Simmer sauces can be lifesavers for on-the-go working families, singles with busy social lives and cooks whose kitchen skills are limited to, say, boiling water.
Usually packaged in glass jars, simmer sauces encompass every type of cuisine, from Indian to Thai to Greek to just plain American. And they're versatile because they can be heated up and poured over just about any combination of protein, vegetables and grains for an easy, healthful meal.
Convenience has always been a major reason for the popularity of simmer sauces–and now some companies are making them even easier to use. For example, Simply Asia has new, single-serving pouches of its simmer sauces. "It can't be simpler. There's no mess. No bottle. No jar sitting half used in your fridge for six months," says Rob Martel, customer business manager at McCormick & Co., which owns the Simply Asia and Thai Kitchen brands based in Berkeley, Calif.
In addition to making sauces simpler to use, companies also are offering products with a gourmet twist—or at least a home-cooked taste. For example, Good Clean Food, based in Portland, Maine, makes simmer sauces with vegetables already included. The base of each sauce is a chicken or fish stock made the old-fashioned way. "We make our own stocks and do it the way you would if you had all day to cook," says Good Clean Food Marketing Director Rachel Ambrose. And at Maya Kaimal, based in Woodstock, N.Y., vegetarian or vegan simmer sauces in flavors such as Coconut Curry, Tamarind Curry and Vindaloo are made using time-consuming techniques, too. "It takes time to caramelize the onions, toast the spices and get the flavor balance just right," says Maya Kaimal Managing Director Andrea Moss.
Many companies are now using top-quality and exotic ingredients. Good Clean Food's newest simmer-sauce flavor, Citrus Ginger, contains ginger, lily flowers and cloud-ear mushrooms. "That's our most exotic flavor," Ambrose says. "We wanted most of our flavors to be kind of homey and recognizable to people."
The company also tried to take the guesswork out of using its sauces by creating flavors designed to go with chicken or pork, such as Maine Cider and French Tarragon, and others to go with fish or other seafood, such as Scandinavian Dill and Creole. "We chose flavor profiles that go best with certain types of fish or protein," Ambrose says. The company's website, goodcleanfood.com, makes it even simpler by providing serving suggestions for each sauce. (For example, Citrus Ginger goes well with salmon, brown or white rice and steamed edamame.)
One big selling point of simmer sauces, now that consumers are trying to save money and eat out less, is that they provide a reasonably priced meal that tastes like takeout. For example, Thai Kitchen sauces cost about $2.49 per jar, a big savings over buying the ingredients separately. Martel says, "To make the sauce, you'd have to buy a jar of fish sauce, a can of coconut milk, etc., about $15 worth of ingredients." Moss agreed: "In the current economy, people still want to eat well, and with our simmer sauces they can eat better for a lot less than going out to a restaurant."
Allie Johnson is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 12/p. 16