It’s easy to take ketchup for granted. But once our all-American burger and fries arrive, if we don’t have ketchup, we have a problem.
Of course, there are other uses for the condiment, many of which are hacks and secret family recipes where a little ketchup here or there goes a long way in beef stew, borscht, bloody marys and beyond. Ultimately, ketchup is a low-fuss steak sauce for people who take their meat in burger or dog form.
That same thick, tangy sweetness makes it a great dipping sauce for people’s preferred deep-fried potatoes. Former President Ronald Reagan once called ketchup a vegetable during a fight over school budgets. Thankfully, that didn’t fly, although he did have a point. My homemade ketchup is absolutely a vegetable.
Heinz is better than all the other commercial brands, but homemade ketchup is much better than Heinz. And this time of year, when tomatoes are overflowing, a batch of ketchup is a good allocation of this resource. The homemade version explodes with flavor, and when I compare mine to Heinz side-by-side, I make a bitter face and call the store-bought version “cardboard” in an angry French accent.
For my first batch of ketchup, I followed a recipe in the classic “Stocking Up” food preservation manual. Until then, I never thought about the delicate layers of flavor it delivers. Sweet and sour are the dominant flavors, but the condiment has many more. A touch of spice, a touch of umami from the tomatoes, a hint of bitterness from the garlic and paprika and aromatic spices like clove and cinnamon. Since then, I have made the recipe my own. The concept is flexible. Taste and tweak as you go. If you follow my recipe, you’ll end up with a sauce so thick and meaty you won’t even need a burger.
Each fall, when it comes time for my tomato processing push, I make a batch of ketchup alongside my pizza and pasta sauces. If I have the time, I’ll start by halving the tomatoes and broiling them cut-side down on cookie sheets until the skins blacken. I let them cool, then pluck off the stiff skins before whizzing them in the blender.
You don’t need to go that far, but you do have to get the seeds out, which means filtering the blended tomatoes. I use a mesh strainer and a rubber spatula to smear it through. My kids, impressed with the smoothness of my ketchup, now demand that all my red sauces be equally as smooth. But none are as quietly complex as my humble pot of ketchup.
The most tangy and flavorful ketchup you’ll ever try.
Makes 2 cups
Place the tomatoes in a food processor and liquify until smooth. (Or, if you already have some tomatoes cooking for another project, dip into those. I like to broil my tomatoes to get the peels off first, but that’s optional.)
Push the blended tomatoes through a food sieve or food mill to remove the seeds and any other solids. I use a fine mesh strainer and a rubber spatula.
Pour the strained mixture into a pot. Bring to a simmer.
In a separate pot, combine the vinegar, sugar and seasonings. Bring it to a simmer, then add it to the tomatoes.
Simmer the ketchup, stirring often, until it thickens to a ketchup-like consistency. When you drop a spoonful on a clean plate, it should not have a ring of reddish water around it. Lower the heat as it thickens. Once the water is gone, stop cooking. It will thicken further as it cools.
Your ketchup will last for months in the freezer — and almost as long in the fridge — after you open it, thanks to the sugar and acid, both of which are preservatives. If you’re canning your ketchup for the pantry, follow these steps:
Prepare clean, sterile canning jars and lids.
Ladle the homemade ketchup into the prepared jars, leaving some headspace. Seal the jars with lids.
Process the sealed jars in a water bath for 10 minutes to ensure proper preservation.
Allow the jars to cool and check for proper sealing. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use them within a few weeks. Properly sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for an extended period.
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