The difference between restaurant cooking and what we prepare at home is not just a matter of skill, but composition. Where we might serve grilled fish or chicken with a side and a salad — a perfectly respectable presentation for nightly summer dinners — a restaurant version might add several more flourishes to the plate, so you get an array of textures and flavors.
You can only do this if you have a cluster of condiments in the fridge, so you can spoon a deliciously tart and vinegary pickle beside that fish, or add a dollop of creamy sauce. You need condiments that will brighten the plate and offer spice, crunch, and zest.
The easiest condiment imaginable, which is now commercially prepared, is Sriracha Mayonnaise. You can make it from the two main ingredients — sriracha, or any similar chile-garlic sauce, or even harissa — but a little lemon juice and bottled white horseradish give it more dimension. Sriracha Mayonnaise is superb on a bun holding a salmon burger or chicken sausage.
2-Hour Pickled Sweet Onions only require you to slice Vidalia, Walla Walla, OSO Sweet, Maui, or other super-sweet onions. Mix them with seasoned rice vinegar, salt, sugar, and fresh oregano and pack them into a canning jar to pickle. If you set the jar on its side in the fridge, and turn it for two hours, the pickle juices will penetrate the thin onion slices and give you something piquant and deliciously crunchy to set beside a rich fish such as swordfish, or a juicy pork chop.
Romesco sauce, made from grilled and peeled red bell peppers, is the darling of the Catalan fisherman’s table in northeast Spain. The peppers are pureed and mixed with breadcrumbs and almonds. Whir Quick Romesco Sauce in a food processor with bell peppers from a jar, or ready-peeled peppers from the deli counter, where you sometimes see them sold by the pound. Canned tomatoes add to the stunning persimmon color of romesco, and sherry vinegar, crushed red pepper, and Spanish smoked paprika boost the other flavors.
And finally, Marinated Olives, which are perfect with drinks or as a garnish on a plate of grilled chicken. Heat an array of olives in brine (oil-cured olives won’t work here) with olive oil, then add strips of orange rind, fresh thyme, crushed red pepper, and whole garlic cloves. Before you serve them, make sure the olives sit at room temperature for half an hour so they aren’t the least bit chilled, or pop them in the microwave for a few seconds. They’re colorful in the bowl and a few are a nice surprise on the plate.
Nothing here requires you to work hard. If there’s one you particularly like, double the recipe so there’s plenty on hand. In fact, the beauty of these condiments is how much you get for your effort. Add one condiment or a couple and your plates — embellished with a taste of quick pickle, a swirl of spicy mayonnaise, a dab of pureed, grilled sweet peppers, a spoonful of aromatic olives — will change dramatically.
Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.