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Worcestershire sauce ingredients for barbecue recipes

By JOE O'CONNELL, cbbqa past President 

Worcestershire Sauce is one of those ingredients that are often used in barbecue but seldom understood by cooks.  Worcestershire Sauce, such as Lee & Perrins, is as little understood as it is so often used.  It did not exist at the time of the Europeans "discovery" of barbecue or at the founding of the United States, so it cannot be said to be an original part of barbecue, at least in its commercial form as sold today.

What then is in Worcestershire Sauce, and how can barbecue cooks attain the complex flavors without resorting to the commercial product?  In other words, what ingredients can cooks use as a substitute for the commercial product when a recipe calls for "Worcestershire Sauce".

This story will explore the history of the famous sauce and uncover the secret ingredients and method of preparation that makes Worcestershire Sauce more like a fine wine than an ordinary sauce.

Tamarind

What is now called “Worcestershire Sauce” owes its origin to British imperialism and its colonization of India.  Despite its English-sounding name, Worcestershire sauce was originally an Indian recipe.  It was brought back to Britain in 1835 by Lord Marcus Sandys, the ex-governor of Bengal.  The sauce has as one of its basic ingredients the Indian spice called tamarind.

Tamarind is a seed whose taste combines the sweet with the sour.  Traditional Worcestershire Sauce combines tamarind and soy sauce, with a little cinnamon and cloves.  

Asian markets sell tamarind paste.  Home-made Worcestershire Sauce combines the tamarind paste with soy sauce, and it includes small amounts of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, lemon grass and ground cardamom.

Anchovies

The first commercial Worcestershire Sauce was produced long after the Native Americans taught Europeans about barbecue, and generations after the American colonies made barbecue into a social event centered on whole hog and vinegar based sauce.

One of its primary ingredients is the anchovy.   Anchovies are small fish, no more than 8" long, that have been known from classical times to be uniquely susceptible to curing and preserving, with a taste unlike that of any other fish.  After the Greeks and Romans popularized the tiny fish, they were enjoyed throughout the world.  Russians enjoyed them hot-smoked.  Chinese ate them dried.  Thais beat them into pungent fish sauce.  

However, from the Elizabethans onward, the English perfected the use of the anchovy in sauces.  Throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, the anchovy fueled the English passion for bottled sauces, like Harvey's (anchovies, pickled walnuts, soy, shallots and garlic), Pontac ketchup (anchovies, elderberry juice, shallots and spices), and Burgess's Anchovy Essence, which dates from 1760.  The English breakfast today still includes Gentleman's Relish, whose major ingredient is the anchovy.

But it was Worcestershire Sauce, which was first mixed in 1838, which remains the most popular sauce worldwide today.  One of tts major ingredient is the anchovy. 

The history of Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce itself is of cross-cultural origins.  In 1835, Lord Marcus Sandys, an ex-governor of Bengal, approached chemists John Lea and William Perrins, whose prospering business in Broad Street, Worcester, handled pharmaceutical's and toiletries as well as groceries.  He asked them to make up a sauce from a recipe which he brought back from India.  While his lordship was apparently satisfied with the results, Messrs Lea and Perrins considered it to be an "unpalatable, red-hot fire-water" and consigned the quantity they had made for themselves to the cellars. 

During the stocktaking/spring clean the following year, they came across the barrel and decided to taste it before discarding it.  To their amazement, the mixture had mellowed into an aromatic, piquant and appetizing liquid.  They hastily purchased the recipe from Lord Sandys and, in 1838, the Anglo-Indian Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce was launched commercially. 

One of the myriad 19th-century pungent English sauces based on oriental ingredients, it had many imitators sporting pretentious names such as "British Lion" and "Empress of India".  Its exact recipe remains a secret.  All that is known is that it includes vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, molasses, tamarind, shallots, anchovies, ginger, chili, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom.

Another history

Worcestershire sauce was named for the town of Worcester, England, which is in the Shire (county) of Worcester. 

In 1835, when Lord Marcus Sandys, governor of Bengal, retired to Ombersley, England, he longed for his favorite Indian sauce.  He took the recipe to a drugstore on Broad Street in nearby Worcester where he commissioned the shopkeepers, John Lea and William Perrins, to mix up a batch.  Lea and Perrins made a large batch, hoping to sell the excess to other customers.  The pungent fishy concoction wound up in the cellar where it sat undisturbed until Lea and Perrins rediscovered it two years later when house cleaning.  Upon tasting the aged sauce, Lea and Perrin bottled Worcester sauce as a local dip.

When Lea and Perrins' salesmen convinced British passenger ships to put the sauce on their dining room tables, Worcestershire sauce became an established steak sauce across Europe and the United States.

To this day, the ingredients in Worcestershire sauce are stirred together and allowed to sit for two years before being bottled.

According to Lee & Perrins

According to the Lee & Perrins website:

In 1835, Lord Sandys, a nobleman from the county of Worcestershire, England, commissioned a pair of chemists - John Lea and William Perrins - to duplicate a sauce he had acquired during his travels in India.

Their finished product, however, proved to be anything but pleasing.
Disappointed, they banished their brew to the cellar.

There, the sauce lay forgotten until the pair stumbled upon it two years later. Before they discarded their concoction for good, they took one last taste. Much to their surprise, it had matured like a fine wine - exhibiting a savory aromatic scent and a wonderfully unique taste. Lea & Perrins Original Worcestershire Sauce was born.

It wasn't long before Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce made its way onto dining cars and passenger ships, and into hotel dining rooms and restaurants.

About the name

Worcestershire is the name of a county in England.  A county in England is called a "shire", which is the last part of the name.

So what is "Worcester"?  Of course, Worcester is a city which is located in the county called Worcestershire.

The county is located in the English midlands, south of Birmingham.  Here is a map of England with Worcestershire marked.

Of course, the name of the city is pronounced "worster", and the county and sauce are pronounced "worster-shire".  That is, ignore the second syllable, "ces". 

However, although Worcestershire Sauce owes its name to this midlands county, its origin is not British but Indian.

Unsuccessful attempts

There have been many unsuccessful attempts to duplicate the taste of Worcestershire Sauce. 

One common recipe is as follows:

  • 6 cloves garlic

  • 1 tsp black pepper

  • 1/4 tsp chili powder

  • 1/3c soy sauce

  • 1 1/2 c vinegar

  • Liquefy the ingredients in a blender.

    As noted, however, this recipe does not duplicate the flavors of the real Worcestershire Sauce.

    The genuine recipe

    According to the Lee & Perrins website, genuine Worcestershire Sauce must contain the following ingredients:

  • vinegar
  • molasses
  • sugar
  • soy
  • anchovies
  • tamarind
  • shallots
  • garlic
  • red onion
  • salt
  • Since 1838, Lee & Perrins has used this combination of ingredients, without artificial sweeteners, coloring or additives.  

    The preparation process is secret but involves the combination of some of the ingredients in vinegar, which is then fermented for a period of time.  At the completion of the fermentation stage, the ingredients are strained, the remaining ingredients are added, and the complete sauce is aged in wooden casks to attain the proper bouquet and flavor.  Finally, the sauce is strained again, and some of the solids are retained (which is the reason that the bottle of sauce should be shaken before use).  Note that at no time is the sauce heated in any way.

    The vinegar is malt vinegar and the sugar is palm sugar (available at Indian markets).

    A worthy try

    The following recipe produces a Worcestershire Sauce whose taste is very close to Lee & Perrins.  To enhance the complexity, additional aging should be done.

    To make one cup:

    1 Chopped onion
    2 Cloves of garlic crushed
    1 1/4 in thick slice ginger
    3 tbsp Yellow mustard seeds
    1 tsp Peppercorns
    1/2 tsp Red pepper flakes
    1 1 in. long cinnamon stick
    1 t Cloves whole
    1/2 tsp Cardamom pods
    2 c Vinegar
    1/2 cup Molasses
    1/2 cup Dark soy sauce
    1/4 cup Tamarind pulp
    3 tbsp Salt
    1/2 tsp Curry powder
    1 Crushed anchovy
    1/2 cup Water

    Place the onion, the garlic, the mustard seeds, the red pepper flakes, the peppercorns, the ginger, the cinnamon, the cloves and the cardamom on a large piece of cheesecloth and tie in a little bag.

    In a large saucepan, combine the spice bag with the vinegar, the molasses, the soy sauce and the tamarind. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for 45 minutes.

    Mix together the salt, the curry powder, the anchovy and the water.  Add to the liquid in the saucepan.  Remove from heat.  Pour the contents of the saucepan (including the spice bag) into a stainless or glass container.  Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator for two weeks, mixing from time to time and squeezing the spice bag.  After the two weeks, remove the spice bag and bottle the sauce.  Keep in the refrigerator and shake well before use.

    A better one

    Joy of Cooking and to my great surprise, ran across just what you are looking for! In order to make it, they want you to make two other sauces first- they are also good, solid condiment recipes and you may enjoy them on their own as well but it will be a REAL labor of love to make your sauce-  I will post the Worcestershire first then the other two: 

    Worcestershire Sauce (makes 5 cups)

    Put into a jug:

    1 quart cider vinegar
    6 tbsp Walnut Catsup (recipe below)
    5 tbsp essence of anchovies or
    2 oz. anchovies -- finely  chopped
    4 tbsp Chili Sauce (recipe below)
    tiny pinch cayenne pepper
    1 tsp salt
    1 tbsp sugar

    Cork and shake 4 times daily for 2 weeks. Strain into sterile bottles. Cork tightly and store in a cool place.

    Walnut Catsup (makes about 3-1/2 quarts)

    Pick and bruise 100 immature green English walnuts, still so soft they can be pierced through with a needle. Put them into a crock with:

    2 qts vinegar
    6 oz salt

    Cover, mash and stir daily for 8 days. Drain the liquid and put it into an enamel or stainless steel pan with:

    4 oz finely chopped anchovies
    12 finely chopped shallots or 1 clove chopped garlic
    1/2 cup grated fresh horseradish
    1/2 tsp each mace, nutmeg, ginger, whole cloves and peppercorns

    Cover and bring mixture to a boil, then simmer gently about 40 minutes. Filter, cool and add 2 cups port Pour into sterile glass bottles. Cork well. Cover the corks with wax. Store in a cool dry place.

    Chili Sauce (makes about 8 pints)

    Wash, peel and quarter 1 peck ripe tomatoes (8 quarts)
    Put through a food grinder:

    6 green peppers, seeds and membrane removed
    1 tbsp dried hot pepper pods
    6 skinned large white onions

    Add the tomatoes and:

    2 cups brown sugar
    3 cups cider vinegar
    3 tbsp coarse salt
    1 tbsp each: black pepper, allspice, ground
       cloves
    1 tsp each ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and celery seed
    2 tbsp dry mustard

    Simmer these ingredients slowly until very thick, about 3 hours. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Add salt if needed. Put sauce in small sterile jars. Seal and process in a water bath for 15 minutes. Store in a cool dry place.

     

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