My objective with this homemade ketchup recipe was to use neither exotic ingredients nor flavorings but to achieve the perfectly smooth, thick texture of Heinz or Hunt’s while preserving more of the fresh tomato taste than they do, drawing as much sweetness and acidity as possible from the tomato itself rather than from added sugar and vinegar. But I certainly did not want the final product to taste too fresh or natural to be real ketchup. The more you cook tomatoes to evaporate their water, the more you damage their fresh flavor and color. My solution is a technique sometimes used in making jam—separately reducing the tomato liquid to a thick syrup before adding it back to the pulp for a brief final simmer. This ketchup is easy to make, and delicious.–Jeffrey Steingarten
LC No Food Mill? No Problem! Note
LC recipe tester and ketchup aficionado Brenda Carleton has canned countless incarnations of this condiment and not once has she bothered to invest in a food mill. Why would she when she has a trusty potato ricer on hand? (For those unfamiliar with a food mill, it’s a boon to home cooks obsessed with tomatoes because of its ability to remove seeds and skins from a thick purée.) Carleton isn’t keeping track, but she’s on her 50th or so batch of ketchup made in ricer fashion, with no complaints. Uh, almost no complaints. She did mention that the ricer is messy, though she notes, “but then, a food mill would also be messy.”
No potato ricer? No problem there, either. Another LC recipe-testing aficionado, Lori Widmeyer, has made ketchup a time or three and usually marks an “X” on the bottom of each tomato, blanches them, and immediately plunges them in cold water to loosen the skins so they come off easily. Then she cuts up the tomatoes to remove any seeds and excess liquid and drains them in a colander. (Those times she hasn’t drained the tomatoes, albeit against her better judgment, the resulting ketchup always seemed a tad too watery, she says.)
Whatever your method of madness, it’s worth the spectacularly summery, subtly spiced smack of this fire-engine-red condiment. One taste will tell you why you ought to make your own ketchup. (Hint: The answer is, quite simply, because you can.)
Special Equipment: Food mill or potato ricer
Homemade Ketchup Recipe
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes | Total Time: 2 hours, not including cooling | Makes 3 to 4 pints
- 10 pounds very ripe red tomatoes, preferably beefsteak, cored and roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup white vinegar (for a mild taste) or cider vinegar (for a fruity tang)
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 heaping teaspoon allspice berries
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8 whole cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more to taste
- 1. Place the tomatoes in a heavy, wide, nonreactive pan of at least an 8-quart capacity. Cover, place the pan over high heat, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so, until the tomato chunks give off their juice and everything comes to a boil.
- 2. Working in batches, pour the tomato chunks and juice into a large, medium-fine strainer placed over a 3- or 4-quart saucepan. Gently press and stir the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon so that all of the thin liquid but none of the tomato pulp goes into the saucepan. You should have about 2 quarts of liquid. Reserve the tomato pulp.
- 3. To the tomato liquid in the saucepan add the garlic, onion, vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, ginger, and salt. Cook over moderately high heat until the liquid is thick and syrupy and reduced to about 2 cups. This could take anywhere from half an hour to an hour, depending on the type of tomato used. [Editor's Note: Some tomatoes, such as beefsteaks, are more pulpy and mealy, whereas other tomatoes, like Romas, are more juicy. This will affect the final yield of juice and requires a slight adjustment in the total simmering time.]
- 4. Meanwhile, transfer the tomato pulp to a food mill fitted with the finest screen to eliminate the seeds and skin. You should have about 1 quart of strained pulp. Transfer the strained pulp back to the first pan and reserve the tomato solids that you strained from the tomato pulp.
- 5. Strain the thick, syrupy, reduced tomato liquid into the tomato pulp, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid. Stir in the sugar and gently simmer over medium-low or low heat, stirring frequently, until the ketchup is reduced by 1/3, about 15 minutes. Taste it occasionally, adding more sugar if desired. You should have about a quart of tomato goo. If the authentic texture of commercial ketchup is desired, purée this ketchup in a blender or food processor. [Editor's Note: If it still seems a little runny, stir in a little of the reserved solids strained from the tomato pulp.] Let it cool to room temperature, then transfer it to glass jars or other containers with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate for up to several weeks.
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Homemade Ketchup Recipe © 1998 Jeffrey Steingarten. Photo © 2011 BigStock. All rights reserved.