Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Ketchup Confidential

When my sisters and I were a lot younger, we used to receive personalised foodstuffs in our Christmas stockings from Santa. My little sister always had a huge box of her favourite Crunchy Nut Cornflakes; until the mice under the stairs found where Santa hid all the presents. Apparently mice love Crunchy Nut Cornflakes too.

My food present in my stocking was for years, a huge bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup. (Once it was a large jar of pickled onions, all of which I ate before breakfast, washed down with some chocolate money. I wasn’t very well and Santa never did that again) But ketchup was my favourite and I will fully and openly admit, still is.

Isn’t it funny how food snobs get all sniffy about ketchup? I’ve been ‘sniffed’ at on more than one occasion by snobbish foodies as I generously pour ketchup onto dishes like cauliflower cheese, macaroni cheese or even lasagne. I will have more than a little panic if I’ve made some cheese on toast and have discovered there is nought but an airy red mist left at the bottom of a squeezy bottle. Cornish pasties are fantastic accompanied by some red sauce and there is simply no point in eating fish and chips or sausages if there is no ketchup.

It’s not just me. I know you’re out there too. And we have a ketchup history to be proud of, oh fellow ketchup lovers! There is good reason why 97% of American households have a bottle of ketchup and that ketchup sales in 1992 reached $723 million. 

In the 17th century a sauce made with pickled fish or shell fish and spices known as koe-chiap, kechiap or ke-tsiap, probably originating in Indonesian and Asian culture, became popular with Chinese traders. British explorers took it home and by the mid 18th century it had become a British staple.

Ketchup was then a very different substance to what we know today. It was a thin, brown sauce which probably tried to emulate the fermented fish sauces of the ke-tsiap origins; more like a Worcestershire sauce and had many and various recipes which included mushrooms and walnuts. Tomatoes weren’t added until New-Englanders in the 18th century started to include them in recipes and it wasn’t until another century later that it was sweetened. But that is why ketchup is sometimes still called Tomato Ketchup or Tomato Sauce.

Your brief ketchup history lesson over; nutritionally ketchup contains lycopene, an antioxidant that can help fight off some cancers and organic ketchup can contain up to 3 times the amount of lycopene. Although generally ketchup’s health benefits could possibly be the tiniest, teensiest bit offset by the high sugar and salt content.

But whatever! Ketchup is great and great even to cook with. One of my favourite ever recipes involving quite a lot of ketchup is a sticky-pork-ribs recipe, fantastic for barbeques and parties. The meat practically melts in your mouth if it hasn’t already fallen off the bone and the sauce is deep and rich and smoky and very, very addictive. I used to make these ribs in a restaurant I worked in as a chef when I lived in South Africa. Needless to say, I’ve changed the recipe a bit but the basics; a bottle of oyster sauce and a bottle of ketchup still rule the roost with this one. I used this recipe for the ribs of the wild boar I butchered over the winter in our crew house. I’m not sure how easy it is for you to get hold of wild boar but if you can then I suggest you do. If not then normal pork ribs are excellent too. Obviously outdoor reared, happy, English pigs are better than anything else for flavour.

So for the best sticky pork ribs you will need;
For the ribs and stock;
2 racks of pork ribs. (feeding about 5-6 people as finger food or 4 as a main meal)
1 pint of apple juice
1 onion, roughly chopped
5-6 cloves of garlic, smashed
6-10 whole black peppercorns
1 inch knob of ginger, roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped

For the sticky sauce you will need;
1 bottle of oyster sauce or 300ml
1 small bottle of ketchup or 200ml
Peel ginger with a teaspoon. Easy.
2 tbsp runny honey
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small onion or shallot, finely chopped
1 inch knob of ginger peeled and grated
1 tsp chinese 5 spice
½ tsp cinnamon
Grinding of black pepper


  • Begin by dividing the ribs into singular or double fingers with a sharp knife. Put into a very large saucepan or stock pan with all the other stock ingredients and cover with the pint of apple juice and top up with water to cover the ribs and stock ingredients well. (I didn’t have any apple juice so I cut up an apple instead and just used water which worked well)

  • Bring slowly to the boil and then let simmer for up to an hour.

  • Lift the ribs out of the stock using tongs and place in an oven dish. Pour the stock through a sieve into a large bowl and save a good ladleful for the sticky sauce. The rest can be frozen and saved for a soup or pork casserole.
  • To make the sauce, sauté the shallots or onion gently with the garlic and ginger. When they have softened and started to brown add the 5 Spice and cinnamon and let the aroma start to strengthen, about 2-3 minutes. Then add the oyster sauce and the ketchup, the honey and the saved ladleful or cupful of stock. Grind in some black pepper and stir well. Let this simmer gently for 5-10 minutes.

  • Heat the oven to about gas mark 4/160c. Cover the ribs generously with the sticky sauce and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place the oven dish on the middle shelf and cook for about 40 minutes to an hour, turning and basting the ribs frequently. The sauce should caramelise and reduce nicely. 
  • Either serve the ribs as they are or if you are barbequing, a light grilling over some charcoal, basting with extra sauce will help to make the ribs even stickier and smokier. Or you can use a griddle pan on a high heat to finish the ribs, again basting with any extra sauce if you have it.

  • Serve with many napkins and not over a white carpet. And don’t expect there to be any left-over’s.

Now that wasn’t an easy recipe to give away, or for that matter was it easy to go public with my love of ketchup. I’m not ashamed though. Food is a very personal matter, I’ve no one to impress and food snobs will probably already have pooh-poohed this blog quite some recipes back. Who needs them anyway?

We have one weekend left here in Barcelona. Then we set sail for Palma for our next classic yacht regatta. It is great here but I’m looking forward to moving on and racing our mighty Mariquita once again. We still have 5 regattas left to go; Palma, Mahon then Monaco, Cannes and St Tropez. Cool.

Thanks for reading. I hope your summer eating is full of fun and exciting seasonal grub and barbeques and parties!  And I’ll take a bet that at your barbeque a bottle of ketchup will make an appearance somewhere. I would if I were you for those folk like me who simply struggle to eat a sausage without sauce.

Cheers and see you soon!