As part of the artisanal movement in Chicago restaurants, more and more chefs are making their own signature ketchups to grace their upscale menus. Some of the first restaurants to make the ketchup scene were Blueprint whose rich sauce is reminiscent of a Bloody Mary with the heat of horseradish and the crunch of finely diced celery and celery seed. Yoshi’s Café has a delicious ketchup creation with mango, and Kuma’s Corner ketchup has an Italian flair, spiced with puréed giardinera.
The list has begun to grow as star chef Marcus Samuelsson of C-House Restaurant in Streeterville soon joined the ranks. He makes ketchup that has a nice sweetness, just enough heat that comes from smoked Hungarian cherry peppers and a Middle Eastern spice blend called Za’atar. The acidity comes from a combination of rice wine and sherry vinegars.
The Bristol Restaurant plates its duck-fat fried potatoes with their house ketchup that the chef creates from Roma plum tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar. Their ketchup tastes the most like the traditional flavor that comes in a bottle, but has a richer deep red color and more unctuous to my palate. I tasted a bit of peppery heat and cinnamon but it was softly in the background.
Recently Chef Tony Mantuano of the Terzo Piano Restaurant in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago joined the group. His housemade ketchup made from tomatoes grown at McWethy Farms in Three Oaks Michigan. I thought that his house ketchup resembled a tomato sauce and was a bit bland without a bite from the vinegar or any sweetness that you would expect from homemade ketchup. I hope that the chef continues to work on his signature sauce, as the fries were superb.
These handcrafted extra touches add to the feel that you are cared for as a patron, that you are special enough that the chef went that extra mile in creating the perfect sauce for his dishes. Even if all you order is a side of fries, the secret sauces make them taste luxurious.
All these ketchup-tastings over the past few months have inspired me to try making my own housemade ketchup sans the corn syrup. I have poured over at least 2 dozen recipes, and tested five of them in the course of tomato season this summer.
The recipe that I finally choose to share is a combination of the basic ketchup recipe from the River Cottage Meat Book and my own additions and subtractions after testing these five recipes
With a few modifications, this was the easiest recipe and two it produces a rich, unctuous tomato flavor with a good balance of sour, spice, sweet and delicious umami.
Kitchen geek factoid #1: Umami is the protein-y, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, fish stock, aged cheese, soy sauce, mushrooms, seaweed, or cooked tomatoes. "Umami adds body," Gary Beauchamp, who heads the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, says. "If you add it to a soup, it makes the soup seem like it's thicker—it gives it sensory heft. It turns a soup from salt water into a food." When Heinz moved to ripe tomatoes and increased the percentage of tomato solids, he made ketchup, first and foremost, a potent source of umami.
The tomatoes I used were a combination my own home grown beauties supplemented with assorted heirlooms from Green Acres Farm in North Judson, Indiana that sell their beautiful produce at Chicago Green City Market.
The recipe that I adapted will follow later in the day.