Ask Peter: Relishes and chutneys
I came across one of your articles in which a lady had a surplus of capsicums for which you supplied a recipe, but no quantities. The following are the ingredients: capsicums, fresh chillies, garlic, ginger [fresh I suppose], diced onions and apples, sugar and vinegar. Because of my inexperience is there any chance of getting the ingredient amounts?
My New Zealand chef friend Anna Hansen, who owns the Modern Pantry restaurant in London (and published a book of the same name), makes a lovely relish using the above ingredients and her technique is to have around equal quantities of green capsicums, white onions and apples (both peeled and unpeeled apples work fine). Cut everything into quarters, remove all skin and seeds, and pulse-blitz in a food processor to a coarse puree, then place in a pot. Add as much chilli, garlic and ginger as you. Pour in enough white vinegar or cider vinegar to almost come level with the vegetables then add about ⅓ of the volume of vegetables in white sugar. If the apples are sweet add less sugar, use more sugar if they're sour. Bring to the boil, then cook over a rapid simmer until jammy, stirring often. Season with salt towards the end and bottle in sterilised jars.
Now, you're probably thinking, quite rightly, that I still haven't given you a recipe with exact quantities, but a good thing with relishes and chutneys is that you really don't need to have it exact because there are so many variables and I do think it's good to be flexible. I have published lots of exacting chutney recipes in my various books, because in a cookbook you have to, but I would encourage people to be a little more experimental and by following some basic rules, you'll have a successful day in the kitchen.
My rule of thumb when making chutneys is to always use a good proportion of onions. Onions are king! They're sweet, savoury, robust and subtle all at once. They bulk up the volume and are often less expensive (quite handy) than the main flavour. They support rather than overpower the other flavours. Use white-fleshed onions for something like the above so as not to make it brownish.
Use red onions when making a chutney with red capsicums, tamarillos, beetroot, dates and the like, which by nature will be darker. Vinegar is always needed to add the tang that chutneys deliver but also it helps preserve the mixture and as chutneys will sit around for a long time, that's important. Brown malt vinegars are tasty and flavoursome but like red onions, they too will add colour so it's possible a white wine vinegar or cider vinegar is better to use as an all-rounder.
As with the previous ingredients, the whiter the sugar you use, the less impact it will have on the finished product. However, dark sugars such as muscovado or dark palm sugar add a wonderful toffee character and a slight bitterness to the chutney.
Spices are all about what you actually like but you also need to consider what the other ingredients in the chutney are: stonefruit, apples or pears, rhubarb etc. Ginger (I use fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped) is a good all-rounder, cinnamon, star anise and cloves (in moderation) also work well but remember that as you cook a chutney it reduces in volume considerably so go easy at the beginning or you may be creating an overly powerful concoction.
This is also why it's best to add salt towards the end of the cooking to make sure it isn't overly seasoned. Bring the mixture to the boil slowly, stirring frequently to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pot (all that sugar just loves to burn) and then once it comes to the boil, cook over a medium heat, stirring often, until it has reduced. The worst thing you can do is burn it; after the effort of chopping all those ingredients it'll bring you to tears. Another way to cook it is also to roast in the oven in a non-reactive deep sided roasting dish, again making sure you don't burn it and without letting the ingredients dry out. Cook it at 150C until nice and gloopy.
Once cooked and stored in sterilised jars your chutneys will keep for at least six months.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you’re stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.
A selection of relish and chutney recipes to try