Taste it, Don't Waste it: Condiments

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Using up condiments is a real estate issue. The door shelves of the refrigerator may contain an egg bin or jug-sized slot meant for holding the milk. But in most fridge doors, condiments dominate the scene, often muscling out room for much else.

For one, their extended shelf lives -- many can be refrigerated for a year or more -- give them a "never die" zombie quality. The fact that we often use tiny amounts at a time means that they don't diminish quickly. And anytime we want to experiment with a new cuisine, a whole new flock join the collection. Culling for space is tempting but adds up in money, time and resources wasted. You don't need to pitch it to pare down your condiment selection. Here are a few ways to enjoy every last lick of your favorite condiments.

Keeping Condiments Fresh

Condiments are generally acid or sugar-based -- two very effective preservatives -- so they don't tend to spoil quickly. But it's important to handle them properly so that you don't hasten their demise. 

Don't Spoil the Pot - Cross Contamination and Condiments

To avoid contamination, always use a clean utensil to serve condiments. Never dig in with your fingers. Never use utensils that have been used for other things such as cutting a sandwich. Don't double dip. If you like mustard and mayo on your burger, that's great, but use a separate utensil for each or wash in between so you don't cross-contaminate.

Keep It Chill - Refrigerating Condiments

Not every condiment needs to be refrigerated, but they all benefit from being refrigerated. Condiments that are vinegar based, such as ketchup and prepared mustard, do not need the chill of the refrigerator to keep them from spoiling. However, out of the heat and light of the kitchen, they will retain their color and flavor longer in the ice box than on the pantry shelf. For more perishable items, such as mayonnaise or tartar sauce, refrigeration is essential. It's ok to leave such spreads on the fixings bar for a time, but the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that such items be discarded if they are left out for eight hours or more.

The Size Is Right - Don't Overbuy Condiments

Volume bargains are tempting. Two for one and restaurant-supply-size bottles offer sometimes irresistible price discounts. But it's not a bargain if you don't use it. Only buy the sizes that you know you will use within a few months once opened or will open in under a year. While they aren't highly perishable, condiments will pale as they age or develop off flavors. 

"Best" Dates - When Will Condiments Expire?

The "Best By," "Best if Used By" and "Best Before" dates on manufactured condiments do not indicate safety. They indicate best quality. The manufacturer has decided that by that date, the product may lose color or flavor. It may also just be a date after which the product can no longer be returned to the manufacturer for refund or replacement. It doesn't mean that the condiment will make you ill if you eat it after that date.

Shelf Life - So How Long Do Condiments Last?

Left unopened, even unrefrigerated condiments can last for years on the shelf. Once opened the clock will start ticking but very slowly. You may still have a year to polish off your favorite sauce or spread if you keep it cold. There are a few great websites that detail the expected shelf life of foods, including condiments. Visit stilltasty.com or eatbydate.com to look up specific info. And use your judgment. If you see mold, detect off-odors or colors, it's time for that condiment to go.

Salad with dressingTwenty20 / Eric Urquhart

How to Use up Condiments

If you just want to clear your shelves or have some condiments that are nearing their first birthday, here are a few ideas for doing it. 

Using up Small Amounts of Condiments

Mustard Vinaigrette
A couple of teaspoons of mustard can be the base of a delicious vinaigrette that you can make right in the jar. No need to measure precisely. Just add a pinch of salt and pepper to the jar and fill it about ¼ full of vinegar (red or white wine and apple cider are great) and shake vigorously. Add neutral flavored oil (such as organic canola) to fill the jar about ¾ of the way and shake again. Voila! Salad dressing for the week.

Jam Pan Sauce
Add up to one cup of red or white wine to your jam jar and shake it vigorously to "wash" the inside of the jar. Use the jam flavored wine to deglaze a sauté pan. It's easy to do. Once you have sautéed meat, such as chicken, steak or pork, remove it from the pan and set aside. Add some finely chopped onion or shallot and sauté it in the pan drippings for a few minutes. Add the jammy wine and simmer until it has thickened to a syrup. Remove from the heat and whisk in a pat or two of butter. Drizzle the sauce over the meat and serve.

Fruit Juice Marinade
A little barbecue sauce, ketchup or mustard in the bottom of the bottle? Use a cup of fruit juice (orange and apple work really well) to liberate and transform them into a handy marinade for pork or poultry. Combine at least two or three condiments for more interesting flavors.

Using up Large Volumes of Condiments

Sometimes we find ourselves with nearly entire containers of condiments that just never seem to go away. Here are a few ideas for using up volumes of the stuff.

Jam Filling
Think of jams, jellies and marmalades as your pre-made baked good filling. Sandwich cookies, layered cakes, thumbprint cookies, even homemade chocolates are sweet ways to use up a healthy dose of these sweet spreads at a clip.

Mustard Glaze
A glaze of mustard on a roast of any kind--chicken, pork, beef--brings not only a snappy flavor to the plate but seals in moisture as well. Combine half a cup of mustard with a pinch of salt and pepper and a handful of chopped or dried herbs. Slather it on your roast before you pop it in the oven. For a crunchy version to use on quick-cooking loins and chops, combine bread or cracker crumbs two-to-one with a grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan. Then add a tablespoon or two of melted butter and roll your mustard coated meat in the mixture before baking. 

Flavored Mayo
A swipe of mayonnaise on a sandwich is not going to help you work your way through the jar/tub lingering in your fridge. Transformed with the addition of some highly-flavored add-ins though and you can use them as dips for vegetables, fries, fritters or as binders for turkey, chicken or tuna salad.
For every cup of mayonnaise, stir in any of the following:
¼ cup of minced, fresh, tender herbs such as tarragon, dill or cilantro.
1-2 minced cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper
Zest and juice from one lemon
1 tablespoon of curry powder and a teaspoon of honey 

Salsa Golf
This classically Argentine sauce is used in a variety of ways across the country. Combine mayonnaise and ketchup in a 2:1 ratio to make a vibrantly pink sauce. Whisk in a squeeze of lemon juice. Try it as a sandwich spread or as a dip for crudité, cooked shellfish or French fries.

Using International Condiments

Hoisin Dressing
A few tablespoons of Hoisin sauce are often called for in stir-fries and is essential in Peking Duck recipes. Its sweet, exotic flavor is also spectacular when whisked into a vinaigrette and tossed with roast vegetables or in a salad.

Hoisin in Your Burgers
Beef, pork, turkey and veggie burgers all benefit from a little bit of hoisin mixed into the grind. Mix in ¼ cup of sauce for every pound of burger.

Soy Sauce Marinade
Soy sauce has its own umami quality which is amplified when used as a marinade for grilled meats. Combine equal parts soy sauce, lemon juice, neutral oil (such as organic canola) and water. Use as a marinade for steak, chicken, salmon, pork or vegetables.

Soy Peanut Sauce
This addictive sauce is perfect tossed with cold noodles or as a dip for satay (Thai marinated meat skewers). Want your kids to eat more vegetables? Serve them with this sauce and watch them disappear.

Chili/Duck Sauce Glaze and Dip
Add a squeeze of chili sauce to a half cup of duck sauce for a spicy sweet dip for fried foods or a light glaze for roasted chicken or fish.

Fish Sauce/Worcestershire Swap
Fish Sauce, the popular Thai sauce also known as Nam Pla, and the English Worcestershire sauce are actually culinary cousins. They are both fermented fish sauces. Try using Nam Pla wherever you would use Worcestershire - in your Caesar salad dressing or a Bloody Mary perhaps.

Chutney Cheese Spread
Puree a few tablespoons of chutney with a dollop of mayonnaise or sour cream and stir into grated cheddar for a quick, easy pub cheese to serve with crackers. Slather it on bread and broil it for an easy snack or appetizer.