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Always Use a Condiment

Cooks Are Doing It for Themselves

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Homemade ketchup - PETER BARRETT
  • Peter Barrett
  • Homemade ketchup

Cut the Mustard

Making mustard is as simple as obtaining mustard seeds, whole or ground, or both, and adding vinegar, salt, and any other flavors you might desire. Use equal volumes of mustard seeds (white are milder than brown), vinegar, or wine (or substitute water for wine). Let it sit for a couple of days and then blend it as smooth as you like. Reserve some whole soaked seeds and add them at the end for a country-style look. If you want it extra-hot use some powdered mustard as well and adjust the moisture accordingly. Add some turmeric if you like it yellow. Horseradish is grand too. Honey, garlic, herb pestos, fresh fruit, booze—there's no limit to the tweaks you can make, especially when you begin with flavored vinegar.

With Natural Mellowing Agents

If you can tomatoes every fall, you're already halfway to ketchup. Purée the tomatoes, add a sweetener (honey or maple syrup to keep it local) and a few flavors, and you're in business. Ketchup originated in Malaysia, via China—Kecap Manis is a sweet Malaysian soy sauce—where it often includes fermented fish sauce. Adding fish sauce, or Worcestershire, or even just a few anchovies, makes a big, umami-boosting difference to the result. Try this: For every quart of purée, add about a cup of chopped onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a cup of brown sugar or maple syrup, a cup of vinegar, a couple big spoons of mustard, a few dashes of fish sauce, a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, a half teaspoon of ground allspice, and a few cloves. Cook it all for a few hours, low and slow, checking for thickness, then blend it smooth and put it in a jar or bottle in the fridge when it's cool. A little molasses can also be a great addition, as can some tamarind paste.

Then taste it again. Good? Needs something? Tinker with it. For extra credit, add a few spoonfuls of yogurt whey—you already make yogurt of course—and let it ferment for a few days at room temperature (top it with a bit more whey to protect it from the air). Voilà! Lacto-fermented ketchup that's miles better than anything in the store. Try adding a little cinnamon, or ginger, or curry powder. Try roasted peppers, or smoked ones, hot or sweet. A little saffron might amaze you. Try a basic version, then mess with it depending on what you're using it for; saffron and roasted peppers will give it a Spanish slant. Ginger, hot peppers, and extra fish sauce (plus some soy) will tilt it back toward its Asian roots.

If you make a roasted-garlic-saffron-sherry-vinegar aioli, then blend that with smoked red pepper ketchup, you've got an insanely great Spanish-tinged Russian dressing (if that makes sense) for seafood, roast pork sandwiches, or tossing with roasted potatoes. Use preserved lemon and cumin in the mayo and harissa in the ketchup and you're on your way to the best lamb sandwich or falafel you've ever eaten. Take your ketchup, increase the sweet, the vinegar, and the spice, and you're getting into barbecue sauce territory. I like to use tamarind paste, soy sauce, and coffee in mine, as well as plenty of mustard. There are worse ways to spend a warm afternoon than tinkering with your sauce mixture, using the thinner early state to mop whatever's smoking on the grill as the rest reduces to a dark, sticky irresistibility.

Take Control

Space does not permit exhaustive recipes here, and they're beside the point. The goal is to inspire you to take control of your ingredients farther up the supply chain than you currently do. It's the key to great cooking; when you can cant a condiment toward a particular profile, you can customize the flavors in your food to the fullest possible extent and feature local produce at every level. Beyond the frugality and DIY satisfaction, making your own condiments helps you realize how everything we think of as fixed is actually mutable, subject to our own tastes and preferences and the ingredients we have on hand. People pay serious money for clothes that are tailor made, but you can get bespoke food for next to nothing.

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