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May 17, 2024

When Secret Sauces Lose Their Secrets: An Exposé!

Uh, no, not really…

By Ed Goldman

Journalists often cite “reliable sources” for feeding us information under the promise of anonymity—and sometimes something called “non-attribution.” This can be problematic when, for example, a City Hall insider gives you a juicy item and you can’t even say “according to a City Hall Insider who requested anonymity.” The source thinks that phrase alone may make him or her trackable. So you’re left with saying something like “according to someone, though I can’t remember who it was.” 

I wanted to start with that so I could get to my main story and the cringe-worthy wordplay I’ve assigned to it: Reliable Sauces.

Edgy Cartoon

The 4 seasonings

The other day I read a story about the plethora of condiments and dips out there currently multiplying like exponential bunnies. Fine-Dining restaurants, Fast-Food death traps and Home-cooking cooks alike are dealing with customers who demand that their meals be accompanied with a variety of sauces, “ranch” being the most-recommended relish, if we can call it that.

Oh, I enjoy ranch dressing every so often. But I’m kind of particular in wanting to put it on a salad. Yet I know lots of people who slather their French fries, onion rings and even pizzas with the stuff, which is not much more than mayonnaise, sour cream (or plain yogurt or [gack!] buttermilk) and the contents of all the little McCormick spice jars in your kitchen closet. Or, if you lack the time and resources or patience, just scatter a few scoops of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt into your mixing vat.

Dip-lovers put all kids of odd combos on their meals—but the consistent theme is: “Unadorned food is dreadful.” This strikes me as funny because most of the food you get at eateries, whether they feature valet parking or a drive-through lane, have already been salted enough to cause a tortoise to experience a high-blood pressure medical event.

The first time I detected this was when I was a high school student in Southern California and a favorite after-dance/after-necking hangout was a local Bob’s Big Boy restaurant. Its specialty was a double-decker hamburger, which featured patties as thin as two sheets of vellum which had apparently been sprayed with plasticized liquid vinyl (commercially known as plastisol) and then buried in a trough filled with the aforementioned Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. 

Most of us at that age had heightened appetites (often, for food) and I was no exception until it came to actually eating a Bob’s Big Boy double-decker disaster. My dates and friends always could—but even so, I’m convinced the exaggerated amount of sodium provided a sales boost for the restaurant’s milk shakes and soft drinks. Because back then, every time you wanted your Coke glass refilled, you were charged for it. Same with coffee, even at a diner, which Bob’s essentially was.

The most popular additive around remains ketchup, what the Brits call “red sauce.” People pour it on their burgers but also [gack! Part 2] on their steaks. I can’t get too worked up about that. Like every good argument, there’s a point and counterpoint. Donald Trump puts it on his steak but so does Taylor Swift. I’m not sure these two have anything else in common, except for being blonde and rich, but this just goes to demonstrate that certain condiments bridge gaps and cultures. Yes, if we all used ketchup, there’d be no more war.

When I was a kid, we used ketchup as part of our dinner survival kit. I’ve mentioned before that my mom wasn’t a great cook but that might have had something to do with what she could afford to buy on a fireman’s salary. Even so, I could never tell the difference between lamb chops and steaks until adulthood. In the meantime, whatever it was my mom put in front of me, ketchup was going to be the common denominator.

Finally, I was surprised to not see a mention of Arby’s fabled “horsey sauce” in the article I read about this deluge of dips. Apparently, no one wants to put that stuff on anything but an Arby’s roast beef sandwich. I’ve also heard loose talk in the industry that Arby’s is also considering putting roast beef on those roast beef sandwiches. I heard this from a reliable—well, you know. #

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).