Friday, 20 February 2009

Friday Nibbles - Worcestershire Sauce

Aside from the very first ‘Nibble’ which was about Lingham’s Chilli Sauce, this feature has been about ingredients rather than brands.

It’s better that way.

But there are some important store-cupboard items that don’t fit so neatly into this bracket and I think it’s time to address some of these.

They will appear on merit only. Any sponsorship or advertising will be clearly marked as such, if it ever appears. These are items I use, things that I feel are worthy of a place in the culinary Hall of Fame that Friday Nibbles has become.

And what better place to start than with Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire Sauce.

The origins of the sauce are clouded in a little mystery with some competing stories as to how it came into existence.

Like many fine culinary inventions (tarte tatin, for example), Worcestershire Sauce was discovered by accident by two chemists in the late 1830s.

Legend has it that they had been commissioned by a local nobleman to recreate a condiment that he had enjoyed whilst Governor of Bengal. What is certain is that the original recipe was found to be quite disgusting and as such the entire batch was banished to the deepest recesses of Messrs Lea and Perrins’ cellar. Where it remained, forgotten, for three years.

Only during a clear-out was the barrel re-discovered. It was found that the contents had fermented and transformed the sauce into something quite delicious.

Even today, a three-year fermentation is included in the manufacturing process.

Although the recipe remains a secret, the ingredients include molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind, onions, garlic, spices and flavouring. All these are fermented in malt vinegar which gives the sauce its sharp flavour.

Unless you’ve tasted it, it is near impossible to describe the flavour of Worcestershire Sauce, not that you would want to consume it neat.

But as an addition, it really comes into its own. A few shakes into a spicy chilli or rich beef ragu can really enliven proceedings. It also works wonders with cheese or baked beans on toast.

But by far my favourite use of this wonder-condiment is not in a meal, but a drink. Worcestershire Sauce is an essential addition to that fabled hangover cure, a Bloody Mary.

Bloody Marys taste best on a Sunday morning, at about eleven am. Kind of Blue should be playing in the background and the previous evening’s excesses should be a happy memory, fading away with gradual ease. The newspaper should be ready and waiting, as yet untouched.

And then comes the opening of the cocktail cabinet, the gentle and welcome clinking of ice cubes into glasses and the glorious sight of a ‘hair of the dog’ honing into view, a crisp, refreshing stick of celery the only decoration.

Bloody Mary
Making a Bloody Mary is a uniquely personal experience. Some prefer to go easy on the alcohol, concentrating instead of the restorative powers of Tabasco sauce. Others like a strong mix to dull the acute edges of a hangover, allowing the vodka to gently ease its way back into the bloodstream and works its happy magic.

Below is the way I like mine. I am quite particular and this drink is as much about the ritual as the taste and effect. I love the different stages that it passes through before it is ready – astringent, sour, cold, sweet, spicy, seasoned, perfect.

Acquire and arrange your ingredients. The specific brands are important:

A tall highball glass.
Absolut, or other premium vodka (at least a double measure of 50ml)
A ¼ of a lemon
Tomato juice
Tabasco sauce
Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and pepper
A stick of fresh, crisp celery, about ¾ the height of the glass, sliced lengthways to about half way up.

Pour the vodka into the highball glass. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the vodka. Drop the wedge into the glass. Fill the glass with large ice cubes. Pour over the tomato juice until the glass is almost full. Take the Worcestershire sauce in one hand and the Tabasco in the other and give two shakes into the glass.

Add a pinch of salt. Stir well. Finally add a few turns from a pepper mill, stir again. Top with a final turn of the pepper mill, garnish with the celery and commence drinking. Realise just what excellent company Miles Davies is on a Sunday morning and vow to do this more often.

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Alex said...

It's a cult, a classic!

Just to confirm, your stick of celery does have the leaves on, right?


Cheers. Chinks glass gently

Just Cook It said...

Of course it does. I raise my glass to you, sir (or madam - I can't see your profile so am not too sure)

Dinah (MetaGrrrl) said...

Hear, hear.

Do note, though, that the US recipe is different (and inferior).

Here's another cocktail recipe for you which uses the superior UK version



Paystyle said...

Excellent post, and you're right that the Bloody Mary lends itself to individual tinkering.

Personally, I think in addition to the ingredients you mentioned, I find a bit of clam juice to be indispensable in my Bloody Mary, and if I have some handy I'll toss in a tsp of the adobo sauce from the canned chipotles for an amazingly smoky transformation.

I also infuse my own vodka from time to time, most recently w/hot chiles, and the addition they make to the Bloody Mary is sublime. Here's a post on it if you're interested:


Anonymous said...

I agree with you! I love Worcestershire sauce. I didn't know it was fermented. It's great for dipping fried spring rolls and I like using it to marinate pork chops.

Hungry Gal said...

Have you ever have heard of Ceasars? It seems to be a really popular beverage in Canada - it's essentially a bloody Mary made with clam juice. it's heavenly - as long as there's lots of L&P and horseradish. ;)

Just Cook It said...

MetaGrrrl - I'll scoot on over and take a peek, thanks for the tip

Paystyle - Thank you for the kind words. The addition of clam juice sounds wonderful and I love the idea of having a smokey chipotle flavour in there as well. Yum. I'll pootle over and take a look, sounds delicious

Eat Me Outta Here - Excellent tips, thanks for the comment.

Hungry Gal - Two tips on clam juice in a bloody mary? How could I not try it? Stay tuned and I'll let you know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

I believe that what lea and perrins were trying to make was an indian chutney...

Mary Phillips said...

A small pull of Guinness also adds an extra, almost creamy weight to the drink.