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Lao Gan Ma
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Portland Chefs, Bakers, and Pitmasters on the Stuff They Put on Everything

The condiments, seasonings, and spreads chefs in Portland adore

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For the average cook — even the fanciest chefs — a weeknight dinner or snack isn’t a major production. Often, it’s some haphazard combination of carbs, protein, and a really good condiment or garnish: eggs with rice and kimchi, toast with tinned fish and harissa, noodles with tofu and ponzu. Some of these spreads, dips, seasonings, and stocks are foundations for dishes at Portland’s finest restaurants; some are nostalgic remnants of mid-century recipes. Hell, some are both. But all of us — from the most accomplished chefs to the hungover college kids with nothing but sriracha in the pantry — have a tried-and-true accompaniment to any old lunch. We asked Portland chefs, bakers, and pitmasters for the bottles, jars, and shakers they lean on in their dark moments. Note: These quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.


13 mayonnaise brands ranked ó how did your favorite do?
Duke’s Mayo
Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Condiments

Sour cream: “It’s so versatile and can make anything pop. We put it in our banana pudding, I add it to chili, cheesecakes, you name it. It’s the perfect vessel for adding spice packets to, especially ranch dressing powder. Old-school Daisy brand is the best in my opinion.” -Kyle Rensmeyer, Holy Trinity Barbecue

Tuttocalabria Calabrian chile:I love a little Calabrian chile if I make a tuna sandwich with some avocado at home after a long day. I grab a glass of albariño, watch some Schitt’s Creek, and decompress.” -Luna Contreras, Nightingale

Tan Tan Hoisin: “I love this locally made hoisin sauce. I use it for the obvious reason, pho, but it’s also great as an oyster sauce substitute in stir-frys and marinades. This is a locally family-owned company and they really nailed it.” -Thuy Pham, Mama Dút

Gochujang: “A favorite condiment in our house is definitely gochujang! This savory, sweet, and spicy fermented paste is something we grew up with living in Korea. Sometimes, when there is no time to go grocery shopping, we mix it in steamy rice and scrambled eggs for a quick dinner after a long day of eating sweets. It also makes a perfect summer dish: We add gochujang to any kind of cold noodles mixed with crisp veggies such as cucumber, cabbage and carrots. Then, we toss the noodles, veggies and paste with a generous amount of rice vinegar, soy sauce, agave syrup and sesame oil.” -Jin Caldwell and Kyurim Lee, Jinju Patisserie

Lao Gan Ma: “If you want to take anything from a snoozefest to deliciousness with almost zero effort, this is the condiment for you. I love the Lao Gan Ma brand for its mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and its aggressive umaminess. Drizzle it on eggs, toss noodles with it, mix it with peanut butter to make an easy peanut sauce. Even steamed broccoli gets exciting with this on hand. It’s weirdly great on pizza, too. Drizzle some on top of some sour cream or yogurt and bam! you have a fancy dip. The one thing that I always want is more of the crunchy bits so I have been experimenting with making my own version with extra crunchies, hopefully coming to Portland supermarket shelves in 2021.” -Althea Grey-Potter, Oui Wine Bar

Trader Joe’s Chili Onion Crunch: “I put it on everything. I have to pay respect to Lao Gan Ma brand because it is the OG, and also delicious, but i find Trader Joe’s brand to be a little more versatile.” -Colin Yoshimoto, Eem

Sao Noi’s Ginger Chili Oil:This is my go-to hot sauce. I top all my food with it, from noodle soups, pastas, and pizzas. Use it anytime you want a little spice — I even love eating it with mangos and pineapples. Plus, it’s a local woman-of-color-owned company and 2021 Good Food awards finalist.” -Thuy Pham, Mama Dút

Aardvark Habanero Sauce: “I love Aardvark Habanero. It goes on eggs, turkey avocado sandwiches, potatoes —anything to get a extra kick.” -Michael Keskin. Bark City BBQ

Kuze Fuku & Sons Yuzu Miso Premium Sauce: “I recently discovered this sauce. Its sweet flavor profile makes it versatile; it will add some exotic in your home cooking, and it’s made in Newberg, Oregon.” -Nong Poonsukwattana, Nong’s Khao Man Gai

Peanut butter: I’m a peanut butter freak. The first thing I eat every morning, pre-breakfast, is a gooey, sticky dried date with peanut butter on it. I put peanut butter on toast (obviously), carrots, radishes, apples, or just eaten off a spoon. Peanut butter is also great in sauces and baked goods.” -Annie Moss, Seastar Bakery

Duke’s Mayo: “We slather our turkey breasts in Duke’s prior to seasoning and smoking, but it makes everything taste better.” -Kyle Rensmeyer, Holy Trinity Barbecue

Valentina: “Valentina is incredibly inexpensive and one of my favorite commercially produced hot sauces. It has a great viscosity, it’s not too hot, and it’s got more acidity than the others. Instant heat and acid for anything! I use it to finish braises for tacos. I have 10 or so hot sauces at home, and this is one I could truly not live without. Vinegary hot sauces do not need to be refrigerated, so save room in your fridge and keep all your hot sauces in your pantry.” -Althea Grey-Potter, Oui Wine Bar

Maror:I love maror, and this year decided it should be a year-round staple in our fridge (not just for Passover; I’m not Jewish, but Will is). It’s so easy to make, just horseradish, beet, a little vinegar, salt, and sugar in the food processor. I love it on hard boiled eggs, a dollop on salad, on a grilled cheese sandwich... it’s a great way to add some brightness and kick to a meal. It’s just so handy, and really clears out the sinuses!” -Annie Moss, Seastar Bakery

Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel spread: “This is a new favorite. It’s good on everything, really. I love too dip my cumin-chili-rubbed chicken thighs in it, it’s great on potato wedges — It’s so yummy!” -Michael Keskin. Bark City BBQ


Food Packaged
Seasonings, including Mrs. Dash

Seasonings

Vegeta: “At home, I use Végéta seasoning on everything that I cook that isn’t traditional African — poulet braisé, poisson braisé, alloco, or even tomato stews. I love that seasoning because it’s vegan, and it tastes so good on almost everything. You can find it at Walmart, Winco, or, for online shoppers like myself, on Amazon.” -Fatou Ouattara, Akadi

Mushroom powder: “I always have a bag of this on hand. My favorite is the Po Lo Ku All Natural Mushroom Seasoning from Singapore. I have seen a rise in products similar to this (like the Trader Joe’s Umami Seasoning), but to me this is the OG and it’s much less expensive. You can find it at most of the Asian groceries in town, specifically in the “Mushrooms + Seasonings” section at H-Mart. It doesn’t necessarily taste like mushrooms; it just bumps up the umami in anything you cook. I recommend dissolving it in a little bit of water and adding it a little at a time because it is possible to overdo it. It enhances the flavor of soups, braises, broths, sauces and dressings. Try putting a little of it in any cheese sauce or queso, it will make it taste ‘cheesier.’” -Althea Grey-Potter, Oui Wine Bar

Nutritional yeast: “I use this on so much sauces at both at home and at work to add that umami punch. I love utilizing it from just a bowl of popcorn with cheese to gravies, dressings and sauces. A little goes a long way for sure.” -Luna Contreras, Nightingale

Mrs. Dash: “Okay, so this is different for a chef, but we use Mrs. Dash no-salt seasonings. They’ve got a spicy, garlic, onion, and more flavors, too. I’m at the age where I have really reduced my salt intake, and these are great to season everything.” -Michael Keskin. Bark City BBQ


Cinnamony Pepitas
Pepitas
Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Pantry Staples

Dried Mix Seafood and Anchovy Dashi Bag: “These are stock sachets usually filled with anchovies, kombu, and dried aromatics. They usually have a variety of flavor profiles, and you can find them in the refrigerated aisle in Korean stores or in the same aisle you would find hondashi and bonito in Japanese stores. I specifically like the Korean brands because the Japanese ones almost exclusively produce dashi and I don’t usually like a smoky product. I use these sachets to make soups all the time without using MSG products like hondashi or bouillon. It usually takes 15 minutes to boil and develop deep flavor, but sometimes I’ll pop it in the instant pot for five minutes and it’s amazing that way too. I use these sachets to build a base for chowders, to add depth to my stews or even to make a quick noodle soup. They’re amazing. I make a lot of soups so having these really makes my prep fast and easy.” -Diane Lam, Sunshine Noodles

Namikura Miso: I truly do love using miso in gravy work and dressings. I also do use it at Nightingale to add depth and richness to fermented hot sauces or a few of the mother sauces.” -Luna Contreras, Nightingale

Mama Lil’s Peppers: “They have just the perfect balance of spicy and acidic that complements so many flavors. I put them into and onto whatever I can — frittatas, fried rice, pizzas, soups, pasta sauces, sandwiches, yogurt dips, etc.” -Deepak Saxena, Desi

Fermented chili tofu: “I love this stuff because it’s so versatile. I make a spicy dip with it that is delicious with steamed veggies. I also put it in marinades and dressings anytime I want a salty, briny, and savory taste to my dish. You can make it at home by simply putting firm tofu in a brine. It’s super easy and there are many recipes online. It’s also available to purchase at all asian grocery stores. FInd it in the aisles in glass jars with other soybean products. This is the asian vegan condiment that you need to have but no one tells you about.” -Thuy Pham, Mama Dút

Shiro Dashi: “I don’t really use it as a condiment, but I use this to make a quick sauce when emulsified into butter (or lard/tallow/schmaltz). It can be used to deepen a marinade, in a stir-fry; I’ll add it to my rice water when cooking rice. It’s concentrated, but once you get familiar with the flavor, you’ll be able to gauge proper amounts. On the side of the bottle, there are ratios you can follow in order to use them in traditional Japanese dishes, but honestly this is a very versatile pantry staple that can be used a number of ways.” -Diane Lam, Sunshine Noodles

Pepitas: “I just snack on pepitas and can go through so many! Such an earthy crunch and I feel it adapts so well to different cuisines. I obviously love it on gem salads, chilaquiles, some egg dishes if I make some scrambled eggs at home and use with Calabrian chile.” -Luna Contreras, Nightingale

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