"Worcestershire sauce, it seems, is out — the craze for umami has come and gone, and entirely passed Worcestershire sauce by."
Sam Worley - Epicurious
I'm still on my own - David is still bed resting in hospital, so I have been checking out some of the food programs on SBS and yesterday I watched an episode of Made in Britain which featured Worcestershire sauce. The program itself was not all that wonderful and the presenter was downright annoying, but it did remind me that I have a bottle in my pantry that I rarely use. It's like all those other bottles and jars of stuff that hide in there. It's British and so it has not been lifted to the heights like Gochujang sauce for example. Well that's my theory anyway. And yet it is exported to 130 different countries and the Asians, for example, love it.
In many ways it's the ultimate umami sauce. So what is in the mix? - well of course it's a secret but the Ingredients on the bottle say:
"Malt Vinegar (from Barley), Spirit Vinegar, Molasses, Sugar, Salt, Anchovies (Fish), Tamarind Extract, Onions, Garlic, Spice, Flavourings"
It's really all in those two words 'spice' and flavourings isn't it? Well not quite. It takes two years to make a bottle of Worcestershire sauce - yes two years. The whole thing begins by placing onions in vats, garlic in vats and anchovies in vats, sealing them up and leaving them to ferment for 18 months. Then everything gets mixed together and is left to ferment some more for another 6 months. Fermentation - very good for you.
Only then do the other ingredients get added, mixed, filtered and bottled. It's actually a little bit more complicated than that because some countries have slightly different formulae - the American one for example has more sugar and salt and is made with white vinegar, which I would have thought would make it quite different. It's also wrapped in paper for America. Well I also read somewhere that the exported stuff is exported as a concentrate which is then diluted in the country it's going to, although I'm not sure this is always true.
Where does it come from? Well it's another one of those creation myth stories. The story goes that in the early 19th century an East India Company official returned to England with a desire to make a sauce that he had been using in India He brought a bottle with him. The stories vary from some vague statement like an Indian colonial, to a specific name of a governor of Bengal, although the Bengal bit seems pretty consistent. However, most people seem to regard this story with a degree of cynicism - although the company certainly likes to promote it. And it does seem to have the ingredient list that suggests an Indian origin - another Anglo-Indian invention.
"look at the ingredients. They include anchovies from the Mediterranean, tamarind from India, chilli peppers from Africa. Oh, and soy compounds and unspecified flavourings, from who knows where. No matter: this is the world stuck in a bottle and left to ferment." The Guardian
Anyway this nobleman - he is frequently a nobleman - took his bottle to two chemists in Worcester - John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins and asked them to reproduce it for him. Then he disappears from the story.
They made it up but it was inedible and far too strong tasting. However, rather than throwing it out for some reason they put it in barrels and left it in the basement. Some time later they found it, tasted it - and it was really good, and so they started making it in 1837 and the first bottles were sold in 1838. It was so successful that in 1897 a new factory was built which is still the main production base for the brand. Of course it is no longer a partnership of Mr. Lea and Mr. Perrins. In recent times it has been bought by HP Foods, who were in turn bought by the Imperial Tobacco Company. In 1967 the Imperial Tobacco Company sold HP to Danone, who sold it to Heinz in 2005. So today it's a bit of massive multinational - well i has been for some time - just different ones. But yes, as the program last night showed, it is still made in those same buildings (with modern equipment of course and modern methods) by locals and the British. Endearingly ordinary people in fact. Maybe the two men just made it up themselves, which is not really a very exciting origin story. I mean - chemists making a gourmet food product!
Apparently the company tried to have the name Worcestershire sauce trade marked but it was refused because Worcestershire is the name of a place. However, it does seem to be a sort of unofficial trade mark, because you will often find other people's versions labelled as Worcester sauce, although some countries - e.g. Japan call it Worcester sauce too.
Another fact I picked up somewhere is that a very large percentage of home cooks - I vaguely remember a figure like 80% - very high anyway - have a bottle in their pantry - although many of us don't use it. But, it seems, ask any chef or food writer and they will rhapsodise.
“It has a meaty flavour that’s gamey as opposed to fishy. It has all the rich meat flavours of a good meat gravy and it is this quality that led to it becoming the cunning cook’s secret weapon,” Seren Charrington-Hollins
"A good Worcestershire sauce contributes a particular kind of acidity and pungency, and never fails to lift almost anything to which it's added out of the doldrums and into lip-smacking territory," Paul Fehribach
"Worcestershire is a flavor that rounds out, that adds an ineffable hint of savory to a dish, even when it doesn't register as Worcestershire on the palate." Sam Worley - Epicurious
So what can you do with it? Well the classics are Bloody Mary, Caesar salad, Oysters Kilpatrick, Prawn cocktail, Steak Dianne and Devilled eggs. All of an era and a style of eating although the Caesar salad, Steak Dianne and Bloody Mary live on. Indeed I also found that there is a Mexican version of the Bloody Mary which is made with beer and called Michelada - well so claim Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter anyway.
Mostly people seem to think you can add it to virtually anything, although usually in fairly sparing quantities. Meat marinades and anything with cheese or tomatoes are general things but fish seems to be popular too. It's actually quite difficult to find recipes sometimes, because often it's just a small amount that is added and cookbooks don't list it in the index, and if you ask for Worcestershire sauce recipes in Google - well that's what you get. Recipes for a homemade version - or a vegetarian/vegan version as the real thing includes anchovies But I did find a few things:
Tomato and fried bread hash looks good although a bit 'infra dig' if that's an expression that still gets used. Still it's Nigella so it's alright. She also has African drumsticks and Sake salmon and rice.
The Guardian offered White fish in Worcestershire sauce from Francesca Simon which was very simple - just dip your fish in Worcestershire sauce before crumbing and frying - sorry no picture for this one. Jamie has Worcestershire beef sarnie which has a whole 150ml bottle of the stuff in it and which one blogger who tried it said was disappointing - "The texture was beautiful, really tender, but the flavour was frankly medicinal" . The original recipe is not online, but the republished version I have given you seems to be rather more in favour. Mind you it specifies just 1c of the Worcestershire sauce (one they made themselves) and I think 1c is equivalent to 10ml and Jamie says a whole 150ml bottle. Maybe start with a couple of tablespoons and go from there? He also uses it in another kind of sandwich - his Mega meatball sub and a Black and blushing Worcestershire Fillet and finally just to show it's not just the British use it Luke Nguyen uses it in his Chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce
So there you go. Rescue that bottle from the back of the cupboard and add it to the next thing you make which you feel is lacking that certain something and maybe you will have invented a masterpiece.