Lots of bottle

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The Independent Culture
I have always had a fascination for bottled sauces, relishes and pickles, both as condiments and for adding to dishes as they cook. Using something from a jar or bottle is nothing to be embarrassed about, I feel, as long as the product is a good one.

Tabasco pepper sauce would probably be my desert island luxury, I love it so - in fact I am quite possibly addicted to it. I have some of those teeny-weeny bottles for taking on aeroplanes, for adding to Bloody Marys and perking up a dire tray. Can you believe that some airlines don't carry Tabasco? Maybe you know that there is now a green Tabasco available over here, made from jalapeno chillies. It has been around in the US for a while, but arrived in Blighty only last year. This one is not as hot as the original, but the flavour is all there. It is very special when smeared over grilled meat from the barbecue, and sausages cry out for it, too. Once the bottle has been opened, however, keep it in the fridge. And this advice goes for most bottled condiments: there is nothing more filthy than old pots of mustard and horseradish, for instance, that have been sitting around in a warm kitchen cupboard for months. They don't keep for ever; they go off, horribly, and turn rancid. Chuck 'em out.

I have a huge fondness for Burgess anchovy essence. It is neither worse nor better than using fillets of anchovy, just different. A few shakes of this into a cheese sauce poured over poached or soft-boiled eggs add a subtle seasoning, and there is no need for salt. Cauliflower cheese, given the same treatment, can also be delicious. A spoonful or two mixed into a smooth chicken liver pate adds interest, again as seasoning. This is a Danish idea I read about years ago; the original Danish liver pate recipe probably uses pigs' liver, I guess.

Talking of anchovies, my friend Rowley Leigh, chef at Kensington Place in London, remarked the other day, "Did you know, Hoppy, that the original recipe for Caesar salad dressing never had anchovies in it?"

I wondered whether to say that the silvery pickled anchovies (rather than the traditional, salty pink ones) that he insists on using in his Caesar salad are a misguided notion - though very nice in their own right - so why should this revelation worry him? Then I thought better of it, because though arguing with Rowley is an enlightening experience, my mind was firmly fixed on a more important matter: can it possibly be true that we have been wrong all along about the anchovies in a Caesar dressing?

It was even more startling to read about "Cardini's, the Original Caesar Dressing" in one of the Sundays the other week. It is now available in a bottle, ready to use, and apparently, the blurb went on to say, "anchovies are not strictly original." Well, blow me down. It further mentions that one Alex Cardini is supposed to have created this much-talked-about dressing in Tijuana, Mexico, as long ago as 1924. That is another historical culinary fact I learned only recently. It just goes to show how much you should be on your toes in these matters. Who the hell has the original recipe, anyway? And have the makers of this dressing reflected on the possibility that adding anchovy might just be a good thing after all? Incidentally, I have yet to try Cardini's.

An unusual, hard to find but worthwhile condiment is mushroom ketchup. Search around the shelves of a local delicatessen or small, old-fashioned grocers. It smells a bit like Worcestershire sauce with a bit of earthiness to it. A spoonful or so in a deep stew can be rewarding, as can a few shakes added to hamburgers, barbecue sauces and marinades. It's a perky little number well worth hunting out.

But cor lumme, talk about obsession! Last year I brought back from Sydney, carefully bubble-wrapped in my hand luggage, eight large jars of the hottest horseradish sauce, and six similarly impressive jars of a Chinese soy chilli sauce. Both these products came from the local Chinatown; sadly, I have never seen them here. The former is probably the best bottled horseradish in the world. Fantastic stuff. It's called "Riga style"(Latvian?), comes in a very plain jar, and neatly cleans the nostrils out at the first sniff.

The chilli sauce is serious stuff. If you want to scour your local Chinese emporium, just in case, it is made by Koon Yick Wah Kee Foods Factory, comes in a dark brown glass jar, and has a gaudy label depicting a sailing junk and painted red chillies with little flowers. What is irritating is that while the flavour is absolutely staggering - sort of roasty/chilli/garlic/sweet - the sauce really is too damned hot to eat in spoonfuls. I have recently been trying to up my heat threshold. Tabasco has been a doddle for years, and even the incendiary-like Encona brand chilli sauce I can just about handle now. This stuff is something else - but I'm not bottling out just yet