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November 5, 2015

I'm stocking my pantry for unusual Christmas gifts!

I’m stocking my pantry with unusual Christmas gifts!

I have a 100 year old bottle of Angostura Bitters in my cupboard, that I recently retrieved when my son asked me about a cocktail recipe he was working on. Well, it’s not really that old, but it has been there, seldom used for as long as I can remember and I wondered if it ‘went off’..

After Googling, the answer is …no. With an alcohol level of 44.7%, it will keep until it evaporates!!

Angostura bitters is a botanically infused alcoholic mixture, made of water, alcohol and herbs and spices in Trinidad and Tobago. It is typically used for flavouring beverages or less often, food. The bitters were first produced in the early 1800’s in the town of Angostura, Venezuela, (hence the name), and do not contain angostura bark (as some may falsely believe). The recipe is a closely guarded secret of over 40 ingredients but most bitters recipes have a combination of herbs including:

  • angelica root (angelica archangelica)
  • carline thistle root (carlina acaulis)
  • camphor (cinnamomum camphora)
  • manna (fraxinus ornus)
  • myrrh
  • rhubarb root (rheum palmatum)
  • saffron
  • senna (senna alexandrina)
  • gentian
  • goldenseal
  • wormwood
  • dandelion root

“Bitter” is an unpopular flavour out of the five basic tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami. Our modern diet is overloaded with sweet, salty and processed food with a complete lack of bitterness. Bitter engages and excites the digestive system to secrete a cascade of digestive juices and bile in preparation for incoming food. Hence, they are often used as a digestif, a remedy for hiccups & reflux, or to rid parasites. Most bitters are extremely concentrated and are an acquired taste; though they are not normally ingested undiluted.

As humans we evolved eating bitters on a daily basis – bitters greens, bitter roots, bitter barks. As part of the evolution process, we are very sensitive to bitter flavours when we are young – many bitter plants are toxic – and it explains why children hate green vegetables and olives! As we age our bitterness receptors in our taste buds decline and the taste becomes more acceptable. Bitter foods are a central part of many cultures around the world and have been for many years. In Europe, a salad made from bitter lettuce leaves was traditionally eaten before a meal, while traditional Asian cultures have long valued bitters not only for their digestive benefit but also for cleansing properties. Common bitter foods include coffee, raw cacao, many vegetables in the Brassica family, and herbs.

So after Googling this and learning all about bitters, I thought about using bitters more in my food. And seeing as I have started my Christmas gift baking, I thought I would experiment by adding bitters to a barbeque sauce recipe that I had heard about that contained coffee. Coffee is bitter too, right?

I do like Angostura bitters with it’s characteristic herby fragrance. I wonder why I haven’t dug it out sooner..

So against your bitter better judgement, give this sauce a try – it is actually really nice served with steak – and not too sweet at all. I have sweetened it with dates and thickened it with a bit of psyllium. Dried dates will help thicken it but my original effort was too thin according to the men of the house. If you don’t use psyllium, you could thicken it with a bit of tapioca flour or guar gum, or you may like to keep it a thinner consistency. You can always hold back on the psyllium until the final few minutes and see if you like the consistency before adding it. If you do add it at the end, make sure to cook for a good 5 minutes further for it to swell and do its job.

In any case this recipe will make a curious conversation piece as a gift from your kitchen to your bbq/coffee lover friends!

50g + 50g olive oil, divided

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

4 – 8 anchovy fillets*

100g strong made-up coffee

1 tab (10g) Angostura bitters

100g tamari (or soy)

300g tomato passata (A thicker one is better)

120g dates

30g apple cider vinegar

60g red wine vinegar

140g molasses

1 teas salt

1 teas chilli flakes

½ teas smoked paprika (optional)

stevia to taste

2 teas psyllium (optional)

Chop the garlic & onion on SP 7 for 5 seconds. Scrape down and add the anchovies and 50g oil. Cook for 4 minutes on SP 1 at 100ºC with the MC off.

Add the rest of the ingredients, including the extra 50g oil, to the TM. Cook for 20 minutes at 100°C on SP 3 with the MC off. Taste for sweetness and add some stevia if desired.

Placing the MC back on, blitz the sauce on SP 8 for 20 seconds at the end to ensure it is smooth.

*Don’t worry, the anchovies will not make this taste fishy – they add umami to the sauce.

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