If you ever find yourself in Chicago’s South Side enjoying fried chicken (and you really should someday), I promise your food will be served with a generous cup of the most underrated and delicious condiment in the country: mild sauce. In Chicago, this heavenly elixir is as prevalent as giardiniera and unbridled optimism about Justin Fields. With a flavor somewhere between ketchup, barbecue sauce and hot sauce, the condiment is pure comfort.
Like most foods, the origin of mild sauce is anything but straightforward. While several places and individuals claim to have invented it, the culinary muse of the sauce is certainly a tomato-based Southern barbecue sauce. In the 1950s and 60s, restaurants like Harold’s Chicken Shack, Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken and Lem’s Bar-B-Q perfected and evangelized the wonders of the condiment. Additionally, because the founders of all three restaurants originally hail from the south, the ties between mild sauce and Southern barbecue sauce are even stronger.
While every spot has a slightly different recipe, one can assume the sauce was invented to spice things up, so homemade ketchups and hot sauces were combined into one tangy sauce to cut the richness of proteins like fried chicken. Via the name, one can also guess that mild sauce was a culinary changeup to hot sauce, as well as a precursor to Buffalo sauce, which was invented more than a decade later in 1964.
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The allure of mild sauce isn’t only in the flavor, but in the relationship it has with the community. Countless Chicago-based artists incorporate mild sauce and Harold’s into their work, most notably Lupe Fiasco, who literally wrote a tribute to the chicken and condiment in 2018. Its cultural impact and reach is perhaps more impressive than the flavor itself.
Today, an order of South Side chicken will likely look something like this: a slice of white bread, well done fries and shatteringly crisp fried chicken, all glazed in mild sauce. After extensive (and delicious) testing, this recipe is a fair approximation to the mild sauces found in Chicago.
Chicago Mild Sauce
Total Time: 5 mins
Servings: 2 cups
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
- 3 Tbsp. vinegar-based hot sauce
- 2 Tbsp. yellow mustard
Combine all ingredients and chill overnight for best results.
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