Thursday, August 27, 2009

It was condiment to be - Peruvian aji sauces

If one were to examine our refrigerator (and since we recently gave it a really profound cleaning, I wouldn't try to stop you), one would quickly discern that Daniel and I are condiment maniacs. We each have those condiments that first made our hearts go pitter-pat- his was ketchup, mine was mustard (in fact we love these so much that we dressed up as such last Halloween).

So there are many, many bottles of mustard lining our shelves - curry mustard, Dijon, beer honey mustard, good old fashioned yellow, I could go on. Ketchup being less of the refined condiment is only represented with the one (big) bottle, but it is Heinz, and Daniel wouldn't have it any other way.

Also lining the shelves are myriad hot sauces, jams, jellies, chutneys, relishes, pickles, and preserves. The list is long. The beauty of the condiment is of course that it can entirely change the flavor of an otherwise simple dish. I can't tell you how many variants of the turkey sandwich I make each week, each time slightly altering the make-up of the meal by changing up the condiments.

Given this love, it is with great pleasure that I introduce a new feature on this here blog, where I will semi-regularly feature one or two of these jars that adorn our shelves.

Today - two Peruvian aji sauces, both of which were introduced to me by dear friend Ariel who spent a year in Lima. She sent me a care package full of delightful Peruvian sundries, but it was these two hot sauces that have stuck with me and that I now make sure to have on hand, courtesy of the South American shops in the Mission.

Aji Amarillo Salsa

Background: From a beautiful yellow pepper, of the C. baccatum species native to South America, this salsa is particularly used in Peru in cebiche or as a dipping sauce or marinade for various meats like anticuchos. The hot (pun intended) Peruvian chef , Gaston Acurio, whose La Mar restaurant opened not too long ago in San Francisco, says that this pepper is essential to his native cuisine.

Flavor: Medium spicy, but slightly sweet, with a very creamy texture. (The pepper itself rates between 5,000 and 15,000 on the Scoville scale)

How I use it: Really the question should be how don't I use it. It makes regular appearances on turkey sandwiches, combined with hummus and often a carrot pickle. When I make a Mexican mush pots, I combine beans, rice, veggies, and a whole lot of this salsa.

Aji Rocoto Paste

Background: Also from a pepper (C. pubescens) used predominately in Peru (and Bolivia), this red sauce is often paired with fried fish, according to a really great article in the most recent Saveur, entitled "A World of Peppers." Unlike most peppers, rocoto have black seeds!

Flavor: Quite spicy, a little smoky. This sauce has a slightly grainy quality to it. (The pepper is between 30,000-100,000 on the Scoville.)

How I use it: Where a bean is involved so is this sauce. Also excellent on eggs.

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