Most of them are crap. Except for the ones that are shit. And all of them are stupid expensive.
But a few -- a really, really few -- are actually pretty handy, offering a winning combination of convenience, modest culinary excitement, and flavor. And most don't cost a whole lot either. In no particular order, five excellent examples are:
Sriracha: Despite its ubiquity in Asian restaurants across the
country, this bright-red sauce in the green-capped bottle was actually
developed in the early 1980s in California by Vietnamese immigrant David
Tran. While it's great as an all-purpose hot sauce, it also adds a
garlicky zing to everything from scrambled eggs to marinades to aioli,
and a bottle goes a very long way.
La Rusticella White Truffle Pâté:
Selling for as much as $6,000 a pound, almost equal to the price of a
pound of cocaine, fresh white truffles are an insane luxury item. But
this blend of champignon mushrooms, truffles, and other stuff delivers
enough of truffles' earthy, exotic, irresistible flavor and aroma to
make you forget you're saving approximately $5,975.
Robert Rothschild Farm Horseradish Tartar Sauce:
As someone who loves fish, sandwiches, and leftovers, this kicky bottled
tartar sauce makes putting all three together a breeze. Sure, it's easy
to make your own, but if you don't have the time or just don't fucking
well feel like it, you could do a whole lot worse. If you don't believe
me, pick up another brand at your local giantmegasupermarket.
NapaStyle Fennel Spice Rub:
If you've ever eaten Michael Chiarello's food, you know that despite
his rather stiff TV persona, he's a prodigiously talented chef. Essential
to any TV chef's image is a product line, of which this powdery mélange
of fennel seed, gray salt, coriander, and white pepper is da bomb. Meat,
chicken, fish vegetables... there's almost nothing it doesn't
Tea & Spice Exchange Tuscany Blend: I
never expected to like this stuff, looking as it does like a packet of
generic "Italian" seasoning. But it was cheap, and the nice woman at the
shop said it was really good, so I figured, what the hell. Finally, I got
around to sprinkling it on a piece of chicken -- damn! -- she was right. It
takes as naturally to poultry as feathers, and it's great in
vinaigrettes, marinades, and dips too.