I don’t know about you, but I’m so (like, so so so so) happy that summer’s coming. This winter was a long, snow-filled one in New England, and everyone I know is happy to see the thermometer finally rising a little.
Which brings me to thoughts of summer plans. Which brings me to barbecues and picnics. Which brings me to (you guessed it) all those homemade goodies you can pack into a picnic basket.
Now, when it comes to condiments, if they sell it in a store, chances are that I’m going to try to make my own version at home. If you have a blender (or food processor) and a stove, it’s easy as pie to make your own ketchup.
This ketchup comes from Saveur. It’s a great base recipe that you can customize to suit your tastes. You can also make it thicker or thinner by adjusting the cooking time up or down.
This is definitely ten steps up from most bottled ketchups, which tend to be laden with sugar and corn syrup.
This ketchup is fragrant with ground clove and ginger, and gets the tiniest bit of sweetness from a few spoonfuls of brown sugar. Half a fresh jalapeno adds just a little heat.
A brief history of ketchup
Ketchup finds its origins in the ancient Chinese sauce ke-tsiap, a spiced, pickled fish sauce that was probably more akin to a soy sauce than the thick tomato-y sauce we know and love today. It became kechap in Malaysia, and ketjap in Indonesia.
English sailors brought it west in the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth century, tomatoes found their way into the brew.
In 1876, Heinz started to bottle it and distribute it to the masses. The rest, you could say, is history.
A note about ingredients
For the mustard powder, I like Colman’s mustard. You can find it in the spice aisle of most major grocery stores in the U.S.
For the cider vinegar, I used Bragg’s, which I always have in the kitchen. Love the flavor. It’s also one of those folksy elixirs that’s reputed to help keep you full of life. Read more about its health benefits here (note that cooking will probably kill some of them).
The dreaded “pinch”
OK, so the spice measurements in this recipe are all in “pinches,” which I know frustrates some people.
I think the idea is to give you a good guideline for which spices to use, and let you decide how much of what you want to add. Add more or less of the ones you like/dislike. (For example, we love clove at The Mouse House, so I added a little extra ground cloves.)
If you’re not sure what to do, just add equal pinches of each.
For you scientific types out there, a pinch is generally considered to be a little less than 1/8 of a teaspoon.
What are San Marzano tomatoes?
This recipe calls for one 28-oz. can of tomato puree. Use the best tomato puree you can find. If you grow & can your own, use that. It will be even better.
I used San Marzano tomatoes, a variety that’s widely considered to be one of the best for sauce. San Marzanos are pointier and thinner than traditional plum tomatoes. They’re also slightly less acidic, with thicker flesh and fewer seeds.
The puree is really silky, a little sweet, and very, very tomato-y.
A can is going to run you more than the average tomato puree, but I think it’s well worth the extra buck. If you can find them on sale, grab a few and stash them away.
That said, use the tomato puree you like best. I usually use Pastene, which would be really good, too.
Don’t forget the mustard…
If you want to deck out your table with matched homemade condiments, try the Guinness Mustard I made a while back. It’d go really well with this ketchup.
The short version of the recipe goes like this
Grab all your fresh ingredients. Toss them into your blender with the tomato puree. Blend. Transfer to a pot. Add the spices and simmer over medium heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Cool and bottle.
Here’s what that looks like, step-by-step.
1 28-oz. can tomato puree
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
1/2 fresh jalapeño, stemmed and seeded
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
Pinch celery salt
Pinch dry mustard
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper
Yields about 4 cups of ketchup (that’s about 3 1/2 pint jars)
Blend up the tomato base
Grab your jalapeno. If you’re super sensitive to spicy stuff, use rubber gloves when you handle the little guy.
Whack him in half and nip off the stem.
Slice out the ribs and seeds (where most of the heat is).
This is what you’ll wind up using.
Peel your garlic clove. A fast, easy way to do this is to lay your knife blade down on top of the garlic clove…
…then carefully press down on your knife really hard. You’ll smoosh the meat of the garlic, and you’ll almost always be able to pull the wrapper off in one or two large pieces.
Peel your onion, then cut it into about 8 pieces. Basically, you want to chunk it up so it’s easier for your blender to deal with.
Toss the tomato puree in your blender or food processor.
Toss in the jalapeno, garlic, onion, and brown sugar.
Cap your blender and puree for about a minute, until it’s smooth.
Now that you’ve liquified the solids, it’s time to add the liquids. Toss in the cider vinegar…
…and the water.
Puree until the mixture is uniform.
It will be a little on the thin side, but it’s going to reduce as it cooks, so that’s just fine.
Cook the ketchup
(Say that 10 times fast, eh?) Transfer the contents of your blender into a medium-sized heavy bottomed pot. I used my 4-quart copper pot.
Toss in the spices. (See my note above about “pinches” as a measurement.)
Whisk to incorporate. Give it a quick taste to check the seasoning. If you think it needs more spices, add them. (Remember though: Flavors intensify as sauce reduces.)
Set the pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally.
When the mixture starts to boil, knock the heat down to about medium. Basically, you want the sauce to just hold a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 45 – 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When is it done?
That, to me, is a loaded question. At least where matters of tomato-y sauces are concerned. It comes down to how you like your ketchup…on the thinner side, on the thicker side, or somewhere in between.
How to test your ketchup
To test what your ketchup will be like when it’s chilled, stick a small plate in the freezer for about 15 minutes. (This will be familiar to all you jam makers out there.)
When you think your ketchup is done, put about a teaspoon on the cold plate. Stick it back in the freezer until the ketchup is cold. Then, taste it and see if you’re happy. The consistency of the ketchup on your plate represents about how the entire pot would be once it’s chilled.
If you like it, take the pot off the heat. If you want it thicker, simmer it for another 5-10 minutes, then do the cold plate test again.
When you’re happy with your ketchup, take it off the stove.
Season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Cool it to room temp on the counter, then bottle and refrigerate.
Bottle & enjoy!
My finished ketchup was kind of a medium thickness. Thinner than Heinz. Thick enough to slather on a burger or hot dog. It was the consistency of a thick, fresh tomato sauce (hey, go figure, right?).
I packed mine up in a few pint jars. One for our house, two for friends.
Keeps well in the fridge for about a month. Happy picnicking!