Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the mothership of condiments

It never occurred to me to make homemade ketchup. That is until I tried the one from Ramos House in San Juan Capistrano. Chef and owner John Q’s recipe is a secret, but is for sale, I think he charges about $8.00 a bottle, which, admittedly I have purchased. But for the sole purpose of trying to figure out what he puts in it. His deliciously nuanced ketchup is spicy, sweet and slightly smoky. I have made a few attempts and think I’ve finally come up with a pretty darn good version of my own. It starts with only the best vine ripened tomatoes cooked with some fresh chilies, ginger, and honey and then simmered with a bundle of spices to round out the flavor. It gets finished off with some apple cider vinegar to give it that subtle tang that we all know and love.

Given in old-fashioned, hinged-topped, clear glass bottles, this everyday pantry product is even more special when made from the really beautiful tomatoes found in the farmers’ markets right now. What a great way to preserve summer throughout the dark winter months until they make their appearance again next year.


Homemade Spicy Ketchup
makes about 3cups

Olive oil
5 lbs. red ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 small fresh red chilies, sliced
3 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. yellow mustard seed
1 tsp. allspice, whole
1 tsp. coriander seed, whole
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Put the vegetables, parsley, garlic and salt in a large pot.

Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Pass the mixture through a food mill fitted with the fine disk and return the puree to the pot.

Put the bay leaves, mustard seeds, allspice, coriander, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and cloves on a square of cheesecloth, and then tie with kitchen twine to make a spice bag.

Add to the pot with the honey. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced by half, about 1 hour. Remove the spice bag and add the vinegar. Continue to simmer, stirring as needed to prevent sticking until the mixture reaches the desired thickness or about 3cups.

Fill a canning kettle with enough water to cover 2 hinged flask style jars or 3 half pint jars. Bring to a boil. Wash the jars with hot, soapy water; rinse well, and keep upside down on a clean dish towel until you are ready to fill them. Put 3 new lids (never reuse lids) in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water, if you’re using the half pint jars.

Using a ladle and a funnel, and transfer the ketchup to the jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Wipe rims clean with a damp paper towel. Top with the lids and secure tightly.

Place the jars on the preserving rack and lower it into the canning kettle. If the water doesn’t cover the jars, add boiling water from a tea kettle. Cover the canning kettle. After the water returns to a boil, boil for 15 minutes. With a jar lifter, transfer the jars to a rack and cool completely. Do not touch the jars again until they are completely cooled. If using the half pint jars you can confirm that a lid has sealed by pressing the center with your finger. If it gives, it has not sealed and the contents should be refrigerated and used within a week. Store sealed jars in a cool dark place for least two weeks before using. They will keep for up to 1 year before opening. Refrigerate after opening.

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