I Pity the Poor Condiment

Ketchup gets no respect. The undisputed champion of all purchased condiments serves as¬† companion to more dishes than almost any other. From A-1 to Worcestershire, from Soy to Sriracha, there must be hundreds, even thousands of tableside sauces, dips, and relishes. But none earns the derision that ketchup does. Ketchup is definitive proof that it’s lonely at the top.

When recipe ingredients are discussed, almost any of these cleverly packaged extracts and concentrates can be mentioned with nary a sniff of disapproval. Hoisin, Hundashi, anything even vaguely Asian is not only acceptable, they are considered innovative and forward-looking. But mention ketchup, and you risk being immediately banished to the realm of hacks, Philistines, and shoemakers. If you dare to ask for ketchup in a chi-chi restaurant, it will most likely be reluctantly delivered. Ashamedly, it may come shrouded in a napkin so as not to offend other patrons.

The All-in-One Delivery System.

Human brains’ pleasure centers’ unyielding cravings for Salt+Sugar being what they are, few among us can resist Ketchup’s tactless appeal. I doubt that there has ever been a POTUS that didn’t enjoy ketchup. Without ketchup, there would be no BBQ sauce; at least not that sort of standard one. Fortunes have been made, empires built on the back of this cloying paste. And I’m sure that the manufacturers of the major brands lose little sleep over their product’s lack of cachet. What most of us wouldn’t do for just a tiny share of Catsup Cash.

So why the resentment? Ketchup is common. Its enjoyment requires absolutely no sophistication whatsoever. EVERYBODY has had ketchup, and very few of them spit it out. It’s ubiquitous, it’s everywhere. Nobody ever had to develop a taste for it. As soon as an infant tastes that cold, limp, French fry slathered with the sticky red stuff in the little foil envelope, a lifelong Pavlovian reaction is bound to follow. Fries are served with ketchup. Don’t even try to serve them without it.

Nothing will ever take your place

Assuming that humanity doesn’t push the self delete button, ketchup will be here forever. If our civilization was to crumble, the archeologists of the future would scratch their heads in puzzlement as they sorted through fragments of the characteristic packaging. I suspect the labeling would endure as well. Even the ketchup, itself, for that matter. It will be carbon dated, and the debate over the age of the earth will once again be revisited.

But, in the meantime, there is nothing stopping us from providing alternatives. Various incarnations of aioli are stylishly substituted where ketchup reigned before. Other spicy variants appear in ramekins along side this week’s newfound but short lived crispy bar snack. They still tend to be red, just like the condiment they attempt to supplant. Admittedly, even intoxicated, most of us would hesitate to dip an onion ring into anything tinted “powder blue.”

Let It Happen

Ketchup alternatives that are not red typically look like emulsions, like mayonnaise. Even ketchup is an emulsion, it just doesn’t look like one. If you’ve ever tried to make ketchup at home, you probably noticed that it tends to separate, leaving behind a strange sort of coagulated consistency. The big manufacturers use stabilizers to prevent this. Perfectly wholesome, according to the USDA and FDA, but not readily available.

Mayonnaise and its equivalents typically use egg yolks as the continuous phase, but there are no eggs in this particular one. The localized friction that I described in the emulsion article  makes the mustard seeds and garlic assume the characteristics of mayonnaise, aioli and even rouille.

Ketchup itself shares ingredients with this sauce we designed. Salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, and even ginger find their way into both. That being said, the end result bears little resemblance, neither in appearance, taste or texture.

Procedure:

Combine all ingredients and puree in a blender:

  • White vinegar, 1 cup/225ml.
  • Sugar, 1 cup/175g.
  • Garlic, fresh, 1 oz./30g
  • Whole mustard seeds, 1/4 cup/50g.
  • Fennel seed, 1/4 cup/40g
  • Sriracha powder, 1T/10g.
  • Red Boat salt, 1T/15g.
  • Ginger, fresh, 1 oz/30g.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1 cup/225ml.

I hope you will find this product useful in jazzing up your sous vide creations after you have shocked and saved them. Pan seared chicken, and even that Rib eye steak will benefit from the unusual complement that the un-Ketchup provides. And, there will be no reason to feel guilty or embarrassed. After all, it’s not ketchup. It’s the UN-Ketchup.