‘This sauce will change your life!’ 30 brilliant condiments to transform your tired lockdown dishes

When you’re barely allowed out of your home, let alone your neighbourhood, you have to mix things up whenever you can. From Chinese XO to Romanian mujdei and Filipino banana ketchup, these spicy sauces will bring the whole world into your kitchen

Britain is splashing out on condiments like never before. To alleviate the grind of lockdown cooking, we are raiding the global larder way beyond ketchup and brown sauce, to unlock a world of hot, concentrated, punchy flavours with the ability to transform a meal in seconds.

Specialist retailers report booming sales, with the importer MexGrocer shifting double its usual amount of Valentina hot sauce last year. At one stage, sales of Lao Gan Ma chilli oils were up a staggering 1,900% at the online shop Sous Chef, a repository of revelatory sauces. But what should you try next?

We asked leading chefs and food obsessives for their homemade sauce hacks and store cupboard secrets, most of which are readily available online if you cannot get to an Asian or African supermarket or a continental deli. Please note: no one suggested serving roast chicken with mint sauce.

Lao Gan Ma preserved black beans in chilli oil
Lao Gan Ma preserved black beans in chilli oil. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

Lao Gan Ma preserved black beans in chilli oil
Huge in China, Lao Gan Man’s crispy chilli oils also have a passionate following among western food geeks. The original fried onion and Guizhou chilli oil is the cult classic (warm heat, incredible savoury depth), but the black bean version (“God tier!” says Sam Grainger, the executive chef at Belzan in Liverpool) is now the connoisseur’s choice. “It’s condiment crack,” agrees James Cochran, who runs the fried chicken takeaway Around the Cluck at his London restaurant, 12:51. He adds black bean LGM to everything from crab linguine to chicken sandwiches and wants to use it in a dessert: “That savouriness would work well with chocolate.”

XO sauce
Created in Hong Kong in the 80s, this outrageously savoury cooked relish, thick with dried scallops, shrimps and ham, has become a hot trend among UK chefs, many playing provocatively fast and loose with the ingredients. The Birmingham consultant and cookery tutor Lap-fai Lee is a purist who makes his own XO (its name borrowed from cognac’s grading system to indicate luxury). The Lee Kum Kee version is “pretty good and very aromatic, but not spicy enough for me”, he says. As for the Asian condiments craze, Lee offers a warning: “They are meant to complement food. When I see street food bros smothering deep-fried junk in Asian condiments, it’s kind of laughable.”

Homemade mujdei.
Homemade mujdei. Photograph: Irina Georgescu

In Romania, this simple garlic dressing – five cloves crushed with one teaspoon of salt in 100ml of water – is, says Irina Georgescu, the author of Carpathia, “drizzled on polenta, roasted vegetables, fried fish or added to meatballs. It can fix everything.” Romanian garlic is milder and sweeter. Roast pungent UK garlic for a similar flavour, but include one raw clove for “personality”, says Georgescu.

Haitian mamba peanut butter
From burger topping and fruit dip to east Asian noodle dressings, the world uses peanut butter in many ways beyond spreading it on toast. The owner of Caribé restaurant in London, Keshia Sakarah, makes her own mamba. “It’s an amazing sweet, spicy Haitian recipe that has scotch bonnet in it,” she says. She uses the mamba (sometimes known as manba or mambá) in the west African stew maafe and as a topping on porridge. “It may sound odd, because of the pepper, but it’s not overpowering.”

Mamba, Haitian peanut butter.
Mamba, Haitian peanut butter. Photograph: Caribe' UK
Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients sambal oelek
Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients sambal oelek. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

There are several hundred fresh or cooked variations of this thick sauce, most commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Vibrant heat and big flavours are constants, but ingredients can range from as little as chillies, salt and vinegar or lime, in the basic sambal oelek, to mango, tamarind, shrimp paste or smoked fish (most Asian supermarkets carry several examples). “In Malaysia, sambal is an ingredient and condiment on every table, every meal time,” says Mandy Yin, the owner of Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar in London, which sells its own sambals. Yin eats sambal with eggs, noodles and soups, stirs it into pasta sauces or combines it with mayo on a jacket potato. “It’s literally endless. With sambal, you are limited only by your imagination.”

Ghana Best shito
Ghana Best shito. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

“In Ghana, most people use it like a table sauce or a salsa for fish,” says Adejoké Bakare of this west African answer to XO, flavoured with dried and fermented fish or fried meat. Bakare’s Brixton restaurant, Chishuru, makes its own shito, but the Ghana Best brand is available at Tesco and Asda.

Achar masala
Achar spice mixes are used in mango and carrot pickles. But Mayur Patel, a co-owner of the Bundobust restaurants, deploys them to create a “veggie, no-guilt ’nduja”. Yes, a stand-in for the hot, spreadable Calabrian sausage. Stir the achar into olive oil to spread: “On buttered sourdough, pizza, cheese on toast … It’s bangin’.”

A smidge of this fermented yuzu fruit, salt and chilli paste elevates any protein, says Lee. “Like a pinch of salt, but with the most intense citrus burst.” Try japancentre.com for good examples.

Truff hot sauce.
Truff hot sauce. Photograph: PR

Truff hot sauce
With its celebrity fans (Oprah Winfrey), crazy pricing (170g costs £19.99 at Selfridges) and designer packaging, this black truffle-infused hot sauce sounds ludicrously bling. But an initially “dubious” Jen Ferguson, the co-owner of the deli Hop Burns & Black in London, is sold. “It’s outrageously tasty. A few drops make humble eggs on toast feel like a Michelin-starred breakfast.”

Samyang Buldak hot chicken-flavour sauce
The Korean manufacturer Samyang sells this sauce from its ramen noodles bottled. “It’s got a stupid chicken intensity, a bit of treacly sweetness and a lot of heat,” says Grainger. “A drop improves any curry or rice dish, and I toss gyoza in it.”

Walkerswood jerk marinade
A fast-acting Jamaican jerk seasoning that, says Dougie Bell, the owner of Edinburgh sauce experts Lupe Pintos, offers instant escape from our “drab, wet, windy winterland”.

Walkerswood jerk marinade
Walkerswood jerk marinade. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

Chef Mama Z’s banana ketchup
When American GIs met ingenious Filipinos during the second world war, banana ketchup was born. Rachel Stockley, the chef at Baratxuri in Bury, whose mum is Filipina, slathers it over chicken skewers and grilled meats. “It’s fruitier than regular ketchup and caramelises better in a marinade,” she says.

Mae Ploy nam prik pao
Often described as Thai chilli jam, nam prik pao made by Mae Ploy – based on a savoury core of smoky fried shallots, garlic and shrimp paste – is an ingredient and a table sauce. When finishing stir-fries, noodle or soup dishes, says Andrew Chongsathien, from Brother Thai in Cardiff, “it’s my go-to”.

Eaten Alive smoked sriracha.
Eaten Alive smoked sriracha. Photograph: PR

Eaten Alive smoked sriracha
“The vegetables are smoked before fermenting and it’s addictive,” says Luke French, the chef-owner at Jöro in Sheffield. “My favourite is pouring sriracha into chicken noodle soup with loads of coriander, roasted sesame oil and spring onion.”

Bull-Dog tonkatsu sauce
Think a punchy, fruitier Japanese brown sauce. At Bench in Sheffield, Tom Aronica uses it to dress chicken wings. “I don’t think brown sauce is given enough opportunity with things that aren’t pig-related. I like Bull-Dog’s acidity and its big hit of umami.”

FSG Sichuan preserved cooked fungus
These “cooked mushrooms doused in fearsomely hot chilli oil and Sichuan pepper” will, promises Nicola Lando, the owner of Sous Chef, banish “food boredom”. Try souschef.co.uk for a jar.

Crystal hot sauce
The sauce creator Pam Digva, a co-owner of Sauce Shop in Nottingham, is “obsessed” with this New Orleans hot sauce. “I’ll spot it in random shops and rinse the shelf. It has a sophisticated aged-chilli flavour you don’t often find. It’s mind-blowing with grilled cheese toasties.”

Crystal hot sauce.
Crystal hot sauce. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

S&B shichimi togarashi
This seasoning, comprising seven ingredients (the name translates as “seven flavours”) and is similar to the more citrusy nanami togarashi, is great over rice bowls or stir-fries, with its blend of sesame, seaweed, orange peel and chillies. But, says James Chant, the owner of the ramen-kit makers Matsudai in Cardiff: “It’s also phenomenal on chips and eggs, or in butter to finish seafood or chicken.”

A bowl of shichimi togarashi.
A bowl of shichimi togarashi. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

Colatura di alici
Like most aged artisan products, this southern Italian fermented anchovy sauce is pricey – a 140ml bottle from Sous Chef is £11.99. But, says James Lowe, the chef-founder at Lyle’s in London, it will “change your life. It’s an intensely savoury addition to vinaigrettes or salsas where you want body or depth.”

Pimento Hill scotch bonnet jam.
Pimento Hill scotch bonnet jam. Photograph: Pimento Hill

Pimento Hill scotch bonnet chilli jam
Matin Miah, the co-owner of Rudie’s Jerk Shack, loves Jamaican chilli jams with grilled lamb or jerk chicken: “That sweetness, spice and unmistakable fiery scotch bonnet aroma.” Rudie’s makes its own, but Pimento Hill in London does “a great version”, he says. Look out for imported jars of Busha Browne’s hot pepper jelly, too.

Tajin chamoy
Chamoy are fruity Mexican hot sauces – sweet, sour, salty, spicy – used to dress fresh fruit. But, observes Alex Rushmer, the chef-owner at Vanderlyle in Cambridge, they also add “zip to carrots and other root vegetables”. A range of retailers stock Tajin’s version, including Melbury and Appleton.

Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients zhoug.
Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients zhoug. Photograph: PR

This exhilarating Yemeni green chilli and garlic sauce, verdant with parsley and coriander, lifts any salad, sabich (roasted aubergine) or falafel pitta. In Bristol, Edna’s Kitchen does a terrific zhoug, while Waitrose sells a version in its Cooks’ Ingredients range.

Popular in Francophone west Africa, this spicily seasoned sauce, based around caramelised onion, lemon and mustard, is often used to marinade meat, then cooked while you grill that chicken or fish. “Caramelised onions with grilled meat is another level,” says Bakare, who energises Chishuru’s yassa with Cameroonian white penja pepper.

Kewpie mayonnaise
Kewpie mayonnaise. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

Kewpie mayonnaise
A rich, yolk-only Japanese mayo that, says the food writer Joe Warwick, is “smoother, sweeter – despite containing no sugar – and closer to authentic fresh, yellow mayonnaise than Hellmann’s and its ilk”. It is available in Sainsbury’s, too.

This Catalan “pesto” (a ground mix of toasted almonds, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and freestyle herbs) is, says Shumana Palit, a co-owner of the Ultracomida delis in Wales, terrific for adding depth to sauces, soups and stews. “A spoonful makes everything come to life,” she says. Epicurious has a good recipe.

Japan Centre white miso
“Gives a big flavour boost to any broth or warm tomato sauce,” says Lowe of Japan Centre’s white miso. “It’s also good in salad dressings, stirred into vinegar, perhaps with mustard and oil.”

Tacos Padre salsa macha
The Borough Market outfit does a “delicious version” of this punchy Mexican combination of roasted chillies, nuts, seeds and garlic in oil, says Pamela Yung of ASAP Pizza.

Tacos Padre salsa macha.
Tacos Padre salsa macha. Photograph: Tacos Padre

Commonly mixed with soy, Japanese ponzu, says Lando, should strike a balance of “sweet, citrus, salty, sharp flavours. I love pairing it with prawns, trout or to dress a zingy red cabbage slaw.” You can make your own, although it is appearing in more and more supermarkets.

Maggi liquid seasoning
Maggi liquid seasoning. Photograph: Simon Leigh/The Guardian

Maggi liquid seasoning
“It’s cracking on stir-fried veg or anything that needs a savoury, salty kick,” says Patel of this 19th-century Swiss-German creation. “It’s like supercharged soy sauce.”

Mr Naga hot pepper pickle
“Ferociously hot, incredibly delicious,” says Rushmer of this sauce, available at Chillicult.co.uk. “I ended up dipping Wotsits into it.”


Tony Naylor

The GuardianTramp

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