Top it off right
It isn't a backyard cookout without a trifecta of condiments — the elongated red, squat yellow and plump white containers.
They're intended to add zip, zing and zest. But no matter where you go, they're almost always the same. And every squirt of those ubiquitous, plastic squeeze bottles offers a reminder that no matter how much effort goes into building a better burger, you've phoned it in on the finishing touches.
If you're the type to make burgers from grass-fed beef and potato salad with heirloom spuds, busting out the plastic squeeze bottles for such a meal is like decorating a pair of Jimmy Choos with those plastic thingamajigs for Crocs.
When it comes to homemade spreads and sauces, chefs are leading the charge. Now's the time to take their lead and become the boss of your own sauce. Making condiments before the grilling season's kickoff allows ones with more complexity — like ketchup and mustard — time to ripen before serving.
"(Mustard) mellows over time," says local chef Matthew Domingo, of Ashland. "If you find it's blowing your socks off, you need to give it some time."
Mustard is not only simple to make; it's easily tailored to one's taste. A basic recipe uses either mustard seeds or dried, powdered mustard soaked in liquid — water, vinegar, beer or wine — combined with other spices and seasonings.
"You can decide the final texture yourself," says Domingo.
Among Domingo's responsibilities as new executive chef for Troon Vineyard is the Grants Pass winery's signature sauce: mustard combining seeds harvested in July from an acre of cover crop with the estate's zinfandel and dry riesling. Troon to Table mustard was created last year and can be purchased for $5 a jar at the winery and also through the online farmers market, Rogue Valley Local Foods.
"It's a pretty cool product," says Domingo.
Troon's yield of 700 to 800 jars allows Domingo to feature the mustard on the tasting room's Olympic Provisions charcuterie plate. The mustard also is served with grass-fed beef burgers and sliders on a menu that debuted this month, he says. Burgers eventually will boast house-made ketchup, he says, but for now will get a smear of seasonally inspired aioli.
While all manner of fresh herbs can flavor aioli, garlic is the critical component, says Charlene Rollins, chef and co-owner of New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro in Talent.
"Literally, I use a dozen (cloves)," she says of the amount of fresh garlic needed to season 2 cups of homemade mayonnaise.
Owing to Rollins' fondness for mayonnaise-based sauces, the emulsion of eggs and oil is a restaurant mainstay. There's no reason to buy mayonnaise when farm-fresh eggs and good-quality olive oil are close at hand, she says.
"It takes, like, five minutes to make, and three of that is washing the (food) processor."
Ketchup, on the other hand, isn't on Rollins' to-do list when organic brands without high-fructose corn syrup are readily available. Homemade ketchup tends to be less sweet, and its texture not quite as smooth as commercially made counterparts.
"It takes a lot of tomatoes to make ketchup," says Rollins.
But canned tomato paste or tomato puree can provide the canvas for experimenting with seasonings and spices. Cloves are the "secret" ingredient in the version served at Origen restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. San Francisco's Little Green Cyclo food truck serves a mango ketchup with sweet-potato tater tots.
Whether they're for dipping or drizzling, seasoning or slathering, homemade condiments make meals memorable — without the plastic squeeze bottle.
Mail Tribune Food Editor Sarah Lemon contributed to this story.