When you can’t find a copycat

Have you ever eaten something at a restaurant that compelled you to ask the chef for the recipe or sought it out on the internet after you returned home? This has happened to me on two occasions. The first time, the chef gladly gave me the (restaurant-sized) recipe for a fabulous pumpkin soup, so no sleuthing was required. The second one is, alas, not a success story. The restaurant was a tiny, rustic Mexican joint in a suburb of a small city. It had a menu completely different from other Mexican eateries in the area, and my favorite dish was a mélange of vegetables smothered in a spicy, creamy, cheesy sauce that somehow remained light on the palate.

Homemade Mexican crema from Mexican Please (Member indexed)

The chef-owner of that restaurant was not forthcoming with a recipe, not even a hint as to what gave the sauce its wonderful texture. Some chefs are reticent to share their secrets, so I did not press the issue. One day when my husband and I traveled to the restaurant for an evening meal, we found it shuttered. The restaurant never reopened and the chef vanished from the area. Rumors swirled in the community about health code violations and dead parrots (!) in the restaurant’s freezer. I never investigated those rumors, afraid that I would find out things I did not really want to know.

The one thing I did want to know was how to make that sauce. Scouring the internet for a copycat led to disappointment after disappointment as nothing similar seemed to exist. I had to start from scratch with only a taste memory to guide me. Since memories are not always accurate and fade over time, it proved difficult to find the correct combination of ingredients. Through a process of trial and error – mostly error – I got close but never quite nailed it. I eventually gave up and several years passed before something stirred the memory of that sauce. Now I can no longer recall the exact flavor and I’m flying blind, taste-wise, but I do have my almost-there recipe as a guide. The next time I discover a restaurant dish that wows me, I will try to recreate it as soon as I can to avoid repeating this scenario.

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  • Jenny  on  June 30, 2023

    The secret to the sauce….lies in the frozen parrots.

  • dmco6863  on  June 30, 2023

    Yes, parrot must be the missing ingredient.

  • darcie_b  on  June 30, 2023

    ^^This is why I didn’t dig too deeply into the story!! My theory about the sauce is that it was a commercial product that he didn’t want to admit to using. But I’ll never know.

  • matag  on  June 30, 2023

    Can I have your almost there recipe?

  • Jenny  on  June 30, 2023

    Darcie wanna a secret? You know like Polly want a cracker? I’m on fire and here all week, tip your wait staff.

  • love2laf  on  June 30, 2023

    Absolutely, tasted a sweet with heat dipping sauce, for sweet potatoes at a Jazz bar. I spent a year, and finally gave up. Then I was reading through a cookbook, and I found a recipe, and went *that’s* got to be close. It was the only recipe from the cookbook that appealed to me, so got it written down and sent the cookbook to live it’s best life with my sister.

  • Stringsandpots  on  June 30, 2023

    Hmmm, maybe try a jar of Herdez Queso Blanco, it might be the one! It’s light, a little runny, yet flavorful!

  • bittrette  on  July 19, 2023

    I have no desire to read this gruesome story, except that I hope the sauce isn’t dead-parrot sauce.
    But the time when I Ling most for a copycat recipe is when a food is discontinued. I imagine that thousands of home cooks are now looking for a recipe for chocolate-wafer refrigerator cake. I myself am looking for a knockoff of Campbell’s Healthy Request Golden Mushroom Soup.

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