Okay, I've started you on your levain journey, and hopefully you have a good basic idea of how to begin. But the thing about a starter is that it's a long-term relationship. Or at least it can be...
Okay, I realize there are only a few of us that get excited about making our own condiments, but aside from caramelizing sugar and going to a Latin-American or Asian grocery for tamarind concentrate, this one only requires patience and a little space in the back of the fridge. The results are, to my mind, well worth the effort.
As the title asks: Why? Well, as Megan and I started reviewing and re-testing all of the recipes in the latest, 75th Anniversary edition of JOY, we happened upon our recipe for Worcestershire Sauce. Because I'm a condiment collector and all-around flavor geek, I was really jazzed to test it, as we could reap the benefits for many months afterward and use it in future recipe tests. Of course, I was more than a little discouraged when I immediately saw that our recipe required us to make Walnut Catsup. Actually, I was still enthused at this point, as I had always heard my father Ethan rave about walnut and mushroom catsup. So far so good... and then bam, brick wall: walnut catsup requires 100 immature green English walnuts. I did not know where to source immature green English walnuts, and our half-hearted attempts to collect them ourselves last year resulted in a forgotten basket of molding foraged walnuts with the skins still on. That was over a year ago.
Fast forward to the beginning of July: in my web travels, I came across this bit in the Daily Mail detailing how the original, 170-year-old Lea & Perrins recipe had been unearthed (from a dumpster no less!). I reprint the unfathomably large ingredient list below:
- 20 1/2 pounds water
- 2 pounds cloves
- 34 pounds of sugar
- 8 gallons soy sauce
- 24 pounds fish (?)
- 18 gallons vinegar
- 8 oz. essence of lemon
- 5 pounds peppers (kind?)
- 14 pounds tamarind
- 40 pounds pickles (?)
Though this list raises almost as many questions as it answers --Why have liquids measured in weight and volume? Don't pickles have vinegar already? What is essence of lemon and how strong is it?-- it got me back on track with the Worcestershire project. I did a little more digging and came up with this recipe, which, unlike the current JOY recipe, does not require walnut catsup, its 100 immature walnuts, or its eight days of stirring. Granted, you need more patience, but you can be eight times lazier. When I do finally get my hands on 100 immature green English walnuts, I'll compare the two methods and post the results.
For now, enjoy this delicious seasoning agent and condiment. The dried shiitakes (also found at Asian groceries at a much more reasonable price than most supermarkets) play nicely with the anchovies, adding yet another source of umami (the flavor in meat, mushrooms, seaweed, and MSG). I suppose you could triple or quadruple the shiitakes and ditch the anchovies for a vegan-friendly version, but you'd be missing out (you probably already know that... sorry to twist the knife). Just be sure to find a container larger than the 2-quart jar suggested below for the steeping phase.
Feel free to scale the recipe down to your liking or perceived needs, but after four weeks of waiting, you might want to have a sizable supply of sauce to reward your efforts and patience.
Bring to a boil and keep at a low simmer for 30 minutes:
3 cups malt vinegar
1 cup molasses
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup tamarind concentrate
2 large onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
5 flat anchovy fillets, chopped (for a vegan version, omit)
6 dried shiitake mushrooms (vegans should triple this)
5 cardamom pods, smashed
2 cinnamon sticks
Meanwhile, warm over medium heat in a skillet, stirring frequently:
1 1/2 cups sugar
until the sugar melts and turns brown, about 7 minutes. Slowly and carefully pour the caramelized sugar into the simmering mixture (it will sizzle and spit, so back up a little). Be sure to scrape or squeegee all of the sugar from the pan while it is still warm, or you will be scrubbing longer than necessary. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a covered container (my batch barely fit in a 2-quart canning jar... vegans need a bigger jar) and refrigerate for 4 weeks.
Once the sauce has steeped, strain it into a bowl (you might want to do this twice) and transfer to individual bottles or jars with the help of a funnel. The sauce will keep refrigerated for up to 8 months. For long-term, room-temperature storage, transfer to sterilized, 1/2 pint jars. Fit the jars with sterilized lids and rings; process for a half hour at 15 PSI.