Monday, September 14, 2009

Flexibility, Serendipity...

A couple days ago, my father sent me a box of goodies from his garden, which is almost entirely hot peppers and experimental sugars. I got some sugar beets, stevia, and a hilarious variety of sugar cane which looks exactly like marijuana and will get me arrested if I try to mail it again. I also got an assortment of hot peppers, including a lovely bright orange habanero and a couple other varieties I didn't know before. I promised to make chile chutney and send some back; Jamie Oliver's got a great recipe for chile chutney and I wanted to try it.

I collected a few ancho chiles from my own garden, which has been prolific in other departments but disappointing in the chile department due to our cool wet weather here. And then I began a day which felt like an "I Love Lucy" episode, but which turned out to create one of those delightful little kitchen accidents that result in something better than what I was going for in the first place.

Step one was light the grill to roast the peppers. Cook's Confession: I totally fail at charcoal grills. I love the flavor, but I was just never taught the fine art of charcoal grilling; I think it's a guy thing. Keith wasn't home so I gave it my best shot, but half a bottle of lighter fluid, one singed eyebrow, and a pile of dead coals from a gust of wind later, I gave up and retreated inside. I roasted my hot peppers in my cast-iron skillet on the stovetop.

I still intended chile chutney, but I can never follow a recipe exactly; I have to mess with everything. On this occasion I remembered some tomatoes from my garden that were peaking. I skinned them, threw them in the food processor with the chiles, and got... liquid. Right. Because tomatoes are juicy, especially when they've just been blanched and skinned. Derrr.

By this point I was already caramelizing onions with rosemary, cinnamon, smoked salt, and pepper. I poured in the tomato-chile liquid, along with the balsamic vinegar called for in the chile chutney recipe, and some honey. As it came to a boil I looked at it and realized it would never be chutney. It might, however, be a decent ketchup.

I tasted it. Yes, a pleasantly spicy, slightly sweet balsamic ketchup! I simmered it for awhile, occasionally adding things - too spicy, so a bit of cider vinegar; too bland, so a sprinkling of garlic and paprika and some more cinnamon; not as spicy as it was, so a squirt of sriracha. Finally I got it all balanced, then realized if I made ketchup out of this thin liquid, I might have four ounces of it by the time it cooked down. I wanted enough for me and dad to each have a jar, at least. So then I had another idea - what about jam? After all, the tomato-chile jam was good. So I stirred in a half a packet of pectin and yanked up the heat, boiled the hell out of it for a minute, and canned it.

I got two 8-oz jelly jars full. Once they were cool I checked it out. Basically, I have BBQ sauce, at least in the flavor. It's a very nice BBQ sauce if I may say so! Spicy, sweet, and a bit zingy. It had me reaching for my water glass. I think it'll be great on a grilled cheese but it could also work as a spread on any kind of sandwich.

It's a bit too thick to be called BBQ sauce though. It has a jam consistency. It could be thinned with a little water or apple juice, and then brushed on grilling meat. Or it could be stirred into gravy or another sauce for flavor. It could even be spread onto a steak after cooking. I'm not really sure what to call this odd little product, even though I can think of uses for it. It's a quirky animal that doesn't quite fit in.

Got to say, though. It tastes mighty fine.

Hurray for life's fortuitous accidents. Viva la experimentation!

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