Getting back to barbecue sauce basics

Getting back to barbecue sauce basics

A basic barbecue sauce can be bought at the supermarket, but who knows what else goes in there. Rather make your own, in barely minutes.

Those store cupboard items that most of us have, or have most of. The tomato sauce, chutney, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, soy sauce, cooking oil, garlic salt, chilli in some form. That’s a recipe for an old fashioned barbecue sauce, right there. 

I know, I know, we’re all supposed to covet all those fancy sauces that now grace the supermarket shelves where you find all the exotic foreign things, from chermoula and chimichurri to ponzu and a thousand ways with pesto. We can negotiate our way down the aisles resplendent in the knowledge that we know our oyster sauce from our nori, and our dukkah from our berbere spice mix. We’ve had Moroccan or Thai dinner parties, own a tagine and a Romertopf (somewhere), and can hold our own at a dinner table where the guests might be Vietnamese, French and Argentinian, without being scared to open our mouths in case we mistake the chimichurri for chutney. 

But come on, we’re South African, brought up with Marmite or peanut butter sandwiches in our school lunch boxes and fed fish fingers with tomato sauce for supper. I don’t remember anyone ever complaining, unless you count that kid at the front of the class whose mummy gave her roast butternut and quinoa sandwiches and a garnish to boot. 

In my job, for my sins, I have to (and happily like to) cook at least five or six different recipes a week. Often these are exotic items from various world cuisines and frequently it will be the first time I’ve made that dish; that’s what it’s about for me. It’s a journey of kitchen discovery, from ingredients to old and new ways of doing things. I learn something new every day. 

But there are times when I just want something old and trusted, something that reminds me of home and hearth, of my own childhood, or of my days as a young man when I’d buy a whole roast chicken on the way home from a night of clubbing and devour the entire thing before going to bed. And slathered tomato sauce on my shop-bought curry pie. Or bought a bucket of KFC chicken to plonk on the coffee table for a family supper while watching Dallas or Magnum PI on TV. 

At a party at a friend’s house, one of those parties when you’d be asked to “bring something” for the communal table, someone will have brought along an oven dish of chicken drumsticks or wings, coated in a sticky sauce. They’d be gone before you could blink because they’re delicious and also perfect for grabbing one and nibbling on it while still having a hand free for your wine glass or beer. 

That’s the thing about a chicken drumstick. It comes with its own built-in handle. Very convenient of our creators to have thought of that while designing a chicken. (And to have conveniently added an egg factory component, so that’s breakfast sorted too.) 

Take the combination of those chicken drumsticks, still relatively affordable even with the price devastation now wracking the grocery store shelves, along with whatever you have in your kitchen cupboards, and you have the makings of a meal to take you back to childhood or youth, to times when many of the exotic relishes and sauces that now fill our supermarket shelves had yet to materialise. 

Here’s a trick you might not have thought of: the kind of things that go into what we call a barbecue sauce today are pretty much the same things that went into what used to be called monkeygland sauce. No glands of primates of any kind ever went into that sauce, which used to grace (or disgrace, depending on how many French chefs were in the vicinity) many a steak back in the day. The story goes that it was chefs at the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg who first invented the sauce, frustrated at the frequent requests for tomato sauce or chutney to pour onto their steak and thus obliterate their fine French sauces. It’s not hard to believe that story; I can picture the scene and see their faces, even imagine their profane muttering in the Carlton kitchen. 

And yes, those fine sauces are sublime, we have all learnt to appreciate and adore them. But that doesn’t mean that, now and then, we shouldn’t hanker for those old things that take us back down the years to the days when posh foreign meals were only for the rich and pampered, while the rest of us tucked, with relish and gusto, into a good old pile of sticky drumsticks with, quite possibly, extra tomato sauce or chutney on the side. DM/TGIFood

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks. Share your versions of his recipes with him on Instagram and he’ll see them and respond.

SUBSCRIBE to TGIFood here. Also visit the TGIFood platform, a repository of all of our food writing.


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