Exploring British Condiments
Let's Take a Look Inside
Several weeks ago a dear friend who once lived in the United Kingdom asked me if I had “copycat” recipes for Branston pickle and piccalilli relish. Well, of course, I did, but her question got me to thinking about British foods, specifically British condiments. I’ll be the first to admit that the typical British pantry is filled with jars of foodstuffs unlike any you’ve ever used before.
So let’s have a little fun; we’ll crack open the English pantry door and see what’s hiding inside.
This isn’t a brined cucumber in a jar; Branston pickle is a chutney that originated in a village of the same name in 1922. This sweet/sour sticky brown condiment is a mix of diced vegetables (carrots, onions, cauliflower, and rutabaga) with vinegar, tomato, apple, tamarind, and spices.
Karen Solomon is an accomplished and acclaimed cook, blogger, contributor to numerous cooking magazines, the author of several cookbooks and a radio/television personality. Her roots are Eastern European, but work and wanderlust have taken her around the globe, and she has learned at every stopping point along the way. Her recipe for Branston pickle is even better than the stuff in the jar.
My American friends will not understand this one at all. This is not the Day-Glo yellow stuff that you swipe across a ballpark hotdog. Colman’s is a combination of brown and white mustard seeds that, quite frankly, is hotter than hell. The brand has the distinction of being one of the oldest in existence, originating in 1814 in Norfolk. There is no substitute or copycat recipe. In fact, it is still served in the Queen’s royal kitchen; by decree of Queen Victoria it is “The Queen’s Mustard.”
Horseradish cream is a traditional accompaniment with a prime rib dinner; horseradish sauce is a different condiment. It is freshly-grated horseradish root combined with vinegar, using primarily as a condiment with roast beef or in salads or sandwiches.
Guess what the “HP” stands for? Believe it or not, HP was named after the House of Parliament in London. This brown sauce is as common on the British table as is catsup in the American home. Like catsup, it is tomato-based, seasoned with vinegar and sugar, but also contains molasses, dates, and tamarind, so has more of a spicy-tangy kick. The original sauce was invented by Frederick Gibson Garton in 1895 Nottingham. If you wish to make your own HP sauce, it takes about 30 minutes of active time in the kitchen and a list of 17 ingredients.
Salt is an enigma. Although chemically all salt is nothing more than sodium chloride (and a few trace minerals here and there), there is a reason that some salts cost less than $1.00 and others fetch a steep price of $10, $20, or more. It’s not just snobbery on the part of the cook—when cooking there really is a difference from salt to salt to salt.
I’ll give you a quick explanation: Table salt (the cheap stuff) is good for baking, marinating, and brining because it has small grains that melt almost instantly and are reliably the same size, thus making its measurement always true and accurate. Kosher salt has large, flat pebbles that are easy to pinch and sprinkle atop foods that you are seasoning. Kosher salts are also pure salt (no iodine added) and have a true salty flavor. However, not all koshers are the same. The two most well- known (Morton and Diamond) result in very different measurements.
At American's Test Kitchen, they've found that different types of kosher salt also have varying levels of saltiness. One teaspoon of table salt is equal to 1.5 teaspoons of Morton's kosher salt and two teaspoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
And then there is Maldon salt, made from evaporated ocean water. The crystals are pyramid-shaped, crunchy, and 10 times the cost of regular table salt. This is not the salt to toss into pasta water. It is the crowning touch to a dish just out of the oven or a salad. And it is beloved by Brits because it is hand-gathered on England’s Essex coast.
This bread/toast spread was invented by German scientist Justus von Liebig in the late 19th century. It was Liebig who discovered that brewer’s yeast, a byproduct of beer production, was a rich source of Vitamin B and was edible (although some might argue that edible and desirable are two entirely different matters). Several years later, in 1912, the vitamin-deficiency disease beriberi was common among British troops battling in World War I, and so marmite was added to their rations.
Twenty years later mill workers in India were found to be suffering from anemia; once again marmite came to the rescue, providing much-needed folic acid. And again, in 1934 marmite was given to workers in Sri Lanka who were suffering from malnutrition during a malaria epidemic. Is it any wonder that marmite is as common on the morning toast or crumpet as is butter or margarine in the United States?
You might be wondering if you can make marmite at home. Sadly the exact ingredients and proportions are a trade secret that even I am not privy to.
My Manchester cousins tell me that it is against the law to consume roast lamb in England without mint sauce. I think they were joking, but just in case, you might want to keep a batch of this in your refrigerator.
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons white (granulated) sugar
- ¼ teaspoon Diamond kosher salt ¼ tsp
- 1/2 cup water ½ cup
- 1/2 cup white (distilled) vinegar
- Combine mint, sugar, salt, and water in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Remove from heat; add vinegar.
- Pour into jar with a lid or sealable container. Let stand at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.
Piccalili (also known as Indian pickle) has many of the same components of Branston pickle but is more puckery. The yellow color, of course, is from turmeric. Most food historians feel it is one of the many foods that originated in India when it was under the rule of the British crown.
On the topic of salad cream, the people of the United Kingdom have been rocked to their very core. For more than 100 years the Heinz Company has been manufacturing this creamy emulsion of oil, vinegar, and egg yolks. (If that sounds like the recipe for mayonnaise, you are correct, but salad cream has a higher percentage of vinegar. Think of it as mayo's tangy/tart cousin.)
What is the source of the English angst, you ask? Heinz is considering changing the name from "salad sauce" to "sandwich sauce" because that clearly is how the condiment is now most commonly used.
Only 14% of buyers actually use the sauce on salads, the old name no longer reflects its modern purpose. As a market-leading business, Kraft Heinz continues to audit its portfolio in order to meet the needs of consumers. There are consumers now who haven’t grown up with the brand in the household and just don’t know about the iconic zingy flavour or what to eat it with. The research suggested it was more regularly used with sandwich fillings and as such, ‘Sandwich Cream’ would make more sense.
If you have ever made the American snack “Chex Mix” you might have a bottle of this in your pantry. However, if that is the only time you use Worcestershire sauce, your cooking is missing out on a huge umami bomb of flavor. This dark brown liquid was invented in 1837 by two pharmacists, and of course, their names were Mr. Lee and Mr. Perrins; and the reasoning behind the strange name? They lived in the shire (town) of Worcester.
The ingredients are a fermented combination of salty, sweet, tart, and umami:
- Malt vinegar
- Soy sauce
I’ve developed a vegetarian/vegan substitute which isn’t 100 percent, but pretty darn close to the taste of the original.
- 1/4 cup water
- 6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves
In case your tongue always stumbles over the correct pronunciation of the name, say WHOO-star-shure.
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© 2019 Linda Lum