March is National Sauce Month, and to celebrate, we're launching a series on the world's best barbecue sauces.
Up first, South America. If you think all South American barbecue sauces are hot -- or even alike -- guess again. Our southern neighbor offers an astonishing range of sauces -- some mild, some fiery, but all supremely well suited to grilled beef and other meats. And if you don't like sweet barbecue sauce, read on: This blog is for you.
Here are some essential techniques for coaxing maximum flavor from your homemade South American barbecue sauces:
- Fresh (uncooked) sauces live or die by the quality of the ingredients. Use vine-ripened, never refrigerated tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties. Smooth-skinned, unblemished chiles and peppers. Fresh herbs. Unsprouted garlic.
- For the best texture and flavor, make sauces using raw ingredients (like tomatoes, onions, or leafy fresh herbs) the day you plan to serve -- ideally not more than 2 hours ahead.
- If using a blender to chop or liquefy ingredients, add liquids to the blender jar first, then solids. Do the opposite if using a food processor: grind the solid ingredients, then work in the liquids.
- Acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon or lime juice, or tomatoes react with some metals (cast iron and aluminum, for example) so always use nonreactive mixing and serving bowls.
- Always use a razor-sharp chef's knife to dice fresh vegetables. (A dull knife will crease -- not slice -- the skin of a ripe tomato and will bruise other vegetables.)
- Add heat from chile peppers, cayenne, hot sauce, etc., gradually and with caution. You can always add more, but you can't take it away. Ditto for salt. (Tip: If you add too much salt, you may be able to balance it out with extra lime or lemon juice.)
- Use recipes as a starting point. The most important words in any recipe are "season to taste." Your taste.
Try these five recipes for South American-style sauces:
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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is www.barbecuebible.com.