Ready-made sauces can offer a swift solution for chefs looking to crack the secret code to creating global flavours. Angela Frewin reports
Our globe-trotting, net-surfing lifestyles mean there has never been a greater demand for new taste sensations, whether that's authentic world flavours, cultural crossovers or classics with a twist.
As the main flavour carrier in a dish, stocks and sauces provide an easy route for caterers to "tap into developing trends and meet the customer's demand for an experience they can't get at home", says Nick Redford, managing director of the Caterforce buying consortium. It's an approach he argues has taken on some
urgency as "economic uncertainty… and the phenomenal rise of third-party delivery services such as Deliveroo means consumers don't feel the need to eat out as frequently".
Asian-influenced flavours and "all things Americana", such as barbecue, hot sauces and American mustard, remain hot tickets, observes Mark Irish, head of food development at distributor Brakes.
"Korean, Caribbean, Brazilian, Middle Eastern and Japanese cuisines are also continuing to emerge," adds Nigel Parkes, purchasing and marketing director at Flagship Europe. "The ones to watch would include African, Peruvian, Polynesian and Cuban." Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Philippine cuisines are also gaining traction.
Street food and the drive for healthier eating have both played a role in popularising spice 'n' smoke. "With health-conscious consumers increasingly aware of the need to reduce their salt intake, diners are looking for alternative ways to get a flavour punch. Cue the increased demand for smoke and spice- infused sauces and marinades," explains Andrej Prokes, former chef at the Ritz London and the Fat Duck in Bray and now consultant for Nestlé Professional's new premium Chef sauces.
Tigg's has tapped into both the customisation and on-the-go trends with Tiny Tigg's - 25g tear-and-squeeze mini portions of its all-natural dressings.
"They are great for caterers and there is no mess and less wastage than bottles on tables or sauces in bowls," says director Jacob James. Customers can choose from a line-up of Smokin' Tomato, Sweet Original, Bold Beetroot, Subtle Pepper & Mustard, or Cool Basil & Pea.
Meanwhile, US trends suggest hot sauces are evolving new flavour profiles. Ashley Food Company (whose Mad Dog sauces range from the mild to the scorchingly extreme) is adding sweet and tart notes with infused fruits, such as mango, kiwi, strawberry and cranberry, while bourbon, tequila and alcohol blends such as cherry vanilla bourbon are adding the spirit of cocktail happy hour to the menu.
A trend identified as one to watch in 2017 by McCormick is plancha grilling - a Spanish and Mexican technique where meat is cooked on a thick, flat slab of cast iron to create a sizzling, smoky, seared crust. Meat, seafood or vegetables are typically paired with bold sauces, such as McCormick's Mexican Adobo Negro or its nutty Catalan Romesco. Spanish wholesaler, retailer and operator Brindisa's romesco sauce (a mix of tomato, sweet red Á±ora peppers and almonds) is made in Navarre, northern Spain, along with its other tomato-based Spanish cooking sauces - Sofrito (with onion), Fritada (with roasted piquillo pepper) and the paprika-spiced Salsa Brava.
Liquid lunch Stock - often the base of a sauce - can add "a more subtle flavour, without dominating a dish" and is winning aficionados in its own right, says Duncan Parsonage, head of food development at Fresh Direct: "Light broths and stocks are being consumed for their health benefits and nutritional qualities, too."
Examples include bone broth - a darling in health food circles - and trendy Korean kimchi broth bowls. Essential Cuisine launched a trio of Asian broth stocks last year after discovering that almost 90% of its consumers who declared a taste for pan-Asian flavours had sampled them outside of specialist restaurants.
Chinese flavours have always been on-trend, but Maria Chong, managing director at Lee Kum Kee Europe, credits the internet for stimulating a thirst for "the authentic taste found in traditional Chinese dishes. Chinese sauces are more than just soy sauce now."
Brits are lapping up options such as oyster sauce, chiu chow chilli oil, and chilli garlic paste. Lee Kum Kee has also been experimenting with novel concoctions - its Oriental Sesame Dressing combines Chinese flavours, such as aged vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil, while its Sriracha Mayo adds some Thai chilli oomph to the condiment.
British, Indian and Italian cuisines also remain mainstream favourites that caterers would be unwise to neglect. Caterforce has launched a Chef Selection range of gluten-free, ready-made sauces from around the world, including Bolognese, Tomato & Basil, Tikka, Korma, Balti, Sweet & Sour and Chilli Con Carne, which it says can help caterers "hook onto popular themed nights that continue to be a weekly favourite in pubs and hotels".
Offering a sauce as a side dish is now the second most popular upsell initiative on menus, and Premier Foods (home of the Homepride, Sharwood's and Bisto brands) reckons that its new Bisto Sauce range stretches the possibilities "beyond the traditional chips with curry sauce".
Executive chef Mark Rigby has devised a clutch of premium recipes for the sauce mixes - which include curry, cheese, béchamel and parsley - such as glazed gammon with parsley and cider sauce, beef cannelloni, and cod, cauliflower and chorizo mornay. The mixes come as granules (a claimed first for foodservice) that are simply added to boiling water.
Established regional classics can still surprise, as Sandro Bevilacqua, vice- chairman at Continental Quattro Stagioni, points out: "Pesto is an iconic Italian sauce andâ¦ there are many variations in terms of colour, flavour and texture, which is perfect for today's restaurant-goers who are passionate about trying something new."
Its latest launch includes a Frescobuoni Pesto alla Genovese (a mix of Grana Padano PDO cheese, Pecorino Romano PDO cheese, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts and garlic) and the creamy, fragrant Ligurian Pesto with Genoese Basil PDO from Ristoris, along with a Ristoris Pistachio Sauce.
French sauces, such as hollandaise and red wine, are not only holding their own, but also "open the door for chefs to create customised versions to tie-in with global food trends", says Nestlé consultant Prokes, who adds: "Putting a global twist on your menu doesn't have to mean throwing out the rule book." He suggests mixing the new premium Chef Hollandaise sauce - a traditional eggs Benedict partner that is benefiting from the boom in the out-of-home breakfast market - with Mexican flavours such as pesto, blended avocado, habaÁ±ero chillis, or even chipotle to tempt modern brunch fans. Similarly, operators can invigorate the Chef Red Wine sauce with garlic, chilli and chorizo to add a rich undertone to chilli con carne or tacos.
This melting pot of traditional and mash-up flavours is more an evolution than a revolution, concludes Parsonage: "When it comes to adding flavours, the marriage of East meets West or the combination of less familiar flavour profiles plays to our inquisitive palates and helps to keep the menu fresh and appealing. We Brits have been cooking up a cocktail everywhere we've set foot over the last
couple of hundred years anyway."
Get on the gravy train
"A good stock is the basis of any good sauce and it requires a degree of skill to get the balance of flavours right," says Mark Irish, head of food development at Brakes. "A good sauce can transform a dish by enhancing the flavour and texture of the main ingredients."
Conversely, a bland or mismatched sauce will sabotage the finest ingredients. Research by Essential Cuisine found that 70% of diners were unlikely to revisit a site serving sub-standard gravy. "Most of the gravies available to the modern catering market seem to have lost sight of what gravy is all about: a meaty, tasty and moreish accompaniment to many of our classic national dishes," says managing director Nigel Crane.
"The gravy you use may make or break the meal experience, but it typically represents just a fraction of the ingredient cost of a meal."
Essential's claims about this national staple were vindicated in recent independent blind taste tests involving 100 consumers and 50 chefs, who voted its gluten-free No 1 Gravy the overall favourite against leading competitors across all three flavours: beef, chicken and vegetarian.
"Sauces, marinades and dips have been treated as commodity products for far too long," agrees Graham Stoodley, category manager for Harvey & Brockless's Dell'ami Mediterranean deli range, which seeks out 'exceptional ingredients' to pack maximum flavour and authenticity in the pastes, sauces and relishes it produces at its new facility in Evesham, Worcestershire. Its Dell'ami Finest Green Pesto uses basil picked on a family farm in Mantua at sunrise and late evening to protect the delicate leaves, while its harissa combines real rose petals with slow-cooked, sun-dried peppers, cumin, coriander, garlic and chilli.
Gotcha Ketchup, a glossy, terracotta-red Korean-inspired sauce, uses a traditional gochujang fermented chilli paste to deliver a sweet and sour flavour with a smoky, umami chilli kick. Its eclectic line-up includes a kale pesto, an Argentinian chimichurri marinade of garlic, parsley and coriander, a Bloody Mary salsa, a hot chipotle barbecue sauce, and a mirin-based Thai sesame dressing with nutty tahini and salty tamarind overtones.
Continental Quattro Stagioni www.continental-food.co.uk
Essential Cuisine www.essentialcuisine.com
Flagship Europe www.flagshipeurope.eu
Fresh Direct Group www.freshdirect.co.uk
Harvey & Brockless www.harveyandbrockless.co.uk
Lee Kum Kee www.uk.lkk.com
Nestlé Professional www.nestleprofessional.co.uk
Premier Foods www.premierfoodservice.co.uk