The dead of winter is much more tolerable when you a make a dinner like this one to give your gang’s mood a lift. Any time you make a roast of lamb, whether it’s a shoulder or a leg or a loin, try very hard to make sure there are leftovers, and then use them to make this comfort food pot pie.
I love cooking seasonally, and in my house, winter cooking is all about soups and chilis and braises and pot pies, and all kinds of baking, and bitter greens and root vegetables. Nothing is cozier than the oven on inside, the snow falling outside.
But let’s admit it—winter food can get a little heavy, a little stolid, a little….dull. We can get into cooking ruts any time of year, but I feel like winter is when I fall prey to reaching for the same arsenal of seasonings over and over to flavor my roasts and my stews. And then things start to taste a little bit the same.
I have only myself to blame. There are so many excellent condiments out there that will give all kinds of dishes a little lift. Here are some of the ones I’ve been playing with (hailing from all around the globe), and some ideas on how to use them to warm up your food in the cold weather.
Hailing from Worcester England, this is one of those ingredients you just need to have around (and will maybe take a couple of years to use up, but that’s ok! It will keep!). It is one of many sauces that gets a boost from fermented fish, which may not sound all that appealing, but is one of the best secret ingredients in many condiments, bringing with it a natural dose of umami (savoriness, in short). It has a great balance of a little sweetness (molasses and sugar), saltiness (salt), sour/tartness (tamarind and vinegar), and a slight savory bite (garlic and onions). Add it to meatloaves and meatballs, stews, braises, marinades, pot pies. It’s used all over the world, and a great addition to all kinds of recipes.
This one is also British, and is fairly new to me, though I’ve certainly seen it around. HP comes from the House of Parliament – I think that’s the very definition of a fun fact. Very interestingly, it has many of the same ingredients as Worcestershire sauce (see above), but is much thicker, and a bit syrupy. And it has tomatoes; one way to describe it would be to imagine ketchup mixed with Worcestershire sauce (do you know how hard I have to concentrate to keep typing Worcestershire sauce correctly?)
It goes with beef, lamb, stews – all kinds of hearty fare. You can certainly dip a roasted potato or a fry into it as well.
Hardly just for sandwiches, for green and grain and vegetable salad dressings, for rubs and marinades, a bit in a sauce or a stew, mixed with panko and some herbs and garlic as a crust for a roast. The tanginess gives so many dishes a lift. I go through jars of this every year. Also, do try the grainy version, which not only adds that great sharp flavor, but also some nice texture. And as with any condiment, a little adds just a hint of flavor, and a lot means you can really taste the mustard.
Gochujang is a classic Korean hot paste, traditionally made with chili peppers, fermented soybeans, brown sugar glutinous rice, and salt (really, it’s so much better than that description would lead one to believe) that is winning tons of new fans for its pungent heat. Just a little dab will do, but I love it, and I’m adding it to everything these days. Put a bit into salad dressings (try it with a bit of fresh orange juice, honey, vinegar, and oil), marinades, sauces, chilis, stir fries, anywhere you would use any kind of hot sauce.
Soy sauce is probably the number one ingredient you need in your pantry if you’re going to jump into any kind of Asian cooking. It’s a very dark colored sauce that packs a rich, salty taste, and is brewed from soybeans and wheat. It can be used for dips, marinades, stir fries (of course), but also it adds a rich saltiness to all kinds of different dishes. Use it sparingly, as you would salt.
Fish Sauce (Nam Pla)
This anchovy extract is commonly used in Southeast Asia to provide a salty, savory taste to dishes. It has a very intense flavor, so a little bit goes a long way. If you eat Thai or Vietamese food then you will probably recognize its slightly haunting flavor. Note to the cook: the smell of fish sauce is pretty pungent, but once it’s added to a dish the odor recedes and you are left with a lovely rich umami flavor.
Made from toasted sesame seeds, this oil has a distinct, nutlike and aromatic flavor. It’s used as a condiment or seasoning, often added at the end of cooking a dish to preserve its wonderful flavor. It’s quite strong, so it’s used in small amounts. Chili sesame oil is also available, which is a nice way to add that great sesame flavor and some heat at the same time. Keep it in the fridge to keep it from getting rancid (if it smells off, it probably needs to be tossed).
This sauce has very much entered the mainstream in recent years, and it is a great hot sauce made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. It is believed to have originated in Thailand (it’s named after a coastal city in Thailand), though it’s very commonly used in Vietnamese food as well, and these days, all sorts of Asian dishes. It’s thick, tangy and spicy, and I use it constantly in soups, sauces, noodles, or anything that you want to add some heat to.
This versatile sauce is lightly spicy and can be used for dipping, cooking, marinating, or stir-frying. It’s got a slightly rough texture, and a nice dose of tanginess from vinegar; you can also definitely taste the garlic, so if you’re adding it to a recipe for heat, and there is also garlic in the recipe, you may want to knock down the amount of garlic you are using.
Made from oyster extracts, this thick, dark brown sauce is considered a staple in Chinese family-style cooking. It’s used to flavor meat and vegetables, or as a topping or dipping sauce. It is traditionally made from slow simmering oysters, though these days most commercial oyster sauce (for economic reasons) is made with oyster extract combined with some sugar, soy sauce, salt, and thickeners. It is often used in Chinese cooking, especially Cantonese food.
Capers are salted and/or pickled little berries from the caper bush, and adding them to dishes is adding little tiny bursts of briny flavor. They are used often in Italian food, in dishes like Chicken Piccata, and I love them in marinades, sauces, even pulsed into pastes and pestos of different kinds. I sometimes think of them like vegetarian anchovies. Make sure to rinse them before using, especially if you are buying them packed in salt, to reduce the intensity of the salinity.
Shepherd’s Pie Recipe