Up until about the middle of January this year, it had never occurred to me that one could produce ketchup in any way other than, well, walking into the local Dominick’s and grabbing some.
Then Kelly of wonderful Eat Make Read posted her version of a recipe from Saveur. This, in addition to sending me promptly to the store to buy my own copy of the issue, which was dedicated to home cooks, got me curious.
Around that same time, my friend Kelley (different Kelley, she with an e and of banana bread fame) and I had started reading a book together. (All right, full disclosure, we actually ended up reading different books but by the same author, Jefferey Steingarten.) She was making fast headway in hers, but it took me a few months to reach even the middle of mine, where he would discuss, it turns out, the subject of ketchup, in great detail.
And that was not the end.
See, when I’d read Steingarten’s ketchup chapter last week, it was just a few days after I had also seen, over at Endless Simmer, a post by my blogging friend Nick of Macheesmo. He wrote, if you can believe it, an entire post in defense of—what else?—ketchup.
Now, I don’t know what your feelings are on this thing we call fate (or as some like me might say, providence or even sovereignty). Probably these are questions best considered when one watches last week’s episode of LOST, I know, but, honestly: How can you look at those top three references—all of which took place within the same two-and-a-half-month span and after a lifetime of no such thing—and not see what I see: I was meant to make ketchup.
Making your own ketchup is simple, even fun. Here is what you do: gather ingredients, put them in a pot, cook them until they’re soft and limp and ready to be pureed, the warm scents of cinnamon and cloves wafting through your kitchen; remove the cheesecloth bundle and pour the mixture into the blender or, better, use a stick blender, and get it all liquefied; run the entire mix through a strainer; cook some more. Done.
As you might guess, ketchup is made mostly from tomatoes—a lot of tomatoes. [To give you a sense of the reduction, my twenty Roma tomatoes resulted in half a mason jar of ketchup.] All the other ingredients, which vary from recipe to recipe, act as accents. They are there to add flavor and texture and, hopefully, to complement the fresh taste of the leading player. In fact, in Steingarten’s study, in which he taste-tested more than 20 different varieties, if I’m remembering right, the best ketchups were the ones that celebrated the tomato, rather than hiding it.
Admittedly, unlike Steingarten, the extent of my ketchup consumption has ranged from Heinz to generic brands to whatever was offered in those plastic red bottles at the dining hall in college. However, as a girl who’s been eating mass-produced ketchup since she was old enough to hold a French fry, I can tell you this: my homemade version was sweeter, tangier, with a hint of clove and a bit of spice.
It’s different, and you’ll notice that, but it’s good, and you’ll notice that, too. And when summertime comes, bringing with it baskets of harvested tomatoes, I know exactly what I’ll be doing with them.
Adapted from Saveur
In terms of deviation from the original recipe, my changes were strictly based on what I had/could find available. I used celery flakes instead of seeds, for example, and ground allspice instead of whole. Because this is a homemade version, I think there’s room for fiddling with the portion sizes in the future if I wanted to make it sweeter or spicier or so on.
Also, note that this recipe does require one special tool, a cheesecloth. You might already have one laying around, but I didn’t. Thus another discovery was made: the grocery store sells cheesecloths, right in my baking aisle, across from the spices and nuts. In a pinch, though, you might try using a cloth.
4 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
1?4 teaspoon celery flakes
1?4 teaspoon chile flakes
1?4 teaspoon ground allspice*
2 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 1?2 teaspoons kosher salt
1?2 cup white vinegar
5 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 clove garlic
Wrap cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, celery flakes and chile flakes in a layer of cheesecloth; tie into a bundle and put into a 3.5-quart saucepan over medium-high heat along with tomatoes, salt, vinegar, sugar, onion, allspice and jalapeno; smash and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until onions and chiles are very soft, 40 minutes.
Remove spice bundle; purée sauce in a blender (or with a stick blender, which is what I did) until smooth. Strain sauce through a mesh strainer into the 3.5-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Add more salt, sugar or vinegar, if you like.
Transfer ketchup to a glass jar. Set aside; let cool. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
*If you use whole allspice, it should be placed with the cinnamon and other ingredients inside the tied cheesecloth.