Expat Gourmet loves a good bacon butty and is known to spend inordinate amounts of time and effort on tasks made redundant by modern way of life. Making own brand brown sauce is a logical consequence, n’est-ce pas?
When I embarked on the noble quest of making my own ketchup last summer I realised I never again wanted to clog my entrails with something that has a longer (and often similar sounding) list of ingredients than bubble bath. The squeezy HP stuff has a lot going for it: its viscosity, smooth pourable texture and, mainly, its familiar flavour and odour. Take away those and you’re left with just a sauce. Which can easily be replaced with another sauce – especially one made along similar lines at home where you are completely in control! This act of reasserting your control in the kitchen and over the tasks you once delegated to Heinz and their friends is so empowering that if making brown sauce were a social theory it would be feminism. If you are a woman and make brown sauce by informed choice that is. I’m reading Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. Suddenly, I view every smallest event in my life through feminism goggles.
Of course I’m not going to compare making brown sauce to women’s struggle for equality. That would be just silly: making brown sauce is not a struggle, it is a labour of love, as is any related preserving, potting or bottling activity. The kind of project on which you happily spend your whole Sunday mid-morning, spurred on by anticipation of all those future Sunday mid-mornings that you spend not making brown sauce but lazily savouring a bacon (sausage/egg/grilled veg) butty or a proper fry-up, wearing your dressing gown because now is not the time to get dressed. Unless you have to pop round the shops to get beans, orange juice or the papers. Please get dressed then.
If you asked me a couple of months ago I would not have been able to tell you what goes into brown sauce. This is less outrageous than teenagers claiming that corn comes from corn dogs or 8-year-olds not being able to recognise and name a tomato (no word of a lie – just watch Jamie’s American Food Revolution). However, as a self-proclaimed foodie, I am still ashamed – I should know my stuff. I was actually surprised to find that brown sauce contains dates and tamarind paste as some of its main ingredients. That’s nature’s own sweet and sour right there and the unsubtle flavours you can recognise in HP without trying too hard.
And so I embarked on my quest to enhance my pantry with another savoury sauce. The recipe yet again comes courtesy of Leon, my favourite eatery the wrong side of Watford Gap. Consider yourself warned: this is a spoon-able, not pourable sauce and you will probably never achieve the kind of smooth, slick texture and consistency of HP, not unless you are willing to spend hours experimenting with water and cornflour. I would not bother. Instead, I would use jars to house the sauce. That way you will bypass consistency issues and be able to spoon out that last smidgen of sauce at the end of your brief but loving relationship. I know I used pretty bottles for the first batch, which is what you can see in the photos, but believe me I would not do that again. Do yourself a favour and save your bottles for flavoured liquours.
I’m sure no suggestions of usage for the sauce are really necessary. Apply liberally.
Brown Sauce (3x250ml)
60ml olive oil
500g onions, diced
150g celery, diced
a blade of mace
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp celery salt (I used celery salt because it’s a bit rank and I have no other use for it. Feel free to use normal salt)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
130g chopped stoned dates
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp tamarind paste
180ml malt vinegar
2 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Sautee the onions and celery for 20 minutes on high heat until browned (but not burned). Add the spices and salt and cook for 5 more minutes.
Add the tomatoes, dates, bay leaves, fructose, half the tamarind, 2/3 of the vinegar and 200ml water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. By then the ingredients should break down and combine. In the meantime sterilise your jars.
Season well and blitz in a food processor or using a stick blender to your desired consistency before adding the groundnut oil and the rest of the tamarind and vinegar. This will add more kick to the sauce.
Spoon the sauce into warm sterilised jars and keep in the fridge after opening.