My daughter has a tomato-red T-shirt that proclaims, “I put ketchup on my ketchup,” which she wears with pride (although, frankly, she’s also quite fond of mustard and barbecue sauce).
I had always believed that ketchup was invented in Ye Olde England as a piquant sauce to disguise the flavor of rotten meat in the dark days before refrigeration. The truth, for once, is more pleasant, although it still involves England. Ketchup, or ke-tsiap, was inspired by a tangy fermented fish sauce from the Hokkien region of China, brought by traders to England and replicated with ingredients such as oysters, mussels, grapes, walnuts and mushrooms. (Gross, England!)
Sauce-makers eventually wised up and started using tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and spices to make something that actually tastes good. Today, we slather ketchup on everything from scrambled eggs to macaroni and cheese. You can’t enjoy a hamburger or hot dog without a squirt or two of the ruby red relish, and most Americans would never be seen munching on a dry fry.
Here are three recipes featuring America’s favorite condiment.
This is not an unusual recipe — lots of people enjoy meatloaf muffins on a regular basis — but I wanted to feature this recipe because not only does it use ketchup in a traditional manner on the top, it also mixes ketchup right in with the meat for tangy flavor all the way through.
While your oven is warming up to 350 degrees, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup finely chopped onion and 1 cup finely diced carrots, plus a 1/2 teaspoon each oregano, thyme and rosemary, a teaspoon of minced garlic and a pinch of salt. Saute until the onions and carrots soften. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
While the onions are cooling, combine 1 1/2 pounds uncooked lean ground beef with 1/2 cup ketchup, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon each mustard and Worcestershire sauce, a dash of pepper and 1 cup well-crushed saltines or buttery round crackers.
Combine the onion-carrot mixture with the ground beef-cracker mixture, roll individual portions into balls and place into 12 greased muffin cups. Top each mini-meatloaf with ketchup and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool for five minutes then serve with a heap of buttered mashed potatoes and a side of vegetables, if you must, but remember: There are already carrots and onions in the meatloaf, so the extra veggies are just for show.
Tangy Stir-Fried Chicken
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs into large 1-inch chunks. Put the chunks into a plastic bag with 1/4 cup white flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss to coat. Fry in a skillet with vegetable oil until the cubes are evenly browned, then remove from pan, leaving the oil.
To the oil, add 1 tablespoon sliced or minced garlic and 2 tablespoons thinly sliced onions. Allow them to soften then add 3/4 cup ketchup, 1 teaspoon minced ginger or ginger paste and 1 teaspoon (or more, if you’re bold) hot pepper sauce, like Sriracha. Simmer until the sauce starts to darken, indicating that the sugar in the ketchup is beginning to caramelize. Return the chicken to the pan and stir to coat all the pieces.
Serve over rice, vermicelli or yakisoba noodles, along with steamed vegetables, fresh cilantro or snipped scallions. Depending on how much your family likes ketchup, reveal that the sauce is essentially ketchup. If they think the idea of chicken in ketchup sauce is icky, remind them that they regularly dip chicken nuggets in ketchup and no harm has ever come to them that can be directly attributed to ketchup.
Before you turn your nose up at the prospect of besmirching the Northwest’s signature fish with a lowly condiment, consider what makes ketchup so tasty: a perfect combination of tangy, sweet and salty. Yes, ketchup’s tomato-ey-ness makes a bold partner for the delicate flavors of salmon, but the mild meat actually benefits from a little acidity and especially the caramelly, barbecue-y flavors that come into play when salmon is prepared with a coating of this sauce. No salmon? No problem — spread this sauce on pork chops, ribs or chicken.
Mix 1/4 cup ketchup with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon molasses and 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger. Spoon over a boneless, skinless filet of salmon, salted on both sides and placed in a lightly oiled glass baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes at 350 degrees (or until the fish will flake easily with a fork). Serve with traditional sides, like steamed vegetables, wild rice and a dogged optimism about the possibility of a vaccine.