Cooking

Romesco Is the Perfect Sauce

The all-purpose Catalan accompaniment makes everything better

I remember the first time I tried it: chunky, red, spicy but sweet, spooned nonchalantly over a pile of baby leeks charred in the brick oven at Ned Ludd in Portland, OR.

"Ahhhh," I recall thinking then, "I want this sauce on everything, all the time."

"Ahhhh, romesco," Seamus Mullen swoons, echoing my initial assesment.

"That amazing Catalan sauce with Roman origins."

It is a sauce with as many variations as applications: roasted red peppers pounded with toasted nuts, fried bread, pimentón, a touch of tomato and sherry vinegar.

Mullen, who presides over Tertulia and El Colmado in Manhattan, praises the condiment for its versatility and heart: "It's a humble sauce that sits comfortably at the table of kings, equally at home with a charred, bloody steak or delicate grilled spring calçots [a wild green onion typical of Catalonia]."

"I like mine with some grit," he says. "I want to feel the texture of the charred vegetables, taste the smoke and fire of the coals. I want the hazelnuts to still be there in the sauce, reminding me of a time when the Vitamix of choice was a mortar and pestle and when we spent most of our hours thinking about, preparing and eating food and less time tweeting about it."

Fair enough. But try the romesco we made in our test kitchen (see the recipe) over grilled vegetables, fish, leg of lamb--anything but chocolate cake, really--and you'll be tempted to take pictures of the results.

We ended up taking Mullen's advice and leaving out the toasted bread and adding more almonds and hazelnuts--romesco heresy but we found it resulted in a punchier, more intense sauce.

"I suppose you could make a big batch and freeze some," Mullen says. "But mine never seems to have trouble getting eaten."

Tertulia 359 Sixth Ave. New York NY 10001 646-559-9909 El Comado 600 11th AVe. New York NY 10036 http://elcolmadonyc.

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