Chili sauce

Yesterday was chili sauce-making day for me. I like to have it on hand as much as possible, which means making a batch every year or two. (One “batch” gives me a little over 8 one-pint jars, which will keep for up to two years, if properly canned, though the colour starts to deteriorate after one.) I ran out at the beginning of the summer this year – sadly, as it’s my favourite condiment on grilled hot dogs – but decided to wait until local tomatoes were available to make more.

I’m not sure whether chili sauce is a strictly Canadian condiment, but it certainly is a predominantly Canadian one: every “old-fashioned” Canadian cookbook I have has a recipe, under the name “chili sauce” or “green tomato chow” (a specialty of the Maritimes) or “ketchup aux tomates rouges” (it’s a traditional condiment for tourtière; see also ketchup aux fruits). Many cookbooks indicate its role as a mainstay in Canadian homes: Jehane Benoit calls it a “‘Must’ in my pantry”, and Edna Staebler says “no Waterloo County housewife would be without it.”

The recipes are all nearly identical: tomatoes (red in most cases; green for green tomato chow), onions, cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt and spices. The spices are often ones that are traditionally associated with baking: cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, or else just “pickling spice” is called for. Most also have red or green peppers, and celery in the form of stalks or seeds. The biggest divide seems to be over whether or not to include apples. On a certain level, it’s just a chunky ketchup, so it’s a good condiment on anything you would put ketchup on. I especially love it with scrambled eggs.

I’ve never understood why it’s called “chili sauce,” though, since few of the recipes I’ve seen call for chillis (as distinct from sweet peppers), unless they’re in the pickling spice. It’s certainly not even remotely related to “hot sauces,” as it’s a tangy and sweet condiment, not a spicy one. I can only assume it’s a historical name, much as the term “rye” is when used for Canadian whisky.

Chili sauce is also a testament to the wonderful powers of salt: in the recipe I use, the first step is to peel and slice the tomatoes and mince the onions, then mix them all with salt and let the mixture stand overnight. At first, I thought this might be to promote lactic fermentation, but I’ve since decided the real reason is a lot more prosaic: it’s to draw moisture out of the tomatoes, a process called “disgorging.” This reduces the amount of water you have to cook off and, along with the vinegar and sugar, inhibits bacterial growth. A good reminder of why condiments like this are called “preserves.”

Have you ever made chili sauce?

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

3 Responses to “Chili sauce”