At any time, more than fifty bottles and jars and tubes, fancy and oh-so-ordinary, jostle against each other in my refrigerator door.
I'm never, ever without ketchup. Not just because it is the only acceptable adornment for a perfect burger, but because there's so much more you can do with it.
Though ketchup as we know it has been around for 140 years -- thanks to the HJ Heinz Company who still makes my favorite brand -- it wasn't always red or tomato-based. In China, where it originated in the 17th Century, ketchup was a smelly, pickly, fishy-from-anchovies sauce called ket-siap. Only after it reached the New World did it meet up with tomatoes.
Did you ever wonder why all ketchup bottles used to have a long, thin neck that made it hard to extract the contents? In the days before manufacturers began to add shelf-life-enhancing ingredients, the narrow-neck bottle minimized contact with air, which could darken the sauce. Glass was an ideal container because it did not react with the acid in the tomatoes. The bottles were sealed with cork, dipped by hand into wax to prevent aeration, and topped with foil.
If you do buy ketchup in long-neck glass or recyclable plastic bottles -- and if your ketchup is nice and thick and not too watery -- there's a trick to getting the ketchup out without sticking a knife down into the neck.
Make a fist with your left hand. With your right hand, invert the bottle on an angle, and rap the lower part of the neck down onto your left fist (on my bottle, above, I hit the 36-ounce label on the neck). This applies the correct G-force to the viscous ketchup, which causes it to flow at 0.28 miles per hour.
Any faster, and the ketchup would be rejected for sale. Heinz is picky about their ketchup, and I guess I am, too.
Backyard barbecue sauce
This spicy slather has been my go-to for so long that I can no longer remember its source, and of course it changes just a bit each time I make it. My friend Bob made this batch when he fired up his smoker last week; he used brown sugar substitute instead of the real thing, and the sauce was deee-lishus! It does have quite a kick, so if you want a milder sauce, omit the jalapeno. Makes 4-5 cups; leftover can be frozen.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup minced onion
1/2 cup minced green pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely minced
Pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp minced garlic
28-oz can tomato sauce
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup prepared coffee
3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed, or sugar substitute
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped
Pour the oil into a large saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Toss in the onions, green peppers, and jalapeno, and give them a stir. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add all remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the sauce simmers for 10-15 minutes, or to desired consistency.
Pour sauce into a container, cover, and chill until ready to use, or let cool slightly at room temperature and use to baste chicken as it's cooking on the grill. Do not use hot barbecue sauce on cold or uncooked food.
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