The Condiment Problem

A few weeks ago, my friend Christy, mother of four, sent me a link to a pork chop recipe she was thinking about for dinner. “So I am going to make this tonight, but what bothers me is that two of my kids will put A-1 on it no matter what.” I felt her pain — soy sauce and ketchup have both been A-1 equivalents in our house — and I wanted to help her. So I looped in none other than Homemade Pantry author Alana Chernila. (Subtitle: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Makingfor the rescue effort. My feeling was, if they’re going to slather the stuff on, might as well feel good about what’s in the bottle. Alana was nice enough to address the condiment quandry below. — JR

Every family has those condiments.

You probably already know what I’m talking about. What was the first jar that popped into your head? But if we are to get into specifics, those condiments can be characterized by the following:

1. There is at least one member of your family who pours/ spreads/ scoops it over everything, even as you tell them that you just spent two hours in the kitchen trying to get the flavor right, and maybe just this once, they could taste what you made first?
2. Even though it is constantly in use, the jar seems to mysteriously last forever.
3. Whatever it is, it’s excellent on eggs.

We’ve certainly been through our fair share of bottles that meet the criteria. We’re a condiment-loving family, and we’ve covered our meals with Sriracha, Thai peanut sauce, that strange squishy Japanese mayonnaise in the bottle with the baby on it, kimchi, ketchup, Tabasco, fancy mustard, and of course, steak sauce.

What makes these condiments so delicious? Usually, it’s some sort of magical alchemy of tomato, sugar, vinegar and six or seven ingredients I don’t even want to think about. But all that sweetness and acid and salt—those are the ingredients of memory. I think that what comes out of the bottle creates sensations in the mouth way before they actually register as flavor. And those feelings–the burn, the funny feeling in the nose, the wonderful and off-putting way that mayonnaise coats every other taste—they bring us back to all the other tables we’ve felt that way over the course of our lives.

My main goal with homemade steak sauce was to find that strange kick in the back of the throat. When I finally felt it, I offered a little spoon from the unmarked jar to my friend, Molly.

“What’s it taste like?”

Her eyes got wide. “It tastes like a restaurant my mom used to take me on birthdays. It was one of those big places with animal heads mounted on the wall, where you could order any size steak you wanted.”


Homemade Steak Sauce, aka “A-2”
Recipe by Alana Chernila, author of The Homemade Pantry. Makes 1 cup.

Most homemade steak sauce recipes call for a mixing of a bunch of other condiments, and honestly if you throw together some ketchup, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, and sugar, you’ll get pretty close. But starting a bit more from scratch is easy, and then you can control all the flavors and know just what’s in there. Feel free to adjust just about any of these ingredients. Taste as you go. And if you want to leave out the anchovies for a vegetarian version, just substitute in a bit of something smoky like smoked salt or miso paste. Note: For those who prefer a thinner sauce (like A-1) push the final product through a strainer.

1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (from 1/2 medium onion)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped anchovy (from about 2 filets)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons pulpy lemon juice (from1 lemon)
1/2 cup pulpy orange juice (from 2 oranges)
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon molasses

1. Combine the raisins and the apple cider vinegar, and let soak for 20 minutes.

2. Heat the olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and shiny, about five minutes. Add the garlic, anchovy, and tomato paste and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium low and add the raisins and apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, celery salt, hot sauce, white vinegar, tamari, and molasses. Cook, uncovered, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.

3. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth. Taste for heat, salt and sweetness. Adjust if necessary, and decant into a jar. Store covered in the refrigerator indefinitely.

Related: Peppery Grilled PorterhouseRory’s “Maple Candy” Pork Chops; Alana’s Homemade Granola Bars.


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why is kimchi included in the list of “condiments”? it’s a delicious side dish that doesn’t (shouldn’t) have “tomato, sugar, vinegar and six or seven ingredients I don’t even want to think about” in it… just saying.


I know what your friend means. It drives me crazy to spend all that time on a meal only to have it taste like everything else that I cooked during that week. Sadly, I can only aspire to A-1 as in my house the condiment offender is ketchup ketchup ketchup. 🙂


My 15 year old son loves when I make stir-fry. I make my own sauce. He insists on having the white rice on a separate plate with a lot of ketchup. I keep asking him to, just once, try the stir-fry with the the Asian sauce but he won’t. I have to buy ketchup from Costco and he is the only one that eats it!


We are really into Linzano lately! My mom brought some back for us last year after she went to Costa Rica and now we’re hooked.

Catherine @ Chocolate & Vegetables

Oh man, can I relate to that first quality. My partner puts Tabasco on everything, grr. Though he’s recently taken a pause after (belatedly) discovering that I’m working my way through a bag of Serrano peppers from a friend’s garden!

Kate @ Savour Fare

I mixed up my own Okonomiyaki sauce recently and it was spot on. Of course, the secret ingredients included ketchup and worcestershire sauce, so I’m not sure it addressed the problem.


A former roommate used to put Bragg’s, nutritional yeast, and sometimes ketchup on everything I cooked. 🙁


Whenever I cook chicken or pork, my husband puts either dijon mustard or BBQ sauce on it. So frustrating.


Mmm, sounds awesome. I’m gonna have to try it out. I’m the only steak sauce person in my house. My kids dump soy sauce on almost everything and my husband is a red pepper flake addict. Both of those live on the table all the time, I’ve long since stopped putting them away in the cabinet.

A Life From Scratch

You know what? That is one dinner norm we don’t follow – we are not condiment people in this house! My husband can’t stand them and I could take or leave them – especially A1. We buy awesome meat and grill it to perfection on the green egg – no way we are covering up that flavor!


We are condiment people, too, but oddly enough, not on meat. It seems to go on everything else. A-1 comes out on all potatoes (roasted, baked, etc). I have 2 children that love ketchup. One child and myself that have a soft spot for Texas Pete, and my husband loves Valentina hot sauce.

Long live the condiments!

eliza twist

Sometime in my boy’s second year, thanks to our nanny, I realized that toddlers really like to dip food and ketchup seemed to be his favorite choice. I give him cultured ketchup that I buy at our local community supported kitchen and I feel zero guilt.


Neil Stephenson described the imaginary and oh so brilliantly funny, McWhorter’s Original Condiment, (in one of my favorite books, The Diamond Age), as tasting like it had the following ingredients, lol:

Water, blackstrap molasses, imported habanero peppers, salt, garlic, ginger, tomato puree, axle grease, real hickory smoke, snuff, butts of clove cigarettes, Guinness Stout fermentation dregs, uranium mill tailings, muffler cores, monosodium glutamate, nitrates, nitrites, nitrotes and nitrutes, nutrites, natrotes, powdered pork nose hairs, dynamite, activated charcoal, match-heads, used pipe cleaners, tar, nicotine, single malt whiskey, smoked beef lymph nodes, autumn leaves, red fuming nitric acid, bituminous coal, fallout, printer’s ink, laundry starch, drain cleaner, blue chrysotile asbestos, carrageenan, BHA, BHT, and natural flavorings.


Haha awesome cake!!

I’m attending the Random House event on 11/8. I am really looking forward to attending your panel! I can’t wait 🙂


Im not really a condiment person but I tend to put fresh lime juice on everthing… It just makes everthing taste better. And since its natural I dont feel guilty