What would Batman be without Robin? Or Lucy without Ethel? If Fred had no Barney there’d be no one to ditch the quarry with for the ballgame, thereby erasing the particular glee a “Fred and Barney Day” brings to thousands of the ersatz sick sitting in afternoon bleacher seats. Yogi without BooBoo makes that pic-a-nic basket unappealing. And I can’t even think about Richie Cunningham without at least Potsie in the picture, or Laverne working the Shotz line Shirley-less. OK, so maybe I did watch a lot of TV as a kid, but you get where I’m going with this, right? The sidekick may get second billing, but a star would be paler without a second banana polishing his shine.
Same goes for food. Can you really think of a hamburger without ketchup, a reuben without russian, or a frank without the mustard? (FYI, I’m ignoring the hamburger-mustard crowd on purpose. That stuff’s just wrong. And if you are past the second grade and still putting ketchup on a dog, shame on you. My blog, my rules.) Condiments are the sidekicks of the culinary world. Without them, things just seem unfinished. Sure your sausage may be stellar, that steak sublime, but adding just the right condiment elevates that bite to “F$#K YEAH!!!” You know if food makes you swear it’s gotta be good.
The other day while excavating the archeology of my freezer, I found some boneless chicken breasts and a ribeye tucked away in the back. Yipee! Meat!! (I’m on a tight budget.) Both needed to be eaten before the ice age took its toll, but I was bored with my usual steak sidekick (caramelized onions), and after one too many tequila lime or lemon garlic chicken marinades, needed something to make that chicken interesting. My recipe for Balsamic Onion Jam was amazing with the steak, and this Simple Barbecue Sauce found in the New York Times was perfect on the chicken (and pretty freakin’ awesome on last night’s burger too!)
Simple Barbecue Sauce (John Willoughby, NYT,)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
If you haven’t already discovered cooking.nytimes.com, I encourage you to take a peek. Lots of great recipes both new and from the considerable archives of the NYT Dining section (think Craig Clairborne and Pierre Franey.) I get daily emails from the site, which is how I discovered John Willoughby’s awesome and fast bbq sauce.
The only ingredient that may not already be in your fridge or pantry is the pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika). This stuff is really worth seeking out. I have the picante (hot) version and it’s one of my favorite things to add in a bit of smoke and heat to recipes. And since a little goes a long way, a can lasts for a while.
- ⅔ cup ketchup
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes. Keeps in an airtight jar in the fridge for several weeks.
Balsamic Onion Jam
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
- 2 large Walla Walla or other sweet onions (about 4″ in diameter)
- 1 large red onion (about 4″ in diameter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup ruby port
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon balsamic glaze (available in most supermarkets, and a pretty wonderful condiment all by itself)
Cut the onions into quarters, then into 1/4″ slices. This doesn’t have to be precise. You’re going to be running the finished jam through the food processor for a few pulses when it’s finished cooking.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pan large enough to fit everything. Add in the onions, sugar, salt and pepper and toss so everything is mixed well. Add in the balsamic and port and stir to coat the onions. Nestle in the herbs, turn heat to medium/high and bring to a boil. Once you are at a boil, turn down to medium/low and partially cover so there is about an inch of open pot on one side, and maintain a slow boil. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the onions are very soft.
After 45 minutes, remove the cover and fish out the herbs. Add in the tablespoon of balsamic glaze and continue to cook over low heat (maintaining slow boil) until the liquid in pan thickens to where you leave a clean trail when running a spatula along bottom of pan, (about 15 minutes). Remove pan from the heat and let cool about 15 minutes before adding to food processor. Pulse 3 to 4 times — you want to chop just enough to break up any long pieces of onion but not puree. Taste jam for seasoning and add more pepper or salt to taste.
You can use this as a condiment for most meats, and it’s pretty terrific on a cheese board too. The jam keeps for several weeks in an airtight jar in the fridge, but I doubt you’ll have to worry about keeping it that long. :-)
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