This week's column is a little different. I asked Saucy readers to reveal your burning questions about condiments — and you really delivered. The result is part advice column, part food safety lesson and part musings on the versatility of tahini and XO Sauce. If you have any condiment questions of your own— from usage, to storage, to ideas to pep up pandemic meals — send them my way at email@example.com.
"Would three-year-old Sriracha be alright to consume? Being a fermented sauce, my heart wants it to be OK haha. Perhaps it's like wine and ages and becomes better with time. My gut is telling me no way, though. What are your thoughts?" — Joshua
Alright, I apologize in advance, but this is going to be one of those "it depends" answers. Since Sriracha is a vinegar-based sauce, it takes a very long time for it to go bad. However, most hot sauce aficionados seem to agree that you may start noticing some changes in your bottle of Sriracha around the three-year mark. The color has likely deepened from a vibrant red to a dark, almost ruddy color, and the flavor will transition to more just pure heat as the ingredients sit.
You can slow that process by refrigerating your Sriracha, though some folks don't like how that impacts the consistency of the sauce straight out of the bottle.
The biggest thing to keep an eye on is at the top of the bottle. You know how the Sriracha can dry around the squirt cap? That can result in a literal crust of bacteria, so give it a quick wipe down whenever you start to notice build-up. Also, this is likely self-evident, but if you notice any mold or if your bottle looks distended, it's time for a new bottle.
Remember the Golden Rule: When in doubt, toss it out.
"How to use tahini in creative ways for sauces/dressings? Seems I always have some but never use it in time." — Catherine
A couple of years ago, I was given a really lovely, really large (!) tub of tahini. We're talking almost a half gallon, and even refrigerated, it had a shelf life of about six months. So for those six months, my menu was basically all-tahini-everything.
In the realm of sauces and dressings, I have two stand-favorites. The first is Bon Appetit's Tahini Ranch. It's creamy, just the right amount of pungent and — unlike your average ranch — vegan. It's a really nice accompaniment to salads, obviously, but it's also a really flavorful sandwich spread. If you eat meat, use it as the base of a chicken salad or tuna salad sandwich; if you're wanting something plant-based, go the ol' chickpea salad route. (Also, this is probably sacrilegious, but I've totally made this subbing out the dried herbs for the Hidden Valley Ranch dried seasoning packet — and it's pretty stellar.)
The second is a green tahini sauce, inspired by Yotam Ottelenghi. This is less a recipe and more a series of loose suggestions. Take whatever leftover green herbs or leafy things you have on hand — mint, parsley, cilantro, scallions, even carrot tops and celery leaves — and blend a good handful with 1/4 cup of tahini, 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of a lemon or lime, garlic, if you like, and a drizzle of honey. Once the sauce is totally smooth, season it with salt and pepper.
This sauce is really versatile. Serve it alongside hearty white fish and some grilled vegetables. Use it as a dipping sauce for falafel. Drizzle it over oven-roasted cauliflower steak. If you don't feel like cooking, toss it on a snack plate.
If you want to veer outside of sauces and dressings, tahini's nuttiness makes it an ideal addition to baked goods and — brace yourself — coffee. Swirl 2 or 3 tablespoons of tahini into a pan of boxed brownie batter before you stick it in the oven to change things up a bit, or try some tahini shortbread. I personally like this basic recipe from The New York Times. If you're feeling fancy, reserve some sesame seeds from the recipe, melt down a little dark chocolate and dip the cooled shortbread in said chocolate. Decorate it with the sesame seeds, and you've got a pretty fancy cookie sitch going on.
Also, as I've written about before, I've been on a months-long mission to improve my at-home coffee game. One of the coffee house recipes I was eager to replicate from the comfort of my kitchen was an iced tahini latte, loosely inspired by a drink I once had at Slipstream in D.C., which still takes up an embarrassing amount of my brain space.
Pull out the blender again — I promise it's worth it — and blend 1 shot of espresso, 2 tablespoons of tahini, 1/4 cup of oat milk, maple syrup or honey to taste and pulse until combined. Toss it over ice, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
"Tell me what to do with this jar of XO Sauce, please." — Erin
You can do so many things! XO Sauce is a condiment that originated in Hong Kong, and it's typically made with dried shrimp, dried scallops, chili peppers, Jinhua ham, garlic and canola oil — so basically it's salty, spicy and packed with umami, meaning it can make most dishes immediately . . . well, better. Enough so that it's getting a full condiment dedicated to it soon.
In the meantime, I've been using it as a way to make my quarantine cooking feel a little less stale. It can be used as a marinade. For example, one of my go-to weeknight meals starts by whisking a few tablespoons of XO Sauce with a few tablespoons of neutral oil and a dash of soy sauce.
Rough chop up some hearty vegetables — broccoli, Chinese eggplant, mushrooms — and soak them in the mixture for about 15 minutes, reserving the XO marinade that you don' t use. Pop the vegetables on a prepared sheet pan, and roast until tender and a little blackened. Meanwhile, prepare some rice noodles according to the package instructions. Then combine the vegetables and noodles, dressing with whatever you have left of the XO marinade, and top with some scallions if you're still growing them on your windowsill. (Is that too early pandemic to still be a thing?)
Recently, I made a few servings of fridge clean-out soup that ended up being a really loose version of tom kha gai, a Thai coconut soup that's typically flavored with lime juice, coconut milk and fish sauce. I simmered some chicken stock and a handful of mushrooms in a small pot until they were softened, then added some shredded rotisserie chicken, a few tablespoons of coconut cream, XO sauce to taste — in place of the fish sauce — and a squeeze of lime.
However, my current "I don't really feel like cooking" meal is leftover steamed rice topped with a fried egg, an obscene amount of XO Sauce and scallions (again).
"I read your recent column about condiment drawers, and I have a question about that. My boyfriend and I are moving in together — what's the etiquette of a shared condiment drawer?" — Jace
I love this question! Both partners should contribute to the drawer. Like any relationship, it's never going to be exactly a 50/50 split of effort. One partner may end up rich in extra Taco Bell fire sauce one day, while the other may only have a few stray soy sauce packets to toss in — but, unless otherwise specified, the contents of the drawer are communal.
Also, do yourselves a favor, and purchase a thin utensil tray to organize the packets in your condiment drawer. This will keep the arguments about chaotic drawers and clutter to a minimum.
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