Checkpoint chutneyJanuary 31, 2011
What’s the difference between a chutney, a relish and a pickle?
That’s not a joke – I actually want to know. Some people say the difference lies in the texture, and others in the sweetness, and still others in the level and type of spice. But then when you turn to Asian and sub-continental cultures everything changes again, as Anglo definitions appear to be irrelevant here.
While I am genuinely interested in the difference if anyone has strong views, I also am quite happy to embrace the who-cares-as-long-as-it’s-good school of thought. We haven’t really discussed chutneys and pickles much here at How to Shuck An Oyster, have we? Apart from this pickled pear relish (see how confusing the lingo is?), and a very brief link to the unquestionably good Manfield eggplant pickle here, and this rather sour half-invented cumquat chutney, that is.
I am beginning to think that the upshot with chutney seems to be: if you have a glut of anything and don’t know what to do with it, simply shove it in a pot together with chopped onion, sugar, vinegar, some dried fruit and a little spice, and out come some jars of jewellish goodness to keep and distribute. I suppose I should note that the glut should probably be vegetable in nature (fish pickle, anyone?) although I would very much welcome news of more outlandish recipes.
We have had a good few tomatoes from the garden this year, and scoffed the lot in salads – the next crop is slowly forming, but sadly we haven’t been able to complain of tomato glut. But I was moved to ponder chutneys the other day when Ms Lily – she of last summer’s amazing fig salad – asked me for a tomato chutney recipe, as her glut was getting out of control. Clueless, I spent a few seconds Googling before coming upon this Nigel Slater red and green tomato chutney. Ms Lily reported the results as spectacular, and thus – being the bitter type of person I am – my subsequent days and nights were filled with chutney envy. I had to have it.
I may not have had a tomato glut, but the grocer certainly has a few, so I decided to fiddle with the recipe a teeny bit and go with fully ripe tomatoes. Being lazy and greedy, I messed about with the quantities a little, using a tad less sugar and adding a good few glugs of olive oil near the end. I love the result (it could be slightly too acidic for some, so do taste along the way and adjust accordingly) and I also love the fact that there is almost no effort involved beyond chucking everything in a pot and waiting. So, here tis
Tomato Chutney, with apologies to Nigel Slater – this quantity made two largeish jars. The second time I made it I almost tripled the quantity and got seven medium-sized jars.
1kg ripe tomatoes (I used Romas), halved
350g onions, roughly chopped
180g light brown sugar
1 birdseye chilli, with seeds, halved
1 tsp salt
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
250ml white wine vinegar
150ml olive oil
- Chuck everything except the oil in a pot, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for around an hour, stirring occasionally. If it looks too runny, turn up the heat and reduce until it begins to turn jammier. Add the oil, stir thoroughly and turn off the heat.
- Meanwhile, sterilise your jars – I pour boiling water into the jars & over lids and let sit for a few minutes, then drain and bung them into a warm oven to dry (unless the lids are plastic, obviously) for another few minutes. Bung the hot chutney into hot jars, screw the lids on tightly and invert. When you return after ten or twenty minutes, the lids should have gone slightly concave, making a good vacuum seal.
Now I’ve realised how really basic and relatively quick and simple chutney can be, I am quite keen to try some more unusual stuff. I would love to hear your ideas, recipes and hints.
For a start, where do you get good jars? I ended up buying a few of those expensive beautiful Italian jobs as I ran out of recycled jars, but once you give those away they’re gone, unless you know the recipient well enough to ask for it back, which you can encourage by suggesting they might get another filled with something good on its return.
When buying food in jars I try to go for those with plastic lids as they seem easier to clean than the metal ones, with those scungy bits of paper lining, and also often to give a better seal. Am I right on this?
Also, do you have any foolproof label-removal methods? I can’t bear standing at the sink with the jar in soapy water, scratching off tiny shreds with my fingernails, but that seems to be what I always end up doing. Any better ideas?
*A quick plug here for the dreary initiative known as Febfast – in this house called FeebleFeb – which Senor and I are doing in an effort to shed some ballast and give the broken-down old livers a rest. Not known for our restraint, we will endure this month as best we can. If you feel like encouraging our team Chopped Livers and sending some bucks to deserving folks (not us!) feel free to sling a dollar our way here. If you are appalled by such tedium, I can only agree and say please have a big glass of something cold for me.