Don’t buy it. Make it.
A few of Christmas Eve’s past, I was at my folks’ house in Missouri. Mom and the aunts had prepared a giant spread for the appropriately giant family. My mom had spent the day involved in a series of food projects that would make most people fall over. One of them was a pretty serious brisket. With guests already arriving, Mom realized she had uncharacteristically forgotten a sauce for the meat. Now, in her defense, the brisket could’ve stood on its own without anything on top or on the side. Still, she felt an obligation to offer something for the sauce folks. She had way too much to do and nobody had time to run to the store.
I stepped into the walk-in pantry and looked around. Within a few minutes, I was standing in front of the stove with some tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, molasses, and some spices. After a little experimentation, I had a sauce that everyone was raving about. I’ll admit, I was a little proud.
Over the last few years, I’ve eschewed buying commercial BBQ sauce. It’s ridiculous to spend the money on K.C. Masterpiece or any other sauce when you can make something that fits your specific tastes in a matter of minutes. To BBQ freaks, home cooks, and foodies, this is not news (you guys can just stop reading here, k? I’m not covering any new ground here.). This is something everyone knows. However, there are a lot of people out there who either don’t think about it or are afraid to try.
Since that time, experimentation and necessity have led me to several discoveries. There are many things you not only can, but should make for yourself instead of buying them. Most of them take no more than five minutes to construct on your own. I guarantee your family and guests won’t notice the difference, and if they do, it will be because they like the taste better.
Here are just a few things we either do not or try not to buy in our home anymore.
Make your own barbecue sauce–There is no greater BBQ sauce than what you make for yourself. Why buy a big bottle of sauce when you don’t know what it is going to go on? Making a jalapeño burger? That honey BBQ is going to do you no good for that. Making a grilled salmon filet and want to jazz it up with a BBQ? The burn-your-mouth sauce is going to kill the fish. Why not make just enough for what you need? There are a million recipes out there, but the best sauces I’ve made have come from experimentation. You simply need a base (tomato sauce or ketchup, mustard, etc) an acid of some sort (vinegar, lime juice) and the appropriate spices. It all depends on the flavor you want. If you have time, mince an onion (not a requirement, by any means), and sautee it with some garlic. For a standard tomato-based sauce, mix in your ketchup or tomato sauce (one to two cups should do it). Add in 1/8 to 1/4 cup of the acid (I like to use cider vinegar). After that, it’s up to you what direction you want to take it. Here are some suggestions: Molasses, honey, brown sugar, minced jalapeño, hot sauce (Texas Pete!), liquid smoke, worcestershire, whiskey, sugar, lime juice, and lemon juice. As for herbs and spices, it is still up to you. A few standards include salt, freshly ground pepper, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. You can also include dry mustard, fresh cilantro, and cumin. Heat it all up on the stove and reduce until it reaches the thickness you desire.
There are a million recipes online. Google away, and make your own. Just don’t buy a bottle at the store again. You will thank me and yourself.
Make your own cocktail sauce–If you live, as we do, in an area where you can get fresh shrimp, you have probably experienced those moments where you come home with a mess of shrimp and discover you don’t have any cocktail sauce. For some people, this is a disaster. I’m one of those guys who really likes cocktail sauce on freshly boiled shrimp. Fortunately, making your own cocktail sauce is the simplest thing you can do in the kitchen. Decide how much you’ll need and fill a vessel of the appropriate size with your favorite ketchup. Grab some prepared horseradish and mix it in until it hits the appropriate level of spiciness (I like mine eye-watering). Add some lemon or lime juice, depending on your preference. Mix. Boom. Cocktail sauce. If I have time, I will add a little bit of minced garlic or minced onion. I sometimes add a dash of hot sauce or worcestershire. There is no commercial cocktail sauce that will come close to what you make moments before you start eating. Simple as simple can be.
Those are the two things I steadfastly refuse to buy at the store anymore. In recent days, I’ve added a few more to the list. I won’t drag them out, but they bear mentioning.
Again, I fully recognize I’m not covering any new ground here, but I’m a really big fan of people easily making for themselves what they would normally buy prepackaged in a store.
What are some things you have given up buying and started making for yourself?
Oh, and finally, I was in one of those freshy food stores the other day and saw pre-made guacamole in a container. There is no need to wax on about guac recipes, but if you ever buy pre-made guacamole at a store, you are dead to me.