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Image: Time Out

25 under-the-radar condiments that chefs can’t live without

From hot sauce and toum to mirin and lime pickle, these are the under-the-radar condiments that top chefs reach for.

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

Have you ever wondered what chefs dunk their french fries in? Or which hot sauce they reach for? Perhaps you're more interested in the fancy salt they sprinkle on everything. We are, too, which is why we asked some of the world's best chefs to share the one under-the-radar condiment they can't live without. Their answers will send your taste buds on a flavor-packed journey around the globe for tongue-tingling hot sauces, next-level spice mixes and creamy accoutrements. Take a look at the condiments that chefs can't get enough of, then stock your pantry accordingly.

Craving more insider insight from the world's best chefs? You're in the right place. Talk to the Chef! is a new weekly food series that will tap into the minds of culinary leaders around the globe. The conversation changes just as often, and we'll chat with chefs about everything from podcasts and kitchen equipment to emerging trends.

RECOMMENDED: The world's best chefs share their dining predictions for 2021

Under-the-radar condiments you should know

Maldon salt
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Maldon salt

“I don't think it's necessarily under the radar, but our favourite ingredient here at Cutlets is Maldon salt. There is simply no other substitute, and it makes any dish absolutely pop. We love to finish anything out of the fryer with crispy, flaky Maldon salt.” —Richard Zaro, owner of Cutlets Sandwich Co. in New York City

2. Tajín

“Tajín is sour, spicy and extremely addictive. I put it in my instant ramen after later services and on my chips to add an interesting punch. I first learned about this seasoning while living in Spain. My roommate had brought it with her from Mexico and I would watch her put it on literally everything. My curiosity became my addiction to making everything hot and sour.” —Chanthy Yen, founder of Touk and chef of Parliament Pub & Parlour in Montreal

Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Merquen

“One of our favourites is merquen from Chile. It’s a mixture of dried chiles with other spices that works on many levels—from complex recipes to just sprinkled over macaroni and cheese.” —Raquel Blasco and Marc Santamaria, owners of Casa Xica in Barcelona

4. Tomato sauce

“I make a pretty good tomato sauce with organic tomatoes mixed with some bush tomatoes. This isn't your supermarket ketchup, though—it's got full flavour, spices and less sugar so you can taste the ingredients. Put this on a burger or a sausage and it's not just a condiment; [it] brings its own flavour to the dish.” —Nornie Bero, owner of Mabu Mabu in Melbourne

Salsa macha
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5. Salsa macha

“Salsa macha has to be my go-to condiment. It’s so versatile, relatively easy to make and it keeps for a long time.” —Jonathan Zaragoza, chef-partner at Birrieria Zaragoza and El Oso in Chicago

6. Mum’s green chili sauce

“It’s got to be Mum’s green chilli sauce. It's a hot and sour bottled Indian green chutney. It's great with any grilled meats and fish and obviously currys, which we make a lot of at home. It’s very fiery on the palate, though, so be careful.” —Ben Tish, chef-owner of Norma, London

Yuzu kosho
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7. Yuzu kosho

“My favourite under-the-radar condiment is yuzu kosho, which is a Japanese fermented citrus pepper paste. A lot of chefs and home cooks are using other japanese condiments like Kewpie mayo and miso, but yuzu kosho is also very versatile and adds a lot of depth to your dish. At Bessou, we like to use it in sauces, dressings, in pickles or simply on its own as a condiment to a meat or vegetable dish.” Emily Yuen, executive chef of Bessou and Bessou at Time Out Market in New York City

8. Mustard

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but mustard in the form of seeds, oil and condiment paste is used in the whole of India. Dishes like butter chicken are tempered with mustard oil. Traditional tandoori chicken uses mustard oil in the marinade to give it its peculiar flavour. It has a pungency very similar to wasabi.” —Manav Tuli, chef de cuisine at CHAAT in Hong Kong

Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Toum

“Toum is a Lebanese garlic sauce made in a similar fashion to alioli but without the egg. It’s truly something that becomes better than the sum of its parts, with potential to use in almost any savoury dish. Good quality local organic garlic is a must, blended with fresh lemon juice, sea salt, a neutral oil such as sunflower or canola, and ice to keep the sauce from splitting. Toum is versatile, brilliant on its own with fresh breads, brushed on vegetables, meats and seafood cooked over charcoal, mixed with yoghurt to dress raw sliced cucumbers, the possibilities are endless.” —Tom Sarafian, head chef at Little Andorra in Melbourne

10. Kewpie mayo

“Not entirely under the radar—especially in professional kitchens—but unknown in the sort of way that sriracha was when I began cooking 20 year ago, is Kewpie mayonnaise. Somewhere in between Miracle Whip and Hellmann’s, this silky mayonnaise is better suited [for] dipping and dressing than sandwich-building. For this reason, it has a special place in the professional kitchen. Whereas sriracha got its start bringing otherwise helpless staff meals to life, Kewpie is there to resurrect those staff meals that have a second life as late-night snacks for hungry cooks. I’ve seen it used in ways that mayonnaise never should be. The addition of MSG to this slightly sweet condiment makes it even more cravable.” —Chris Willis, chef-owner of Pammy's in Boston

Lime pickle
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Lime pickle

“I am a condiment queen—in fact, I have an entire shelf dedicated to them, and I make many of my own, too. I would have said chilli oil, but I think last year was the year of the chilli oil, so I will say lime pickle, which never gets its dues. There are so many brands and varieties of both hot and sweet, but I particularly like the one by Simtom. I love to blend it with butter to make lime pickle butter, which is smeared on scallops or skate before grilling—or even just basted onto carrots before [roasting]. It's also an excellent addition to a humble grilled cheese toastie.” —Ravinder Bhogal, founder of Jikoni in London

12. Korean chili flakes

“Korean chili flakes or KCF. I add it to most everything that I cook with at home. If I make pasta, I add it to the sauce. I also incorporate it in a dressing for a salad and to season fish as well. It's all flavor with just the perfect amount of spice.” —Bill Kim, chef-owner of Urbanbelly and Bill Kim at Time Out Market in Chicago

Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Gochujang

“Gochujang may not be so under the radar any more, but it adds incredible depth to any dish with spice—particularly in spicy pasta dishes where a small amount can elevate the dish.” —Max Venning, co-owner of Top Cuvée in London

14. Tabasco

“It’s not under the radar but Tabasco keeps making a comeback. I love the smoky version over fries, on a burger or pizza—it’s great. Hot and sour sriracha as well as sambal oelek are close seconds. Crispy lambs tails with a drizzle of Worcestershire and Tabasco is the bomb.” —Reuben Riffel, chef-owner of Reuben's Restaurant and Bar in Franschhoek, South Africa

Photograph: Shutterstock

15. Hyuganatsu

“My favourite under-the-radar ingredient is hyuganatsu, a citrus from Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan. I love its aroma—it brings an unparalleled sense of freshness to [any] dish, and it is difficult to find other ingredients that can match up. Its acidity is also very sharp while its flavour is elegant. I always use it when it is in season.” —Agustin Ferrando Balbi, chef-founder of Andō in Hong Kong

16. Mayo-ketchup

“I love mayo-ketchup. It's nothing fancy or out of this world, but I love how versatile it is. I love eating fried tostones (deep-fried plantains) and dunking it in this Latine classic. Adding a little bit of pique (spice) takes it to the next level.” —Paola Velez, co-founder of Bakers Against Racism and pastry chef at Maydan in Washinton, D.C.

Photograph: Shutterstock

17. Mirin

“It’s probably one of those condiments that most people buy for the odd time they decide to make salmon teriyaki at home, and then it just ends up sitting there unloved, but Mirin is an essential condiment in Japanese cooking. It's basically a sweetened sake that brings a certain richness to [food]. Foreign condiments may feel scary to adapt to your own cooking, but mirin is actually very versatile and useful. A teaspoon of mirin in your salad dressing, pickle brine or stir fries is great ways to [add] some depth." —Shuko Oda, head chef and co-founder of Koya in London

18. Mazavaroo

“My favourite at the moment is Mazavaroo, a Mauritian chili sauce made with ginger, lemon and garlic, which is excellent on everything. Have it with eggs or add it to pasta [and] fish—the list is endless. My grandparents were Mauritian, and growing up, there was always a jar of this in our fridge. There still is.” —Colette Robert, owner of The General Store in Cape Town

Au poivre sauce
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19. Au poivre sauce

“Au poivre sauce has always been a nostalgic staple for me. I make it a little sweet, with generous reduced balsamic and sautéed Vidalia onions, which you can use as a marinade. I think it’s underutilized because people can be intimidated to try new recipes, but there’s a reason this one has stood the test of so many decades. Raoul's au poivre is one I’ve been eating since I could remember and a sauce I try to make at home whenever I have an opportunity.” —Pat LaFrieda, CEO of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors in New York City

20. Sate

“Sate is like the Vietnamese sofrito that everyone should use. We make ours in-house, but you can find it at any Asian grocery. Ours contains garlic, lemongrass, shallots, Thai chilies, annatto oil, paprika and fish sauce. We cook it on low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour, so that all those flavors come together. Is delicious with anything.” —Cesar Zapata, chef of Phuc Yea and Pho Mo at Time Out Market in Miami

HP Sauce
Photograph: Shutterstock

21. HP Sauce

“Believe it or not, HP Sauce—must be the Brit in me! I sneak a generous dollop into many of my sauces and gravies, as it adds a lovely depth and richness of flavour. However, my all-time favourite way to eat it is slathered on crispy bacon butties made with farm-fresh bread and thick butter. Nothing beats it.” —Matt Manning, chef-owner of Grub & Vine in Cape Town

22. Pickled green hot Calabrian chili peppers

“Right now, I can't get enough of the pickled green Calabrian hot chili peppers from Tutto Calabria. These long, skinny green peppers have a different flavor than the more commonly known hot, round red Calabrian chilis. They are less spicy but also less salty, and the vinegar complements the fresh green flavor. I love them with pasta, eggs, even grilled meats—they add an exciting dimension of heat and flavor.” —Tony Mantuano, chef-owner of Yolan in Nashville

White pepper
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23. White pepper

“I love freshly ground white pepper—it has a really delicate and subtle heat that warms the palate without being overpowering.” —Scott Price, chef and co-founder of Nick & Scott restaurant group and folly by Nick & Scott at Time Out Market in Dubai

24. Hot sauce

“I thoroughly enjoy how hot sauce adds a layer of seasoning to an ingredient or sauce. Hot sauces can be very spicy, mild, sweet, tangy and salty, depending on the brand or when they are made, the peppers and fermentation time—the complexity has a ton of variables.” —Erick Williams, chef-owner of Virtue in Chicago

Chili oil
Photograph: Shutterstock

25. Chili oil

“Chilli oil is the most important condiment in my kitchen. You can spice up anything with it—sometimes just plain jasmine rice with chilli oil is enough for me. I add it to my stir fries, salads and even instant noodles to give them a kick. I make my own with lots of chilli flakes, garlic and salt.” —Saiphin Moore, owner of Rosa’s Thai Cafe and Lao Cafe in London


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