What exactly is chutney? Surely it must be one of the most mysterious foods that you can make and put in a jar, because not many people seem to know what it is. If you’re a condiment lover, it’s well worth an investigation to get to know this versatile saucy spread. According to Drake Page of the DP Chutney Collective, chutney is a sweet and spicy condiment, usually made with fruit, vinegar, spices and sugar to compliment savory foods.
Chutney appears in many culture’s cuisines by different names and variations. East Indians call it chatni (“strongly spiced”), British cooks might call it pickle and oddly enough Eastern Canada calls it chowchow, as Drake discovered on his recent trip there. It might be categorized as a relish too, but typically relishes are different in that they aren’t cooked, so their texture keeps its crunch. Once chutney was brought from India to America by way of Britain, the ingredients were adapted to use indigenous fruits like peaches, plums and tomatoes instead of faraway fruits like pineapple or tamarind.
Chutney is generally composed of the same ingredients: a fruit, some aromatics, ginger, onions, garlic, vinegar and a sweetener. This mixture is then cooked, thickened and canned. Drake taught me to make a flavorful tomato and balsamic chutney that he recommends eating with rice and beans, curries, grilled meats and chicken and most egg and cheese dishes. He also recommends it as a secret addition to pasta sauce for a rich, complex flavor.
Drake’s Sun-dried Tomato Chutney
4 (medium-large) tomatoes, peeled and crushed
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup shopped sun-dried tomatoes (NOT oil packed variety!)
½ cup raisins
½ cup +2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
About a 2” piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or 1 minced hot green chili or 2 crumbled dried red chilies)
Combine all ingredients (except for the curry powder, only add 1 teaspoon for now) in a large pot and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until mixture is thick. Stir frequently during last 15 minutes of cooking.
The reason you add only half of the curry powder at this point is so that the cooking process doesn’t lessen the intensity of the spice. We’ll add the rest later. Also, adjust the amount of cayenne pepper depending on how spicy the chilies are. The mixture should be thick enough that when you drag a spoon through it the line through the mixture remains visible.
Allow to cool slightly then puree ¾ of the mixture in a blender or food processor.
Return blended mixture to the pot, stir and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the curry powder and taste; adjust the sweetness by adding more sugar if needed.
The chutney should be pretty thick. This particular chutney cooks fairly quickly because the sun-dried tomatoes and raisins soak up some of the liquid, and because we started out with equal parts liquid (balsamic) and sugar. Note: cooking the chutney at a higher temperature to reduce cooking time won't work, your fruit will burn. Don't cheat!
Some fruits release more liquid than others; fresh pears or plums will release a lot more water so they need to cook a lot longer to thicken, especially since there is no added pectin. With chutneys that take a long time to cook down you usually don’t add the sugar until halfway through, because if you’re cooking it for three hours the sugar will caramelize! If the total cooking time is under an hour you can put everything in together at the beginning.
Fill five 4 oz. canning jars within a ¼ inch of the top of the jar. Screw the lids on as tight as you can if you're using one-piece lids. If you're using two-lids you should screw it as tight as you can with your two fingers and thumb. While the jars are still hot, submerge them into a simmering pot of water and bring to a boil.
Put your jars in the hot water while the chutney is still hot to prevent the jars cracking due to temperature changes.
Boil for 10 minutes and lift out with a pair of tongs or a jar lifter and set on the counter to cool.
Now be patient! Wait for a couple of days before eating your delicious chutney, the longer the flavors have to gel the tastier your chutney will be. Drake suggested eating this particular chutney on a baked potato with sour cream; the tangy balsamic and rich tomato flavor next to cool sour cream would make a delicious centerpiece to a meal.
Drake Page has been making chutneys under the DP Chutney Collective name for over a year out of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. His chutneys, ketchups and relishes have been featured in the New York Times, Food & Wine magazine, and at his sold-out class at the Brooklyn Brainery. After being laid off from his public relations job, Drake had the opportunity to try his hand at selling the chutneys he’d been making for years for his friends and family as gifts. Drake’s grandmother raised him on a diet of sugary chutneys. After working in restaurant kitchens in London Drake refined his grandmother’s recipes and learned more about the food from his Indian co-workers. From there his love of chutney grew, and it was this knowledge base that he relied upon when launching his business.
This chutney we made together was easy to make, but what I find difficult is coming up with the flavor combinations. The combinations are so complicated and diverse, which is what makes chutney so powerfully delicious. Drake says that his chutneys are so vastly different from one another that it’s easy to pick out six distinct kinds to bring to a tasting, from Fiery Carrot Chutney with Nigella Seeds, to Kerala Pineapple Chutney. From the cutely named Date From Hell Chutney, the intriguing Cranberry and Green Chile Chutney or Punjabi Corn Relish, the flavor combinations are endless! Drake says that one of his favourite chutneys to make uses chopped lemons, limes and oranges, including their peels, with raisins, dates and molasses. It becomes sweet and thick and is a great addition to seafood.
The nice thing about chutney, Drake told me, is that you can adapt recipes without worrying about the pH like you would with jam. With jam the pectin and sugar works to preserve the fruit, but with chutney the vinegar makes the condiment highly acidified. Since adding a handful of raisins or nuts won’t change anything, you can be creative. Now that I’ve learned the basics, I’m intrigued by the idea of mango chutney. Maybe I’ll add some dried cranberries too! Happy chutney making!
Photo of DP jars: Greenpoint Food Market Blog
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