Liberate the last few teaspoons lurking in the bottom of your condiment jars to make an ad hoc dressing and free a bit of space in your fridge door this summer.
There is a scene in the film Fight Club where Edward Norton’s character contemplates the smashed wreckage of his fridge and dryly laments “how embarrassing, a house full of condiments and no food”. To a lesser extent we can all sympathise; condiment jars seem to breed in fridge doors and kitchen cupboards.
With a bevy of pickles, preserves and condiments comes an inevitable end-of-jar conundrum. Those remaining spoonfuls at the bottom beg the question: return to the fridge and deal with it later, or wash it out for the recycling bin? Well, there is a third way. Use them as the base for a DIY dressing and open new ideas for your summer salads. You just need a few simple rules and bit of culinary brio.
Flavour, season and compliment
The remnants of the jar will provide the key ingredient so take this as your inspiration. Try and expand on it with flavours that you know will pair well. Think fresh herbs, a dab of mustard, a pinch of spice or just some simple salt and pepper.
Add a liquid.
You need a dash of something to flush the ingredients away from the jar and free them for further mixing – the culinary equivalent of getting the last squeeze of toothpaste from the tube. An acidic liquid (vinegar or citrus juice) or a dash of boiling water are the best.
Add an oil or fat
It may be that the jar already contains it, but generally some kind of oil or fat are the backbone of a dressing. They deliver flavour with a rounded mouthfeel and create a consistency that allow the dressing to coat whatever it is tossed with.
Shake it like Elvis
Liquids and fats don’t really get along and the trick in most dressings is to get them to emulsify to a harmonious consistency. Agitation and movement are the key. You can slowly whisk the oil in drop by drop but far easier is to just the screw on the lid and shake the jar like crazy. It’ll force everything together for long enough for your needs.
Tweak and taste
You are never going to be dealing with exact measurements as it all depends how much you have left. There is general rule of one part acid to three parts oil but beyond that it all depends on what you are working with. Taste and tweak to your liking. You can balance excessive sweetness with something sharp and vice versa.
Here are a few recipe ideas to give you the foundations on which to muddle and mix your own with confidence.
Even if you have scraped as much as you can from the jar, there is always enough to add some floral sweetness to a classic vinaigrette. Add some cider vinegar, a blob mustard and a pinch of salt. Shake well and then add olive oil in the correct ratio to the vinegar. Shake, taste and tweak. This works for other sweet condiments like jams, marmalades, curds and maple syrup.
Fruity and sweet with a distinct identity: the options suggest themselves immediately. Start with a little lemon juice to sharpen and maybe a little pinch of garam masala or curry powder if it isn’t already spiced. Give it a quick shake and then opt for some yoghurt instead of oil to lengthen into a dressing, along with some freshly chopped mint or coriander, suggestive of a raita. Season well and shake, taste, and tweak. Use a dash of boiling water to thin if it seems too thick.
Don’t waste all the green herby goodness. Add a blob of mustard, a dash of cider vinegar and maybe some finely chopped capers. Give it a vigorous shake, add olive oil, and shake again, taste and tweak. Some fresh green herbs like parsley or mint would be a welcome addition, finely chopped. This idea works with sauce like harissa, spice pastes and even passata, too.
If anything loves to stick tenaciously in the corner of jars it is peanut butter. A dressing with echoes of a satay sauce suggests itself. A good squeeze of lime or rice vinegar and a dash of soy sauce should loosen it. Use some untoasted sesame oil or even coconut milk to lengthen. Finish by tweaking with chilli, ginger and garlic to your taste.
With mayo you are starting with the solid foundations of an emulsified egg yolk base, so you could make a swift creamy dressing with just a little lemon juice, olive oil and hot water to thin it to a pouring consistency. Add a little minced garlic, chopped parsley and maybe even a finely chopped anchovy fillet or two, and you are well on your way to a fine Caesar-style dressing.