What's This Here Sauce?

I was asked to explain “meat muffins” from my earlier post. Nothing fancy - it’s simply meatloaf cooked in a muffin tin. My kids love meatloaf, but I hated to wait and wait for a large loaf to cook and once had the profound thought, “If one can divide quick bread batter into smaller portions and make muffins, why not do the same with meatloaf mixture?” It not only worked - it took only 20 minutes for the little guys to cook at 350 as opposed to an hour or more for the big one. Thus meat muffins were born.

Now, how I make my meatloaf is not an exact science. Ingredients can be any combination of raw egg, homemade bread crumbs, onion, tomato, bulgur wheat, ketchup, salsa and more, but I do always add Worcestershire sauce. I will admit that try as I might, I can’t pronounce it. My grandma used to tell me to say, “What’s-this-here-sauce.”  However, I usually call it, “The stuff in the brown bottle” or “Lea & Perrins” – but I use it in all kinds of dishes and probably go through a paper-wrapped bottle of the stuff a year, so I decided to learn more about it.

“The story of Lea & Perrins® famous Worcestershire Sauce begins in the early 1800s, in the county of Worcester. Returning home from his travels in Bengal, Lord Sandys, a nobleman of the area, was eager to duplicate a recipe he'd acquired. On Lord Sandys's request, two chemists—John Lea and William Perrins made up the first batch of the sauce. Lea and Perrins were not impressed with their initial results. The pair found the taste unpalatable, and simply left the jars in their cellar to gather dust. A few years later, they stumbled across them and decided to taste the contents again. To their delight, the aging process had turned it into a delicious, savory sauce.”

The secret recipe contains mainly anchovies and tamarind as well as a laundry list of other ingredients, spices and “natural flavorings.” Both anchovies and tamarind are used around the world in many different ways as a sort of “season-all” solution for cooking. Both, used in large quantities can be overpowering to the inexperienced palate but, in moderation, can accent a dish nicely. The same goes for Worcestershire sauce.

Tamarind (Tamatindus indica) is the pod of a tree native to Africa but now is mainly cultivated in India. This sweet/sour and tart fruit is widely used throughout Africa, South-east Asia, and South America in curries, chutneys, beverages, candies or even eaten whole when allowed to mature. It is available in dried pod, paste or powder form. (I use the paste when cooking a popular Philippine sour pork soup called Sinigang na Baboy.)

Anchovies, usually found in fillet or paste form in both salted and oil-packed varieties, are more than that stinky little fish used as a pizza topping. Indeed, Caesar salad would not be Caesar salad without anchovies.  Just as my meatloaf, beef stroganoff, Bloody Marys and even Caesar salad (yes, it needs a dash too) would certainly be lacking without Lea & Perrins.

Speaking of which, here is my favorite Caesar salad recipe ala Cooks Illustrated (May/June p12-13, 2002)

2 large eggs
1T plus 2t fresh squeezed lemon juice
1t Worcestershire Sauce
1/4t salt
1/8 fine fresh ground black pepper
1 garlic clove (pressed)
4 flat anchovy fillets, minced (about 1.5t)
1/3c olive oil
2 medium heads romaine (washed, dried and torn)
1/3c grated parmesan (NOT the stuff from the can!)

-Bring two inches water to boil in small pan. Lower eggs into water and cook for 45 seconds. When cool enough to handle, crack open, reserve yolks and discard whites. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce, salt, pepper, garlic and anchovies to yolks and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, add oil in slow, steady stream. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
-Toss lettuce, cheese and dressing to taste. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Thanks to The Spice House for the tamarind picture and information.  Learn more about Lea & Perrins here: http://www.leaperrins.com/about-lea-perrins.aspx

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