Ask Digestivo: Lost in the Sauce
"Let's make this last forever" and other Blink 182 lyrics for your Vegas elopement vows
Well readers, here we are once again,
torn into pieces simply trying our best. Are we a day late? Yes. Are we a dollar short? Also yes. Once a year one of us has to frantically flee to California on a Wednesday and deprive our loyal audience of this free publication for an excruciating 23 hours. We send our deepest apologies. This week, we’re showing you around our fridges in a real “what’s in your purse” move (that is, if your purse is full of condiments), and sharing a few fast and furious tricks we recently picked up – who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Ask us your very own questions or troll us at askdigestivo at gmail dot com.
At the risk of getting a little per your previous email, I do believe we were promised a full accounting of the sauces, dips, and little fun things in your pantry rotation. What are you dousing your food with these days?
- Seeking to Get Sauced
Well, sweet reader, a picture’s worth a thousand words so we took a few of our current pantry and fridge MVP’s. I (SB) will begin by shouting out a few of my favorite hot sauces: in my day to day, I lean heavily on both a classic and chipotle Tabasco sauce. When something a little more funky and subcontinental is in order, I turn to Brooklyn Delhi’s Guntur Sannam hot sauce, a sleeper hit that is sweet and pungent all at once. I have also fallen in love with Uncle Yanky’s pepper sauce, which packs quite a punch but is ideal for cutting through a fatty meat or topping sweet fruit. Controversially, I also love the Primal Kitchen Dairy-Free Buffalo Sauce, which I frequently use to smother air fried treats. Despite this affinity, I still don’t think we should finance a new Buffalo Bills stadium. (JS: Put THAT in your air fryer Kathy!!!)
In the “jarred” sauce category, I like the roasted garlic and tomato (not pictured here) aachars from Brooklyn Delhi, the Zhong sauce from Fly By Jing, and basically anything I find from Kimchee Harvest. I’m a big fan of basically all chaat masalas and dusting powders, and my most recent score was Rancho Gordo’s Stardust Dipping Powder. It has become my go-to tajin replacement – great on mashed up avocados, dusted on popcorn, or rimming a michelada (sorry). An honorable mention in this image for Fly By Jing’s chili crisp, mostly because I often prefer a crispier, garlickier offering (Momofuku’s is, regrettably, delectable). I’m tragically out of Calabrian chili bomba, but please do note I like to have some around.
To round things out, there are a few flavor builders I try to keep on hand at all times for mealtime emergencies: Maggi seasoning, some sort of fish sauce, a miso paste, peanut butter, soy sauce (duh) and chicken Better than Bouillon (the roasted version is all I could find on a recent grocery trip). Some combination of these things can reliably liven up whatever combination of beans, pasta, and/or rice I have in the pantry at any given time. (JS: Shoutout to the Brooklyn Roasting Co. coffee peanut butter, but maybe not on pasta.)
Forever one to overthink the question, I (JS) divided my suggestions into some more or less sensible categories depending on the flavors and textures you might crave.
Oily, spicy pickles: Like my co-editor I’m all in on Brooklyn Delhi’s garlic achaar, whether swirled into soups and sauces or swiped across some toast. I’m also a huge fan of the Chinese preserves from Fan Sao Guang (look for the labels with the crying child) – pickled mustard packs a nicely layered, MSG-laden punch, while the bamboo shoots offer little extra texture.
Briney pickles (not pictured): Kimchi (homemade, sorry!!!), both straight from the jar or blitzed into sauces and dressings, horseradish pickle chips from Doc Pickle, or good old capers in brine are my standbys to brighten things up.
Vinegar-based heat: Historically this has been a Crystal household, but lately I’ve been super into the hot pepper sauce by Shaquanda Will Feed You. Sometimes the heat isn’t even necessary – can I just shout out sherry vinegar for a second? Hit some lentil soup or some plain ass beans with some sherry vinegar and that shit will come alive! Is this good copy? (SB: Yes! I need a new vinegar in my life! Gift me, pals.)
Chili crisp: My go-to is Lao Gan Ma, as it is – to quote my coeditor – crispier, garlickier than most of the competition. Other solid options include Chuan Nan brand (hotter, less crispy) and honestly the Trader Joe’s version (crispier, less hot). Padma’s Indian chili crisp remains a fave, though you’ll have to make that yourself. (SB: Do it.)
Fish Sauce: I usually keep Red Boat or a Thai brand (Lucky Boy, Squid) in my pantry cooking, but for finishing purposes I like this Korean tuna extract from Halla, which imparts a little smokiness to your dish (I get it at H Mart, but can’t find it on the website). Colatura di alici (not pictured), an Italian-style fish sauce made with anchovies from the Amalfi coast is another funky fave. In the scheme of this list, both of these are on the pricier side, but a little goes a long way.
Creamy/Dreamy: There’s always some form of cultured dairy in my fridge. I’ve mainly switched to Cocojune for breakfast purposes, but I still keep Greek yogurt (Fage or TJ’s 2%) around for dolloping onto most anything. I love sour cream for sweet and savory applications, or creme fraiche if I’m feeling riche. Mayo can be divisive but in this house we are staunchly pro, particularly when we’re talking about Kewpie, made with only yolks, vinegar, and a pinch of MSG. (SB: let me just jump in and second that this is also a yogurt, kewpie, and pure MSG household.)
Any kitchen #hacks you guys have recently stumbled upon? I’m in the mood to be surprised by the everyday.
-Life Long Learner
FOTNL Becky just reminded us of this little trick for canned beans from Epicurious, which she executed to great success during a recent cookbook club meeting. I (SB) have been blanching my spinach via microwave after encountering the suggestion from a NYT commenter.
I don’t know if this is a hack strictly speaking but I (JS) recently made this strange but good “ricotta and coffee cream” from Marcella’s Essentials for the aforementioned club dinner – ok on its own but really something special after I mixed in some crushed some graham crackers and let it sit for 30 minutes (think lazy American-but-no-less-slutty tiramisu). With the weather on the up and up, I’m determined to make this the summer of icebox desserts – bring on the store bought cookies and creamy whipped bases, we’re mixing and matching girls!
We've been thinking a lot about compost, our city budget, and the tragedy of New York City’s trash system recently. Perhaps you’d like to contact your Council member and express support for a universal composting program! There are some great resources aggregated at #SaveOurCompost.
Will the newest Winner outpost at the Prospect Park Picnic House finally get me (JS) to commit to a walking routine? Stay tuned for answers!
Call me a diasporic sap, but this Fresh Air piece on migratory birds really got me thinking about writing Rupi Kaur-style poetry about shallow water feeding grounds.