What is Worcestershire Sauce and How Do You Use It?

This bottled commercial sauce is so famous and so worldwide in its use in every country outside the Iron Curtain that it deserves to be mentioned. The story of its origin is probably this. About 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne, a retired governor of Bengal went to his local druggists in Worcester, one of several shops belonging to two pharmacists by name Lea and Perrins, and ordered that a recipe he had brought back from India be made up. This was done, but it did not pass muster with the ex-governor, and he rejected it. The matter was forgotten until some years later when Mr Lea and Mr Perrins were turning out the cellar and the barrel came to light. On tasting it they found it was now quite superlative. Unlike O. Henry’s tale of the Apollinaris water, they still had the recipe, and began to make it up for local consumption. The sauce so rapidly became popular that ten years later it was used in the household of many noble families, and the druggists had even begun to export it. Its fame was quickly spread around the world by the pursers of the early steamships. For instance, in June 1843, it was recorded that ‘The cabin of the great western had been regularly supplied with Lea and Perrins’ Worcestershire Sauce which is adapted for every variety of dish – from turtle to beef, from salmon to steaks, to all of which it gives a famous relish. I have great pleasure in recommending this excellent sauce to captains and passengers as the best accompaniment of its kind for any voyage.’ Not only does Worcestershire sauce come into most bar cures for a hangover, but it helps to soften the sight of salt pork when one is seasick.

Worcestershire sauce is now manufactured in many countries and the same old recipe is used. Indeed, the Lea and Perrins factory in Worcester still uses the same splendid Victorian cast iron and wood machinery which, together with vaults full of barrels of maturing sauce, convey the atmosphere of a winery, belied only by the smell of vinegar and spices.

What is Worcestershire Sauce and How Do You Use It? Photo Gallery

Worcestershire sauce is a thin piquant sauce of a general type popular in the days of the East India Company. It is based on vinegar, soy and molasses and contains the juice of salt anchovies together with red chilli, ginger, shallots and garlic; in all, over twenty different tropical fruits and spices. It is not a cooked sauce but is a product of maceration and is matured in oak hogsheads for a long period as it was in the pharmacists’ cellar.

Probably the greatest international use of ‘Worcester’ is in bars for flavouring tomato juice and, as already mentioned, for reviving people with a hangover (e.g. prairie oyster). But a look through old correspondence shows that Worcestershire has been used by a surprising number of great chefs as one of their ‘secrets’. It is clear that whilst nothing is worse than the excessive use of Worcestershire sauce to disguise bad cooking, it is a valuable flavouring when used with skill and moderation. There is someone to advocate its use in almost any dish: soups, fish, shellfish, meat and game and poultry, eggs, cheese, salad dressings and sauces. Cooks do better to steer clear of made-up flavourings, but an item which has been popular and unchanged for over a century and is used by chefs in so many countries must be an exception. Indeed, one could almost say that it has graduated as a basic natural ingredient.

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