This sauce isn’t only for Vegans. It’s for anyone who is allergic to fish or dislikes the fishy overtone but appreciates the other piquant flavors Worcestershire sauce offers. Personally, I happen to love the umami essence the anchovies impart, but I understand why some people don’t. So I challenged myself to come up with an alternative that someone could whip up in their kitchen without too much ado. That said, I’m hard-pressed not to switch to this vegan version, and as a non-vegan, that’s saying something. Soy sauce was the likely go-to in substituting anchovies, but there were other elements to consider, such as reproducing the elusive flavoring profile, mystical as Merlin’s fairy dust. A guarded secret entrusted to only four people on the planet. And if the X’d out page depicted in the picture is an indication of the aborted formulas, is it any wonder the sauce was ever bottled. Let’s face it, even John Lea and William Perrins, a couple of apothecaries, turned their noses up at the fishy-smelling sauce, an eccentric aristocrat named Lord Sandy brought them. He blathered on about how an East Indian cook had made it for him while he was stationed abroad as the Governor of Bengal. Now that he’d returned to England, he simply couldn’t bear another bite of boring, bland food without his culinary elixir. Reluctantly, the men agreed to accept the challenge and assumed the commission, and the rest is history.
After deconcocting the sample to re-concoct the sauce, Lea and Perrins stored a leftover batch in the cellar. What remains a mystery is in knowing how unpalatable it was, why after two years, would they crack open the barrel and taste it? Well, if they hadn’t, the culinary world might never have discovered its allure and versatility in soups, broths, stews, side dishes, dressings, and grilling sauces.
To deconcoct and re-concoct my own version, I approached it like the mad-kitchen alchemist I am and used what I had on-hand. One by one, I peeled back the layers, carefully decoding the unlisted ingredients to piece together the puzzle. Keeping it real, like the fact that the original recipe was an accident, an unlikely pairing of salty undertones, swimming in a souring sea of bitter-sweet waves, and savory troughs, I struck a balance. While distilled white vinegar is the primary ingredient listed, other sources claim it to be barley malt vinegar. Another component I substituted was tamarind extract with plum sauce. Like I said, I used what I had on-hand. But it worked. Perhaps because the plum sauce was made with salted plums, garlic, sugar, ginger, and chilis, a chutney, which was likely what Lord Sandy’s cook might have used as a ghost flavoring in his original condiment. Viola!
What you’ll need: Bowl, whisk, cheesecloth, fine-meshed strainer, and a glass bottle for storage.
- 1/2- cup +3-Tbsp distilled white vinegar
- ¼-cup dark balsamic vinegar
- ¼-cup red wine vinegar
- 1/3- cup low-sodium soy sauce
- ½-cup water
- 1-Tbsp +1 tsp blackstrap molasses
- 1-tsp Koon Chun plum sauce Available online or in the International aisle of select markets or Asian specialty stores. They cite that the ingredients may contain traces of gluten, sesame seeds, and soya bean. If using tamarind paste, I’m not sure what the correct ratio is; you may have to adjust it to your taste.
- 2-tsp garlic powder
- 2-tsp onion powder
- 2-tsp ground black pepper
- 1-tsp dry mustard
- 1-tsp ground cloves
- ¼- tsp cayenne
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the first 7-ingredients together until molasses dissolves and is well incorporated.
- Add remaining ingredients and whisk till dissolved.
- To achieve a clear, smoothe sauce, line strainer with cheesecloth and strain. You’ll need to do this step at least twice with a fresh piece of cheesecloth to remove the gritty sediment of the spices.
- Pour into a 16-oz glass bottle. Since the sauce is acid-based [vinegar] with dry spices, it can be stored safely at room temperature in the pantry. But use your best judgment. The longer it sits, the mellower the flavor.
Recipe yields approximately 2-cups.