There’s the fantasy: cooking a party spread for friends, or even just dinner on any given night. And then there’s the reality: getting home late because of traffic or meetings that run long, or simply losing the motivation to make a whole meal from scratch because of the overwhelming desire to lie on the grass (or the couch) a little while longer. When that happens, a fridge filled with homemade sauces offers the promise of a nearly effortless meal.
The quickest way to dishes that thrill with big flavor is to dollop, spread or drizzle any of the options that follow on main ingredients that require minimal to no prep: Pull out leftovers; buy a rotisserie chicken; slice a block of tofu; cook eggs or noodles or both; season vegetables, seafood or meat with only oil and salt, then grill, roast or sear. And yes, you can also just grab a bag of chips and start dipping. This collection of sauces, with contributions from Melissa Clark, Eric Kim, Genevieve Ko and Yewande Komolafe, has a recipe for just about every occasion.
Though many of these formulas start with basics like ketchup, soy sauce and mayonnaise, they taste fresh and can — and should — be customized to your taste. Or stick to the recipe. Part of the appeal here is not having to figure out exactly what to cook: Make anything and slather it with sauce. That will leave you with the time (and energy) to hang out with guests and relax with family.
Green | Salty-Sweet | Chile | Tangy | Creamy | Sweet
Melissa Clark grew up with a steady stash of green sauce in her fridge all summer, ready to be tossed with anything for instant dinners. It was how her mother used up wilting herbs, she said: “Everything green and droopy could find a place in her sauce jar — and still does.” Here, Ms. Clark carries on the family tradition, blending herbs into mixes that highlight their summery freshness.
Both deeply herby and searingly spicy, this Yemenite condiment is popular all over the Middle East. You can adjust the heat to suit your chile tolerance and swap half the cilantro for parsley if you want to vary it up. MELISSA CLARK
All-Purpose Green Sauce
This sauce is the perfect home for all those extra herbs you may have on hand from other recipes — that leftover sprig of mint, that stemmy part of the cilantro bunch, that droopy basil. You can use any combination of soft herbs or other flavorful, leafy options like arugula, celery leaves or pea shoots. M.C.
Seasoned with fresh mint, chiles and toasted spices, this piquant North African sauce includes preserved lemon, which adds a haunting flavor to the mix. (It’s just as traditional to leave it out and make the sauce slightly less pungent.) M.C.
The seesaw of savory and sweet makes sauces — and just about anything — irresistible. In these blends, the balance comes from more than just salt and granulated sugar. Deeply savory bases such as soy sauce and fish sauce complement sugars in different forms, which also caramelize if cooked.
This classic Vietnamese fish sauce-based condiment is extremely versatile. It brings a bouquet of garlic and chile notes along with sweetness and savor to a wide range of dishes. YEWANDE KOMOLAFE
Recipe: Nuoc Cham
This Japanese seasoning normally calls for only sake, soy sauce and mirin, but the addition of brown sugar in this version gives it gloss and a syrupy texture ideal for drizzling over ingredients that have been cooked already. You can skip the sugar if you want to simmer the sauce with a dish as it cooks and the liquids thicken into a glaze. G.K.
Recipe: Teriyaki Sauce
Yangnyeom (pronounced YANG-nyum) means “seasoned” in Korean, and this sauce delivers on its name. Acidic rice vinegar rounds out the fruitiness of ketchup and strawberry jam and the saltiness of soy sauce. ERIC KIM
Recipe: Yangnyeom Sauce
Chiles in all forms — fresh, dried, preserved — add more than just spicy heat to condiments. They also deliver fruity or grassy flavors, crisp textures and brilliant color. In these homemade mixes, the heat leans toward medium so the chiles’ other attributes can shine.
Sauce Moyo With Mango
Found across West Africa, and especially in Benin, Senegal and Togo, this chunky blend of fresh tomatoes, red onion, chile and lime juice is great in hot and humid weather. Here, mango is added for a fruity burst of flavor. Y.K.
Recipe: Sauce Moyo With Mango
Nutty browned butter adds a wonderful underlying note to an otherwise straightforward Buffalo sauce, zippy with vinegar and brown sugar. E.K.
Recipe: Buffalo Sauce
There’s just enough oil to slick all the crispy bits of chile, onion and sesame in this version of a spicy Chinese condiment, so it delivers as much crunch as it does salty, sweet, nutty heat. G.K.
Recipe: Chile Crisp
Sharp with generous splashes of acidity, such as vinegar and citrus juice, these combinations satisfy the need for a refreshing bite.
Fresh tomatillos brighten this silky avocado salsa, and their acidity helps the blend stay green even after days in the fridge. G.K.
Recipe: Avocado Sauce
Blistered Tomato Dressing
Charring fresh tomatoes deepens their acidic sweetness. When mixed with sherry vinegar and olive oil, they become the perfect summer dressing. Y.K.
Recipe: Blistered Tomato Dressing
Pyaz Ka Laccha
These floppy, lightly pickled onions are a traditional accompaniment to grilled and tandoor foods throughout India and the rest of South Asia. Seasoned with salt and brightened with lemon juice, this recipe, adapted from Madhur Jaffrey, uses a combination of sweet paprika and cayenne for an earthy, nuanced flavor. M.C.
Recipe: Pyaz Ka Laccha
Reminiscent of the wasabi-tinged soy sauce you might have with a California roll, this all-purpose salad dressing includes tart rice vinegar and nutty sesame oil. The wasabi paste adds moments of nose-clearing excitement and can be scaled down or up. E.K.
Recipe: Wasabi-Soy Vinaigrette
Mayonnaise may be one of the greatest condiments of all time. Here, it’s the tasty shortcut to rich dump-and-stir sauces.
Thousand Island Dressing
Stirring a little chile paste into an otherwise classic formula tones down the sweetness slightly and adds a very gentle bite. M.C.
Recipe: Thousand Island Dressing
Packed with crunchy, sharp zings of onion, pickle and savory capers, this sauce delivers boldness. Dill, parsley or a combination brings freshness. G.K.
Recipe: Tartar Sauce
Variations of fry sauce exist all over the world. This version is similar to the one found in Puerto Rico, where it is called mayokétchup. A garlicky all-purpose flavor enhancer, it is, as its name suggests, ideal for dipping crunchy fried things. E.K.
Recipe: Fry Sauce
Breakfast, brunch and dessert feel extra special with from-scratch sauces, even when served alongside bakery-bought goods and freezer-aisle ice cream. And nothing beats freshly whipped cream.
Run through with plump berries, this compote-meets-syrup mix gets a pair of natural sweeteners: fresh berries, which cook down with only lemon juice to concentrate their summery sweetness, and earthy maple syrup, which lends depth. G.K.
Recipe: Blueberry Syrup
A caramel sauce base is enlivened by ripe — or even slightly overripe — fruit, such as bananas, strawberries and stone fruit. This is an excellent way to add a deeper sweetness and a hint of the season to your favorite desserts. Y.K.
Recipe: Fruit Caramel
Whipping cream in the summertime, or in a hot kitchen, doesn’t require a background in thermodynamics. Still, there are tricks in this recipe essential to summer prep that might be otherwise skipped in colder seasons. Follow them for an airy, silky result. Y.K.
Recipe: Whipped Cream
This jewel-bright glaze has as many uses as a Swiss Army knife. With this recipe, you get two goodies in one: Besides the sauce, you end up with flavorful strained fruit. You can drizzle the sauce or ladle the fruit onto both desserts and savory dishes. E.K.
Recipe: Rhubarb Sauce
Produced by Krysten Chambrot, Kim Gougenheim, Rebecca Halleck and Tanya Sichynsky. Special thanks to Madeline Montoya and Paul Jean.