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:
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.
- 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.
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.