Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Quoting yourself isn't plagiarism, is it?

Prompted by Barry Fife's comment on the burger post from back in August, in which he cites condiments as Americana, I thought it might be fitting to dredge up this tidbit from Queenie 1.0, my 2005 newsletter and precursor to this blog.

My first edition was about ketchup, its history and how to use it in your kitchen (other than putting it on a burger, of course). Perhaps this is a bit lazy of me, but what the heck - there are recipes, too.

Queenie Catches on to Ketchup

Ah, ketchup. This thick, tomato-based sauce, so often considered quintessentially American (perhaps as a result of President Reagan’s effort to classify it as a vegetable for school lunches) is making a comeback. Gourmet ketchup lines the shelves in many a New York and middle-American grocery store, and in the past year alone, stories and recipes featuring ketchup have appeared in Gourmet, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Guardian. (Andrew F. Smith, widely regarded as America’s leading expert on the history of the tomato, even wrote ketchup its own book back in 2001.) Somewhat anachronistically, many of those recipes do not focus on ketchup as an accompaniment to a dish, but as a key component in a larger sauce. Bending our traditional notions of ketchup even further, these recipes have an Asian flair.

Feeling skeptical? So was I. It had never occurred to me to use that big old bottle of Heinz sitting in my fridge to grace anything beyond the occasional hot dog, or to do more than augment the measly two packets of ketchup the corner diner delivers with my craving-induced order of fries. But think about it – ketchup is a far more complex sauce than we give it credit for.

A culinary descendant of the infamous Roman condiment garum and a cousin to modern Asian fish sauces (both of which are essentially made by brining fish bits and draining the brine off to use as a sauce – yum), ketchup is a now-outdated way to preserve tomatoes. (So maybe Reagan didn’t have it so wrong after all.) When fresh produce became more widely available in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, ketchup bottlers had to come up with a way to keep their product (then still more a chutney than a sauce) in the marketplace. So they pureed the tomatoes and added more sugar, vinegar, and spices (including cinnamon and cayenne pepper), resulting in a concoction that slides back and forth in flavor from spicy to sour to sweet. They also created a best-selling staple of the American pantry, and one that gives an unexpected depth of flavor to various dishes, particularly when cooked (rather than, say, mixed into a salad dressing).

Some people enjoy ketchup so much that they dip anything they can find in it, including chocolate chip cookies (I have witnessed this first-hand.). I wouldn’t recommend that pairing, but I think you might enjoy these recipes, some of my favorite to incorporate ketchup as a primary ingredient. In honor of ketchup’s eastern origins (the modern version of ketchup comes to us from China, via Indonesia), I have created the menu below. I haven’t yet come up with a dessert recipe incorporating the stuff (unless you decide to go in for that whole dipping thing), but I think the lightly sweet, Asian-influenced roasted pears are a lovely counterpoint to the garlicky flavors of the meal.

Manchurian Chicken
Adapted from The Minimalist

¾ lb. boneless chicken (white or dark meat), cut into ½ inch chunks
1/3 cup flour
2 tbs. vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves slivered garlic
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
½ cup ketchup
Steamed rice (accompaniment)

Toss the chicken with the flour so that it is lightly dusted, and set aside in a bowl; discard remaining flour. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 9- or 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking. Add chicken to the pan in one layer and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.

When chicken has turned golden brown on one side, toss chicken and cook until just about done – this will probably take about 4-8 minutes total, depending on the personality of your skillet and your stove. Remove the chicken to a bowl to rest while you prepare the sauce.

Reduce heat under the skillet to medium-high and add the second tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add garlic and cayenne and cook until garlic turns just slightly darker than golden brown (this should take about 2 minutes). Add ketchup to the pan and cook until the mixture bubbles, darkens, and slightly thickens (about 2-3 minutes more).

Return the chicken (and any accumulated juices from the bottom of the bowl) to the pan and cook for another minute or two. Taste and adjust seasonings before serving with the steamed rice.

Serves 2.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin