One of the most famous ingredients in English cuisine is Worcestershire sauce. Most English people, however, refer to it as Lea & Perrins, the name of the traditional manufacturer.
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What is Worcestershire sauce?
It’s a vinegar-based liquid seasoning, flavored with anchovies, soy sauce, onions, molasses, garlic, tamarind, coriander, and allspice and aged for at least two months.
Worcestershire sauce will keep in the kitchen for years without opening, but can also be stored for a long time after opening. Always shake the jar before use.
The legend of Worcestershire sauce
The sauce is a fermented liquid spice mixture based on the ancient Greek-Roman recipe garum (fish sauce). Later, the anchovy version became popular and was used throughout Europe in the 17th century. Lea & Perrins’ version was commercialized, and to this day this brand dominates the Worcestershire sauce market worldwide – known in many countries simply as English sauce.
The origins of the Lea & Perrins recipe are unknown, or rather there are several versions – but there is a clear Indian influence, so it is more than likely that it originated in India, the recipe for which (according to legend) was brought back from India by Captain Henry Lewis Edwardes. However, how the recipe came to be in Lea & Perrins’ possession is open to question.
The original product was so strong in the laboratory of John W Lea and William H Perrins that it was deemed inedible, and so its cask was sent to the cellar. A few years later, the space was needed, so the chemists tasted it again and discovered that the fermented sauce had mellowed and had become distinctly more palatable. In 1838, the first Worcestershire sauce was marketed in England.
A court ruling in 1876 ruled that the name Worcestershire is not a protected brand name, so anyone can market a sauce under that name. This option is widely used, so there is no shortage of sauces with the same name all over the world, but most of them try to produce something similar in taste without aging, using cheaper ingredients than the original recipe.
Lea & Perrins sauce is a really good discovery, the fishy, umami character of the pickled anchovies combines with the depth of flavor and delicate acidity of the cured onions, all enhanced by the full-bodied sweetness of the molasses, the tart fruitiness of the tamarind, and the aromas of the spices (Szechuan pepper, cloves, coriander, citrus peel – who knows, the recipe is secret).
As with herbal liqueurs or cola, we don’t know the exact composition or preparation process for Worcestershire sauce. What is certain is that the sauce is matured for 10-18 months, but the company is guarding the details carefully, so we can only go by the product label. The ingredients of the original and the real Worcester sauce are malt vinegar, vinegar, sugar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onion, garlic, and spices and flavors (which include cloves, soy sauce, lemon, pickles, pepper). The original version is gluten-free, but the modern and imitation versions are not. As the sauce contains anchovies, it cannot be consumed by vegetarians, vegans and people following religious diets – although you can now buy vegan, or fish-free, products.
What is Worcestershire sauce used for?
Sauces are a great way to give meat dishes a whole new flavor. A soft, tender meat swimming in a sauce with a delicious aroma and fragrance is sure to provide an unforgettable dining experience, even to spice up an ordinary weekday meal.
The English use the sauce in many dishes. It’s an essential ingredient in Welsh rarebit, Ceaser salad, Kilpatrick Oysters, English burgers, beef stew, chilli con Carne, etc., and is a key ingredient in the famous Bloody Mary cocktail. The sauce is also popular internationally, especially in Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indonesian, South African, and Brazilian cuisines. It is also very popular in the USA, but even Lea&Perrins’ own American product differs from the English one in that it is made with distilled white vinegar instead of malt vinegar and contains chili extract. In the USA and the Far East, there are also thicker versions of the sauce.
What does Worcestershire sauce taste like?
The vinegary, salty flavor is strong and distinctive, but despite (or perhaps because of) its characteristic taste, it can be used in a variety of ways. It’s a bit like balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, and soy sauce all in one, “spiced up” with various spices.