Can you make spaghetti sauce? Then you can make ketchup! Really! And it’ll be better than the stuff you buy! Really! We think the Heinz Company has a lot of explaining to do, as this, perhaps one of the most popular condiments, is also super simple to make right in your home kitchen. How in the world did they fool us?
Truth to tell, we don’t buy ketchup; we really don’t like the sweet glop they sell in the plastic squeeze bottle, as it doesn’t taste like much of anything. Occasionally, one of us will use some when we’re eating out, but mainly to add some moisture to a dry burger or fry. Not because it tastes good — any other condiment would be better — but, simply because it’s moist.
Ketchup made at home seems more appropriate for Scratchers, so we thought that we’d try a batch to go along with some Oven Fries we were having for dinner. So, we did what anyone in our shoes would do; we hit the books. Specifically, The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker; we knew there’d be a recipe for ketchup in JoC. Of course, we had to scale it down to size from a peck of tomatoes (8 quarts), but that’s not hard, so in a few minutes, we had ketchup simmering.
Whoa! That’s a long list of spices, isn’t it? Well, if you happen to have it on hand, that list is essentially what’s in pickling spice. For some of our spices (the allspice berries), we just picked around in our container of pickling spice and fished out what we needed. If you don’t have everything, that’s okay, too. Your ketchup might not have as complex a flavor, but we bet it’ll still be good. The three things that are really important are: the tomatoes, obviously, the sweetener (brown sugar and molasses — you could substitute more brown sugar for the molasses), and the vinegar. Basically, you’re making a sweet and sour tomato sauce. That’s it.
Procedure in detail:
Crush and cook tomatoes. We buy whole San Marzano tomatoes, as we think they taste better, but they do have the downside of the occasionally tough core. Simply empty the can into a saucepan, get in there with your hands, and lightly crush the tomatoes, picking out those tough cores (as a tip, the cores can be used to help make vegetable stock). Once crushed, add the onions and bring to a low boil over medium heat.
Make spice sachet. If you have one, as we have, you can simply use a fine mesh tea infuser; otherwise, a small piece of clean butter muslin or cheesecloth will work. Place the spices (allspice, cloves, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, celery seeds, bay leaf, mustard seeds, and garlic) in the infuser or the middle of your cheesecloth and tie the cheesecloth closed with a short string.
Add spices and brown sugar. Add the sachet, brown sugar, nutmeg, and red pepper flake to the tomatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Simmer. Cook the ketchup at a simmer, stirring every few minutes to prevent sticking and burning, until reduce by about half, 30 to 40 minutes. The more you reduce the tomatoes, the thicker and more flavorful the ketchup.
Add vinegar and simmer. Add vinegar, stir, and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the spice sachet and discard.
Blend and adjust. Transfer the ketchup to a blender, add about a teaspoon of molasses, and blend smooth. Taste and add more molasses and kosher salt as needed.
That’s it. See how easy it is to make ketchup? It tastes much better than the bland, corn syrupy stuff that you find on store shelves. And, after you make it, you can customize the next batch. Perhaps you want a spicier ketchup: add more pepper flakes. More tart: add more vinegar. Thinner so it pours easily: simmer less. Change it around and you’ll have your own special version of this ubiquitous condiment. Four stars, not because it’s difficult, but because you do need to have quite a few spices on hand.