

There is one that a Jamaican man made famous in England. It's pretty good too and he became famous because of it. I think it's called, reggae, reggae sauce.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 07, 2018:

Manatita, I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to heat. I would prefer to taste my food than to have my mouth aflame. That said, I think you would like the marinara (just an Italian red sauce) and Romesco. Both are tame (heat-wise).

manatita44 from london on December 07, 2018:

Some of that stuff is too hot for me, dear. Unusual West Indian, I am. Don't go for much peppery food. They look 'powerful'; lots of energy, I'd say. Ha ha. Someone's Christmas but not mines. Give me the good old tomato catchup. Then I'm cool. Bright and spicy Hub/herbs. Lol.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 05, 2018:

Shauna, I'm not a ketchup fan, but my Dad put it on everything. (I don't know if it's because he loved the taste of ketchup, or didn't like Mom's cooking).

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on December 05, 2018:

I love the simple marinara recipe, Linda. Easy-peasy and quick.

I must admit, I rarely have ketchup in my kitchen. Neither my son nor I are ketchup fans. I know many will think that's just un-American, but it is what it is!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 04, 2018:

Flourish, I'm glad that you enjoyed this one; I sure had fun putting it together. Not all of these sauces are spicy. If you like marinara, you might also enjoy the romesco sauce.

I can almost smell the marinara simmering in your kitchen.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 04, 2018:

I'm a food wimp when it comes to exotic flavors so I'll stick to marinara, but I did enjoy reading about the red sauces across cultures. I love how you pack in the education with a term here and there like you did in that marinara paragraph. I had never heard of the differences in those terms.

I would like to try that marinara recipe with the frozen garden tomatoes I have from this summer. Now is the perfect time to pull them out and use them. You've made me thoroughly hungry.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 04, 2018:

Linda I want it all.

Mole' has such a rich Pueblano history and I want some white sauces to share with Bill.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 04, 2018:

Eric, why would I delete you? Good on you for not adding salt to your food. It's an addiction that's hard to break.

A mole salsa sounds interesting. Is that something you'd like me to experiment with? I can add that to the 'to-do' list if you'd like.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 04, 2018:

Where to start? Super duper article.

I Tapatio bad - sodium benzoate. Sirarachi used to use it but cleaned up their act. Chollula is purest.

Can you imagine that in my 99 cents only they get 4X6 inch bags of all the essential ingredients here. They only keep them in the store for 3 days. Fermentation will make the bags explode - been there and done that. Absolutely no chemies added.

I made note and maybe I just missed it. Oregano and Tumeric are on hand.

My boy and I go goo goo gaga over our cocktail sauce. (I did not put some on sour dough bread and eat it like a spread)

Linda I make time to exercise and avoid processed foods. And I do not salt my plate at all. So I get all that salt from salsas.

There is a Mole' salsa I try to make. Failure to date. Of course we love Paella. But did you know you can use Romesco on oats?

I do not do gloves with my Cayenne and Jalepano. Mom said it is the best taste going through you hands.

(criticizing my shirt, my brother told me the only taste I had was in my mouth.

Sorry for the ramble. Delete at your judgment.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 04, 2018:

Well Bill, perhaps I need to create an article on white sauces. I think that's doable. Let's see what happens. Have a great day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 04, 2018:

I'm more of a white sauce kind of guy....individual tastes and all that. No single reason why....it's just me. :)

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 03, 2018:

Pamela, the ones you mention would be my 1st picks because, like you, I've been acquainted with them the longest, but I've explored the others as well and, believe me, they are worth trying. Thank you for your continued support. I always enjoy hearing from you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2018:

The shrimp cocktail and the salsa were my recipes from this selectionm although they all sounded good Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 03, 2018:

Mary, I'm so glad that you found this and I hope it helps you with your future meal plans.

I grew up in a pretty bland household, and I'm speaking here strictly of the seasonings used. We had salt and pepper, catsup and mustard, and I think that's pretty much the end of the story. No Romesco, salsa, etc.

I find in my 'senior citizen years' I'm enjoying more flavors and flavor combinations. It's fun to experiment.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on December 03, 2018:

I will definitely be showing this to my husband. I was surprised to see that Romesco sauce being used as a dip. I think it's often easy to get blinded thinking there is only one use for a sauce, when it fact, there are multiple ways to enjoy them.

Although I often make salsa, I don't think I've made any of the others.

This is a great resource, thanks.