Why do we use condiments? Depending on the usage condiments act to pique or mask flavors. Indian chutneys cool and refresh as well as incorporating texture and fresh herbal notes to dishes. Ketchup may be seen as pedestrian and undeserving on fine dining menus, although it is indispensable in more casual atmospheres. One of our favorite lunch places, 'ino, serves its panini with just a dab of homemade chutney or tapenade with nothing else on the plate. The extra burst of flavor is simply there to enliven the palate and keep things interesting without detracting from the main event.
A well chosen condiment can take the everyday roast chicken and make it seem special and exciting. It can turn a humdrum piece of fish into something exotic and intriguing or it can simply add a regional spin to a universal technique and add a dash of brightness to the mundane. It is not a star player, it's the supporting role that adds depth and character to the production.
This week we stumbled across some beautiful dates. They were plump and tender, with papery skins that melted into the sticky flesh. They were so incredibly rich and sweet that they needed a bit of balance to really shine. A wandering eye lit upon a jar of preserved yuzu and our newest condiment was born. It is sweet, savory, and bright, with a slightly bitter edge. And there is one hidden ingredient in the mix as well. We purchased these incredible habanero-like peppers at the green market and have kept them in our freezer in order to preserve their fresh floral flavor. What is exciting about these peppers is that they contain all the earthy and fruity characteristics of the habanero without the intense heat. If you have eaten habaneros, you know that after the fruit comes the burn. And with these, that painful feeling just is not there. So your trained mind to palate connection is looking for the fire and is surprised to discover that you can just enjoy the full flavors of the chili. The addition of this chili pepper adds a touch of depth to the yuzu and helps unify the link to the date.
Unfortunately, my handwriting is so awful that the name I have written on the bag of chilies does not come up anywhere. My chicken scratch produced a the word Grenade, though I cannot find this pepper anywhere. So, as a side note, if anyone knows what the name of this fruity, yellow, false habanero is called, I would be greatly appreciative. The other two chilies are aji dulce in red and pimientos de padron in green, all from the Farmer's Market in Union Square.