The great sauce dilemma. To ketchup or not ketchup?
A couple of weeks ago I was having a bit of a barbeque for some friends of my son and decided that since we were pushing the boat out a bit that I’d make up the burgers using Longhorn steak mince. Lovely and juicy with magnificent texture and flavour, if you haven’t tried them I thoroughly recommend it.
I cooked these little darlings of taste to perfection and served them to the table with a degree of smugness and theatre.
‘Try that,’ says I.
‘Ooooh they look great Got any ketchup?’ asked one of the kids.
‘Er… I’ll go and find some,’ and off I slunk to flush out a bottle from the back of a cupboard.
That evening I was talking to my friend and fellow Deli Chef Geoff about this earth-shaking event, but instead of commiseration I was taken back to be told, ‘Don’t be such a bloody food snob! People can have what they want on it.’
‘Quite right,’ and ‘Hear, hear!’ I hear you say.
I like a challenge, and by the way I’m about as far from being a snob as you’re going to get, but I did think it was worth a bit of further thought. I don’t think it’s all that black and white and that maybe there’s room to think about it in a little more depth.
So come on then, how many people out there have never winced when someone’s asked to add a bit of ketchup to a meal that you’ve just spent ages preparing or spent a few quid on?
Let me get to the point of this little jaunt into the world of condiments, there is no right or wrong, just personal tastes and when you get down to it, ‘there’s nowt so queer as folks’, as they say up North.
Now, having said all that, it’s my opinion that great food and drink has its own subtle qualities that are masked by the addition of other ‘stuff’. Therefore, to maintain balance in the universe then it’s also fair to say that the flavours of some food and drink must be enhanced by the addition of other ‘stuff’.
Right then, there’s the dichotomy, because there’s no real line that you can draw between what you think is ‘the good stuff’ and ‘the other stuff’.
Do you simply let your guests or family get on with it and splodge away to their hearts content while you suggest between gritted teeth that ‘perhaps you might like to taste it first’ or do you offer different food and drink options, depending on whether a bit more ‘flavour’ is going to be added to your creation?
Still not convinced, let me draw up a couple of scenarios:
• Ketchup splattered all over the Christmas goose you’ve just spent four hours preparing
• Ketchup splattered all over the fish fingers and chips that you’ve popped in the oven for a quick meal
Truthfully, which option would bother you least?
There’s the rub whereby it could be that it’s fine on one hand, but not on the other. Most people will say nothing to a guest and work on the premise that, ‘well, they’re enjoying themselves’ while we might be a bit more direct with say, our children, who might not be encouraged to smother the Christmas goose in sweet sticky gloop.
But then there’s even more confusion when it comes to pouring an alcoholic drink for someone. Let’s say you’ve forked out for an excellent bottle of West Highland malt whisky and your guest wants to put a sweet fizzy drink in it to top it up to a tumbler full. If in that scenario you just happen to have a cheaper blend lurking at the back of the cupboard, what are you most likely to do?
You can read across that example to any food or drink of your choice, but isn’t it fair to say that most hosts would reach for the lesser quality when they know that it’s going to have a slug of additive?
But can you imagine though doing the same with a bacon sandwich, where depending on what the guest is going to add you decide what’s going to be served to them?
‘You want sauce on it, eh? Right you can have the cheap watery stuff with the white blobs and the rest of us can have the Gloucester Old Spot!’
I don’t think that’s going to happen very often, do you?
No two people are the same thank goodness, but we do tend to form broad groups when you put enough of us together and from my own personal experience I find that there are some people who really enjoy the subtleties of food and drink and some people who are just not that bothered. Why that might be are matters of consideration for people more learned than myself, but it does seem to me that in many cases people add flavourings out of habit rather than taste.
As you may know, I’m actively involved with a local primary school in Mid Devon, where I work with the children in year five to try and help them to develop more of an interest in food and a healthy diet. It does appear to me that part and parcel of how we enjoy our food as adults stems from our childhood experiences at home and in our peer groups as well as the biology of our individual palettes.
What I’d ideally like is for people to taste things before they add anything else to it rather than reach for the condiments as a matter of habit.
There are so many wonderful flavours in the world to enjoy that it seems a pity if we choose to miss out on them by splatting away without giving it a second thought.
Through those flavours we learn about our producers, other cultures and our own preferences. At the very least we should be careful to ensure that our children are given every opportunity to develop their own palette without instilling our own prejudices from the get go.
That seems obvious I know, but I also know from firsthand experience just how easy it is to pass on our own preferences and dislikes to our children without meaning to.
With all that said it’s obvious that people should be able to enjoy their food and drink in any form they like, after all if eating isn’t a pleasure, then we might as well buy reconstituted astronaut gloop in little tubes and use the extra time in the day that we don’t spend cooking doing something else that does bring us pleasure.
In the end I think that it’s a case of ‘each to their own’ and no one should feel uncomfortable about something as minor as how they like their food served, either as a guest, family member or the person preparing the food. But equally I would suggest that particularly with children, it’s worth tasting whatever you’re being served first before deciding on whether the flavour needs enhanced.
If after trying it you decide that you love the taste of ketchup so much that the food in front of you would be much better with it on, then fair enough and please enjoy your meal.
Mind you, I won’t be serving ketchup with my dips and crisps any time soon… sorry.
Iain Thompson is a trained chef and runs a fine meat and cheese business from the PannierMarket in Tiverton where he sells some of the finest produce the regionhas to offer as well as regaling their customers with fabulous oldWestcountry stories and entertaining with simple, innovative cookerytheatre.
To find out more have a look at The Deli Shack or visit The Deli Shack FaceBook page
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