Bet you were not thinking of Worcestershire as a fish sauce. You may be surprised to discover that Worcestershire owes its unique taste to anchovies and tamarind.
As I alluded to in my previous post, I’ve been curious about fish sauces for some time, and in an effort to not end up with a deluge of a post, I’ve broken the topic into, I hope, more manageable size chunks – first came colatura a fish sauce from Italy, now the fish sauce from England. In future posts I’ll hit on the fish sauces of China, Thailand and the Philippines. I’ve added the tag “fish sauce” for easy reference.
Worcestershire sauce was invented in the early 1800s in Worcester, England (where else?) at the request of Lord Sandys. He had acquired a recipe for the sauce during his travels through Bengal (now Bangladesh or parts of Pakistan and India) and commissioned two chemists, John Lea and Williams Perrins, to make the first batch. Let’s just say, the first results were not good. In fact, they were so bad, that the pair of chemists that left jars full of the stuff in their cellar where they collected dust for years. Sometime later, they found said jars, and like anyone with a failed chemistry experiment left sitting in the cellar they sampled it [what were they thinking?]. To their amazement, they found the sauce to be delicious. Apparently, the missing part of that recipe, was the requisite aging process – which is about 18 months. Subsequent batches were no longer made in jars, but wooden casks for a “richer, smoother” flavor.
[These “happy “discoveries never fail to amuse me. What is it that drives people to look at jars hidden for years in their cellars, maggoty cheese, stinging nettles, or poisionous fish and think – “I really must taste that”? I confess, if I were in their shoes, this world would be a much less colorful culinary place. So its probably best I just write about the stuff.]
As you might have suspected, this is the story of Lea & Perrins brand of Worcestershire sauce. Soon after Lea’s and Perrins’ fortuitous discovery, they began bottling their special blend of vinegars and seasonings. With little fanfare this sauce quickly became indispensable in the kitchens of Europe. In 1839, a New York entrepreneur, ordered a small batch of the sauce, and it quickly replicated its success in the United States as the only commercially bottled condiment.
I could not find any further information on Lord Sandys, apparently he dropped out of the picture. Seems a bit unfair as he was the person that brought back the recipe and started this endeavor.
The recipe remains a closely guarded secret – a real “secret sauce”, and only a privileged few know the exact ingredients. The company designed the label to shield the appearance of the sauce from other imitators, apparently they did not consider that the competition could purchase the bottles and pour the sauce in a bowl. That label design remains the same today. Lea & Perrins remains true to the original recipe, aging the sauce in wooden casks for 18 months for a richer, smoother flavor.
The following list of ingredients came from wikipedia. Note the US and English ingredients are different. The last time, I purchased some Worcestershire sauce, I was dismayed at the number of brands, including Lea & Perrins, that contained high fructose corn syrup. The French’s brand did not have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), only corn syrup listed in the ingredients, so while the bottle is not as attractive, nor does it have the mystic, it also does not have HFCS.
The H. J. Heinz Company, which now manufactures “The Original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce” lists the following ingredients on the bottle produced in the United States: vinegar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, anchovies, water, onions, salt, garlic, tamarind concentrate, cloves, natural flavorings and chili pepper extract.
The ingredients of a bottle of Worcestershire sauce from England sold under the name “The Original & Genuine Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce” by Lea & Perrins Ltd., lists: malt vinegar (from barley), spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions, garlic, spice and flavoring.
- Soups, stews, and sauces
- Bloody Mary drinks (In the barman at “Harry’s New York Bar in Paris) mixed vodka with tomato juice and a splash of Worcestershire sauce)
- Party Mix aka Chex Mix (this might be a US thing, but its made with Chex cereal, nuts and pretzels, coated with melted butter, spices, Worcestershire sauce, and baked) I loved it growing up; craved it might be closer to the mark. This was a holiday treat in my family . Some years back, the cereal maker, General Mills, got smart and now sell the packaged stuff. Not nearly as good, or as fun, because this snack was something my mom always made at the holidays, and now it can be purchased year round. Besides, homemade is just better.
- Caesar salad
- Welsh Rarebit (Rabbit) Helen at WorldFoodieGuilde.com, just posted a yummy version of this dish based on a book by Mark Hix on British Regional Food.
- the popular Mexican beer cocktail, the Michelada
- added to pizza in Mexico
Welsh Rarebit (serves 4) Adapted from recipe by Alton Brown
- 2 T butter
- 2 T flour
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 c porter beer
- 3/4 c heavy cream
- 6 oz (a~ 1 1½ c) shredded Cheddar cheese
- dash of hot sauce
- 4 slices toasted rye bread
In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, do not brown the flour. Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; ~ 4 minutes. Add hot sauce. Pour over toast and serve immediately.
Fun bits of trivia
Worcestershire sauce = salsa inglesa (English sauce) in Spanish
When the Lea & Perrins company started exporting Worcestershire sauce around the world – boat was the only option. The lengthy and often rough sea voyages caused some bottles to break. The practice of wrapping each bottle in a paper wrap was devised to protect the bottles and prevent breakage. That wrapper, while no longer necessary, still exists today.
Worcestershire Sauce in Asia
For Asian countries that had significant exposure to Western cuisine, Worcestershire sauce has been assimilated into their cooking.
In Cantonese cuisine, Worcestershire sauce was introduced in the 19th century via Hong Kong and is today used in dim sum items such as steamed beef meatballs and spring rolls. The Cantonese name for this sauce is “gip-jap”. It is also used in a variety of Hong Kong-style Chinese and “Western” dishes.
In Shanghainese cuisine, the use of Worcestershire sauce insidiously spread from European-style restaurants in the 19th and 20th century, Eastern European-inspired dishes such as Shanghai-style borscht, and as a dipping sauce in Western fusion foods such as Shanghai-style breaded pork cutlets. It is also commonly used for Chinese foods such as the shengjian mantou, which are small, pan-fried pork buns. In Shanghai, Worcestershire sauce is called “la jiangyou” (literally “spicy soy sauce”). Imported Worcestershire sauce became scarce in Shanghai after 1949, as local brands took control. These Chinese versions are now exported around the world for use in Shanghai-style dishes. Lea & Perrins recently established a plant in Guangdong, China, to counter the local dominance, but it still has not recaptured its lost customer base against the local varieties.
Japanese Worcestershire sauce
Often known as sōsu “sauce”, or Usutā sōsu “Worcester sauce”, Japanese Worcestershire sauce is made from the fruit and vegetables such as apples and tomatoes, matured with sugar, salt, spices, starch and caramel, and comes in a variety of flavors and consistencies. Despite its name, it is not all that close to the Lea & Perrins version – American style barbeque sauce might be a better substitute. Sōsu comes in a variety of thickness, with the thicker sauces taking on attributes of both the original Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce, another popular condiment.
Depending on the foods they are created to compliment, many variations exist in terms of flavor and consistency, such as okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) sauce and tonkatsu(breaded pork cutlets) sauce.