The Guardian had a fun piece today about 'secret ingredients' that set me thinking.
Now part of the article was about those branded goods that we all have in our cupboards – but it is also about our 'secret' ingredients: what do we add to give a dish that extra ;whoomph'?
Now of course I have branded ingredients in the cupboards – although probably not as many as at one time.
For instance, I always have a tin of Lyle’s golden syrup on hand. Ahhh, golden syrup. A vital ingredient in Nigella’s steamed pud (which The Other Half likes very much) and my mother’s ginger cake – and indeed, a dessertspoon was added to chocolate and butter for the sauce on my profiteroles on Saturday.
It’s an ingredient that brings to mind childhood memories.
In one of my mother’s very occasional forays into food as unadulterated, indulgent pleasure, with nary a nutritional excuse in sight, the golden syrup would emerge from the cupboard whenever someone sent us a tub of clotted cream from Cornwall.
She would take slices of white bread and butter them (okay, let’s not overdo things: it would be Stork margerine), then spread on a layer of sticky syrup and top with cream.
Oh, it might not have been sophisticated, but it was a pleasure that ranked above even being allowed to take a piece of bread and wipe out the enamel tin in which she’d grill bacon in (which was probably the nearest I ever got to bread and dripping).
So in such a spirit, I admit that in my cupboard, there’s a jar of Tabasco (but come on, that’s essential for the crucial Bloody Mary while you’re slaving over a hot stove); there’s a jar of Patak’s Korma paste because it's easy and good, and one of Bovril, for a warming winter drink.
There’s some soy sauce too – some people say it’s always worth adding a shot to any casserole or stew to give it some pep, just as Taste No5 umami paste, which has recently arrived on the market, promises that adding it to pretty much anything will result in “spellbinding flavours”. Although I only use soy when I'm on a Chinese kick and I've never yet tried umami.
Apple sauce and mint sauce and horseraddish are all present and correct.
Bottles of liquid stock (veg, beef and chicken) for when I haven’t got any of my own or I only need a little or I’m in a hurry are clustered in cupboard corner together.
But if I really have any ‘secret’ ingredients (and they won’t be secret for much longer) then it would be Maggi, "liquid seasoning" and redcurrant jelly.
I was introduced to the former by George: it's a sort of central/eastern European version of soy, I think, and I do add it to casseroles and stews, if not with abandon, then with care.
The latter, I use as an ingredient when I feel that a casserole or stew needs that something extra that is almost impossible to define.
So there you have it: food confessions. And I'd certainly recommend both of my secrets to you for use in your own kitchens!