Get Creative with Condiments - New Uses for Familiar Flavors
By Erik Mathes / August, 2011

Rookie cooks and the culinarily-challenged often overlook the possibility of treading beyond the typical one-note uses for familiar kitchen condiments. Some strongly believe ketchup should be kept solely for burgers and fries, while relish should be relegated to a restrictive relationship with mustard.

Speaking of mustard, these misguided folks think this unmellow gold is meant merely for mundane meats stuck between two slices of bread. If this mentality plagues your household, perhaps it's time you freed yourself from these constraints of condiment usage you've cast upon yourself and take a chance to try something zany, refreshing and new. Mix it up. Let me explain how you can do this at home starting right now.

As a personal chef and member of the culinary community at large, I'm a bit of a weirdo when it comes to eating and tasting things in general. I have been known to lick unfamiliar spices off the palm of my hand just to get an idea of what I'm working with. I often prefer taking down shots of gourmet dipping sauces over fine spirits.

This deep fascination with taste got me to experiment with mixing unexpected flavors early in my cooking career, and it has led me to explore some questionable, yet ultimately successful, concoctions of condiments that can be used in a variety of ways. My journey through the world of food has also taught me not to knock seemingly uncouth recipe suggestions until I try them myself. Those who have yet to master this discipline on their own are just going to have to trust me on this one.

Recently, as I was foraging in my fridge for perishables to toss so I wouldn't feel guilty about purchasing new products for the arsenal, I discovered a jar of guava jelly in need of some love. Right next to it was a bottle of spicy brown mustard, and I thought to myself, "Perhaps there's a deeper reason behind the juxtaposition of these condiments." I took both out and placed them on my counter, setting the stage for their supreme destiny.

I grabbed a bowl and mixed in equal parts of guava jelly and mustard, then finished it off with a healthy splash of orange blossom honey and a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh thyme and cracked black pepper. The result was a luxurious guava-thyme honey mustard that is as versatile as it is delicious.

If you prepare this yourself, allow the flavors to marry in the fridge for a bit, and then try dipping your chicken nuggets in it. Don't feel you need to limit yourself to guava jelly. Substitute any flavor jam, jelly or preserves in place of guava jelly and leave the other ingredients the same. Or try this concoction with a different style of mustard or another herb to further expand your palate.

Another condiment worth mustering up the courage to build a working relationship with is grand ole mayo. Mayonnaise is a polarizing condiment, as people seem to either love it or hate it. I happen to be more than just a lover of this oil-meets-egg yolk emulsion. I'm actually a self-proclaimed "mayo missionary," since I'm always conveying the merits of this cool condiment to the haters. They just can't seem to understand that mayo's creamy texture and mild flavor make it the perfect palette on which artists of the kitchen can perform their craft.

Take, for example, this sauce. Begin with a half cup of your favorite mayo, then add three tablespoons of store-bought sweet chili sauce, a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce, fresh chopped basil and garlic (about one tablespoon and one teaspoon respectively, depending on your taste). You can also use slightly less garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, but definitely use fresh basil if you can get it. Add two tablespoons of rice wine vinegar. Mix thoroughly with a fork or whisk.

You've just made sweet chili basil garlic mayonnaise. This scrumptious sauce can be used as a spread, dip or topping on anything imaginable. Without the mayo, however, this sauce would be a dud, as it would have a nasty vinegar bite and lack the silky-smooth texture that makes it so appealing.

These sauces are just the beginning when it comes to the creative combos you can come up with, if you change the way you treat the condiments you have typecast into singular uses. Staples such as maple syrup, honey and soy sauce can be fused with many other popular and esoteric pantry goods to make stellar sauces. By following my lead and testing out new condiment combinations, your meals will take center stage. Your artistic side will be given free rein to perform improvisation in the kitchen and your inner chef will finally be granted liberation.

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