There are some foods that we self-professed gourmands try as often as possible to prepare from scratch. We shake our head and pooh-pooh store-bought pasta sauces. Canned soups are verboten from our pantries. We cry foul whenever friends try to serve us pizza baked on premade bases. Pasta must be made by hand. So too must our bread be, kneaded or not. Our fries have to be hand-cut, never frozen. And we take great pride in pointing out that the confit de canard we’re serving is home-made and most definitely not from any can.
But then, there are some other foods that we simply accept for what they are. Despite our new-found (and occasionally pretentious) predelictions against store-bought products, we never even think about making these things from scratch.
Like ketchup for example. I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been pretty happy eating Heinz for most of my life. It’s one of our kitchen staples. There’s always an open bottle in the fridge and often a sealed one in the pantry (running out midway through a burger is simply a no-no). Unfortunately, most other ketchups just don’t measure up to the “thick, rich one”. Most are either too watery and simply unsavory. One of the rare exceptions is a
Swiss German ketchup that S found in a gourmet store. It was nice, with a sharp and almost curry-like taste.
Recently, S and I have been helping some friends develop ideas for a new restaurant here in Singapore. One of the things that came up in conversation while we were brainstorming food concepts was the idea of serving homemade ketchup. S remembered that Heston Blumenthal, one of our food heroes, had included a recipe in his fantastic book Family Food.
The more I thought about it, the idea of making (and eating) ketchup without any artificial ingredients and preservatives was really appealing.
Heston’s recipe calls for 5kg of ripe tomatoes, which yields approximately 500ml of ketchup. Truth be told, I looked at these numbers for quite a while before finally deciding to actually try making it. 5 kilos of tomatoes is one heck of a lot of tomatoes. And to only get 500ml of ketchup seemed like a whole lot for a whole little, both in terms of quantity and in terms of costs of ingredients. But, I rationalized, if it tasted great, better in fact than any other ketchup that I’d ever had, it would be worth it.
Making the ketchup was easy. But it did take several hours, so be sure to set aside enough time. I suggest using the recipe (reprinted below) as a general guideline. I honestly eyeballed almost all of the ingredients (save the quantity of tomatoes that is), slightly increasing and decreasing some to suit my taste.
The resulting ketchup was delicious. Nothing at all like Heinz, but still gorgeously sweet and savory. The combination of ingredients — especially the mustard, cloves, five-spice, ginger and cayenne — gave the ketchup a spicy complexity. One friend who tasted it said it was more like a thick, slightly sweet salsa than a ketchup. Another said it tasted like ketchup, but one that had a real distinct richness. S liked that it really tasted of tomatoes and not artificial thickeners. It worked beautifully with some fries (home-made of course) and a nice bottle of bubbly (hey, a boy’s gotta celebrate these little culinary achievements). I simply can’t wait to spread some on a burger later this weekend.
(Picture note: The fries and ketchup are displayed in a “Nuevo Doble Bowl”, a beautiful disposable plastic bowl from Tast. S and I first saw Tast products at a World Gourmet Festival event in Bangkok a few years ago and fell in love with them. Until recently though, we had no idea where to get these gorgeous Spanish disposable catering tools. We’ve just discovered that you can now get Tast products in Singapore through Ruiter Far East. We think they look great and our friends have been totally wowed by these cute and sexy little plastic bowls.)
From Family Food by Heston Blumenthal
Makes approximately 500ml
5kg very ripe best-quality tomatoes
200g onions, chopped
4 cloves of confit garlic or 2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 coffeespoons salt
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice
A good pinch of ground ginger
A pinch of cayenne pepper
6½ soupspoons icing sugar
Core and halve the tomatoes, then roughly chop them and put them into a casserole. Cover with a cartouche (a circle of parchment paper that covers the top of the braising liquid in the pan) and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
Pass the tomatoes through a fine-meshed sieve into another casserole, and add all the other ingredients except the icing sugar. Simmer until the mixture is reduced by approximately half and begins to thicken.
Push the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve again, return it to the casserole, and add the icing sugar. Put the casserole back on the heat. Whisking regularly so that the ketchup does not catch and burn, bring to a simmer and cook until the desired thickness and flavour achieved.
Pour the mixture into a sterilised preserving jar, seal, and stand the jar in simmering water for 40 minutes. The ketchup will then keep for several months.