You’ve probably been eating at home these last 12 months more than ever before. And it’s starting to get really, really boring. Maybe all you need is to get a little saucier…
I love to cook, and I am also obsessed with sauce. Much of my fridge is devoted to sauces, both those that shine on their own and those that work together to create delicious meals. If your menu planning is starting to feel a bit boring, the secret sauce so to speak is, well, sauce.
There are certain sauces that are so classic they almost need no introduction. However, the key note here is that there are so many options in all of these categories now that it’s so easy to find the taste and ingredient combination that really speaks to you. There are vegan options, healthier options, brands that use glass rather than plastic packaging (one eco-friendly step!), and so on. Experiment! Sauces are about finding your perfect match.
Vegan Mayo: While you can certainly stick with a classic mayo, in my opinion, opting for vegan mayo is one of the easiest eco-friendly vegan swaps you can make in your house that you likely won’t notice at all. You don’t have to be vegan to buy some vegan ingredients! It’s just better for the planet. One option I adore is from HLTHPUNK, which you can order online (plus they also make other killer vegan sauces).
Your Mustard of Choice: Mustard is such a personal thing, isn’t it? Some people hate every type, some love them all, and some of us can only stomach one type, but not the others. Whatever your mustard preference, it’s good to keep some around, whether for sandwich-ing or for recipes–a tiny dash of mustard often adds a lot to a dish.
Really Solid Ranch: Again, do you. If the classic old school brands are your favorite, stick with them. Honestly, most ranches are amazing. However, I also recommend trying out some other more unique ranch brands from time to time. Some of them pack even more flavor and are perfect for particular types of dishes or snacking. I always aim for choosing ones that come in more earth-conscious glass jars/bottles when possible. Some personal faves include Opa Greek Yogurt Ranch for veggies, and Toby’s Ranch for truly anything.
Spice is a huge part of my sauce inventory, if I’m being honest. And even if you’re not fond of spicy foods, it’s not a bad idea to still have some options around to add to your dishes. The thing about spicy sauces is that you’re in control. When you cook the food you’re in charge of how much or little spice goes in–and no matter what, these sauces add amazing flavor.
Chili Garlic Sauce: A classic staple in Asian cooking, this thick and chili-forward sauce is a common ingredient in other more complex sauce recipes. One of my favorite go-to meals is crispy tofu with a sauce that’s two-parts soy sauce, one part brown sugar, and one part chili garlic sauce, combined. Nice and spicy with a stickiness from the sugar.
Sriracha + Sriracha Mayo: This is one you’ve likely seen and used by now, as it’s common to find just about anywhere. Sriracha is great as an addition to recipes, but it’s also got a perfect flavor and consistency for drizzling onto things as a finisher. On the other hand, sriracha mayo shines in a beautiful category all its own. The perfect combo of tangy mayo and sriracha spice is heavenly on things like bánh mì (or any sandwich), burgers, and spicy noodles, or as a dipping sauce for sweet potato fries.
Classic Hot Sauce: If you’re a fan of spice, you probably already have a hot sauce of choice. Among the most popular are such staples as Tapatio, Tabasco, and Cholula (my personal favorite!). Each has its own unique tang, and while all will accomplish the same goal of adding a kick to your food, they’ll each do it in a slightly unique way. Choose wisely.
Gochujang: If you’re unfamiliar, gochujang is a divine little condiment, a savory, tangy, thoroughly spicy sauce particularly popular in Korean cooking. But it can serve many purposes, particularly in Asian dishes! Add a dash (or more) to any delicious sauce you’re creating and the spice and taste will shine through.
For Unique or Deeper Flavor…
Going beyond pure spice, there are also plenty of other sauces out there that will ramp up your flavor in a variety of ways. Here are a few of my top picks:
Balsamic Glaze: Balsamic glaze is a lifestyle, and it’s one you will not regret jumping into. If you’re familiar with balsamic vinegar–perhaps for using in a caprese salad–balsamic glaze is its sticky, syrupy sister. And it’s delicious. Perfect as a drizzling sauce on top of flatbreads, pizzas, sandwiches, and anything else you can think of, I recommend having a bottle in your pantry at all times.
Hoisin: If you’re not using hoisin in your Asian sauces or stir fries by now, you’re missing out. This perfectly thick, sweet and savory sauce is nice and salty, with plenty of depth of flavor. Use it to glaze your meat, add it to a more complex sauce or marinade, base your stir fry around it. Make it count.
Liquid Smoke: Liquid smoke is a friend to all, especially the vegetarians and vegans of the world. This unique sauce can be added to marinades for meat substitutes and gives the alternative (tofu, tempeh, jackfruit, etc) a meatier, smokey flavor. Kind of like magic.
Exploratory Hot Sauces: So you have a classic hot sauce, but what about some unique ones? Hot sauces are pretty trendy right now, and tons of small businesses are out there making their own kickin’ versions. I love a good green hot sauce (my personal obsession being Sauce Brother’s “Tasty Greens” or one with a unique flavor palette, like chili garlic. Lots of people are crazy about Truff sauce these days, and Yellowbird is another popular brand among many. The point is, the hot sauce world is your oyster. Get exploring.Flavored Mayos: there’s no sauce more fitting to end on than the beautiful realm of flavored mayo. Mayo in itself can do so much. But when it comes to topping a sandwich or burger, or dipping fries or other forms of potato, flavored mayos are in a category of their own. I always have a chipotle mayo in the house, and typically something with garlic is around as well. But again, there are endless options. See what strikes your sandwich fancy, then keep it stocked.
Annie Burdick is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon, but transplanted from the Midwest. She also works as a community inclusion specialist for adults with disabilities. Previously she's edited and written for magazines, websites, books, and small businesses, on an absurdly wide range of topics. She spends the rest of her time reading, eating good food, and finding new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.