Friday, August 28, 2015

Artisan Condiments- Spicy Tomato Jam

I don't normally share a whole lot of home canning recipes here, rather over on City Girl, Country Life, but this recipe just seemed to be more at home over here on RTK. So there. You don't have to freak out and think "What the ****!! I don't know how to can things!" You don't have to- you can freeze it as well. 

Fancy jams are another trendy food that gets labeled as "artisan" these days. I often think that term is overused but some foods, like homemade small batch jams, are probably deserving. Jams aren't just for breakfast anymore and that's where tomato jam finds it's unique little niche. Depending on your recipe it can be absolutely appropriate for the breakfast table, but a little switching up of flavors, spices and adding some heat and acidity and you've moved over into the savory condiment section. I call this my ketchup for grownups.

You might wonder what all the fuss is about. It's jam. Big deal. But it's much more than that. It's jam alright, but it's spicy and sweet and savory and it's delicious and the perfect thing for crowning a juicy burger or alongside a nice hunk of beef. Want a grilled cheese that's just a little more than sliced American and white bread? Break out the GOOD cheese, some crispy bacon or crispy prosciutto, a smear of tomato jam on crusty sourdough and grill that baby up. It makes meatloaf a little more special than gramma's drizzle of ketchup over the top, and it's REALLY GOOD. Really good. So good you'll find yourself never wanting ketchup ever ever again. That's just the BASIC recipe! This time we're rewriting a page from City Girl's Canning Cookbook and making it RTK Style.

This rich and gooey jam starts with tomatoes. Summertime in Iowa is without a doubt the best time to get tomatoes. If you grow your own- even better! This summer was horrible for my garden and I had zero tomatoes to speak of. Thankfully I have access to some great farmers markets and was able to get a nice 10 lbs or so of beautiful red ripe Romas. You can use any kind of tomato you like but Romas are known for their meaty texture and drier interior- so the jam doesn't have to cook quite as long as some of the juicier tomatoes do. Any color tomato works too. I love tomato jam made with orange or yellow tomatoes- it looks so beautiful in the jars. Prep was easy-I sat down with my tomatoes and halved them, removed the core, scooped out the seeds and diced them. I leave the skin on my tomatoes because it's too much work to remove them, I don't mind them in my food and they are extra fiber really, but you can blanch and remove the peel if you want to.

Dice them up and put them in a large bowl. Measure them as you go and you won't have to do it again later. This recipe relies on evaporation to thicken, not pectin, so the recipe is flexible. The amount of sugar depends on the amount of tomatoes and I just cut up tomatoes until I'd used them all.

We need some heat and spice in this jam. The original recipe calls for cayenne pepper, but we have all kinds of beautiful peppers here so a good handful of fresh kung pao chilies got chopped finely and added to the party. Also in the original recipe is shredded or grated fresh ginger. I just so happen to have all that crystallized ginger tucked away n the freezer, so I plucked out a few slices and minced them up. Cumin, cinnamon and allspice go in as well, and a twist on the plain old salt. Because this is used as a savory condiment, I like those savory notes to hit from all over, so instead of plain salt I used some Montreal Steak Seasoning. Love this stuff- I just keep it on the counter in a salt crock and use it on everything. 

Spicy Sweet Tomato Jam

10 lbs Roma tomatoes
3/4 cup bottled lemon juice*
6-8 fresh kung pao chilies**
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon Montreal Steak Seasoning
vinegar of choice, if needed

*Always use bottled lemon juice because it has a stable acidity level
**If you don't have kung pao chilies, use cayenne or whatever you have on hand, to taste. You can use fresh or dried and ground. I would start with 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne and taste- add more if desired.

Peel tomatoes if desired. Halve; remove cores and seeds and dice. Place in large stockpot, measuring as you go. For every 3 cups tomatoes, add one cup sugar. I ended up with about 16 cups of tomatoes and used 5 cups of sugar. Stir to mix. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until mixture is very thick, reduced, and mounds when spooned out. Be sure to taste the jam at least twice. You want to adjust for heat, and if the jam is too sweet, add a splash or so of an additional acid- balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar are great. Make sure you do this while still cooking down so it maintains the thickness.

The tomatoes start out bright red.......
Prepare a boiling water bath canner and jars (pint or half pint), or freezer containers. Spoon hot jam into jars, fix lids and rings and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes; or spoon into freezer containers. Allow to cool slightly, then freeze.

Look at all the deep caramelization going on there.
Now this jam can take a loooooong time to thicken. I usually do it in the crock pot with the lid off. I can let it go overnight and in the morning be ready to go into jars and there is almost zero chance of scorching. Don't get discouraged if you go to give it a stir and it seems too watery- I promise, it WILL evaporate and thicken.

A couple notes about canning and food safety: 

Home canned foods can be amazing and wonderful and unlike any other food in the grocery store, but they can also be deadly. Be sure to practice safe food handling when canning- ALWAYS use a boiling water bath for high acid foods or a pressure canner for low acid food. NEVER place hot food in jars, invert them, and let them seal without heat processing. 

Along those same lines, it's very tempting to add a lot of extras to home canned foods to customize them. Unless you are a microbiologist or have a very in depth knowledge of home canning safety- DON'T. Stick with tested recipes. This recipe is only different from a USDA tested recipe because of the change in spices, which do not affect acidity. Never add things like onions or garlic as they can upset the pH and make the recipe unsafe and allow botulism to grow in the sealed jars.

Pay attention to your altitude. It affects heat and processing time. Always adjust for your altitude.

NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use this one. For home canning information, visit the NCHFP website.

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