Wait…there’s no need to adjust your screen settings. Yes, this ketchup is actually black.
I’ve only cooked one ketchup from scratch before (a delish Ginger 5-Spice Ketchup) but I had my doubts when I first came across this recipe. There were questions: A ketchup with no tomatoes? Mushroom ketchup? Would it taste anything like “real” ketchup? How could you even call it ketchup…I mean, why not call it a Mushroom Tapenade? And the questions kept coming until there was little doubt of what I needed to do. Make it.
As with most of my recipe research, this one began online. Here’s what learned. While the concept of using mushrooms in ketchup is decidedly English, the origins of the word dates back to the 1600’s in China – where it referred to a spicy pickled fish sauce called ke-tsiap. After making it’s way to England in the 1700’s the ketchup began it’s western evolution through the use of a variety of fruits and nuts (such as apples, peaches, walnut and of course mushrooms). It wasn’t until the sauce made its way over the pond to America that it became popular by using tomatoes.
I came across quite a number of Mushroom Ketchup recipes online. But I narrowed it down to two: a recipe video by famed Michelin starred-chef Heston Blumenthal; and the tried and true Mark Bittman.
While the Blumenthal recipe came with international star appeal, the final sauce, which only used the liquid of salted mushrooms, lacked body and looked really runny. Unfortunately, I wanted something that had a similar texture to the ketchup that I’m more familiar with. So, I decided to go with Mark Bittman. The recipe called for cooking and processing the actually mushrooms into the final sauce – which would achieve the texture that I was looking for. Plus, the recipe was relatively simple and straightforward. Exactly what you’d expect from Bittman.
I made two substitutions to Bittman’s recipe. I wanted the ketchup to have a more complex flavor profile so instead of white wine vinegar and sherry, I went with red wine vinegar and Marsala wine, respectively.
It’s a nice condiment. It has an earthy, tangy and deep flavor. As you can see from the photos, I spread the ketchup on a simple Grilled Chicken Baguette Sandwich. Which gave the sandwich a pop of brightness. And because the ketchup is mushroom-based, it could hold up in a variety of dishes (from fish to steak). Or, as Bittman suggests, add a dollop of it to soups or other sauces to help boost their flavor.
I want to point out a few things. First, the uncooked sauce is rather thick. It will have the firmness of cold, thick cooked oatmeal. That’s OK. As you cook the sauce it will loosen.
Second, many Mushroom Ketchup recipes call for some type of sweetener – usually brown sugar. This recipe did not. In my opinion, it needed it – without, it tastes more mile A1 Steak Sauce than what you’d expect from a ketchup. I stirred in granulated sugar at the end (about ¾ cup). If you choose to, add the sugar in ¼ cup increments until you achieve the taste that you’re looking for.
Adapted from How to Make Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
1½ pounds white mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon salt
1 ounce dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup roughly chopped shallot or onion
1 clove garlic, peeled
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup Marsala wine
½ – ¾ cups granulated sugar
Put the fresh mushrooms in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Transfer to a large bowl; sprinkle with the salt and mix until the salt is distributed evenly. Cover with a cloth and let sit at room temperature for about 24 hours, stirring 3 or 4 times (the mushrooms will turn dark).
An hour before you’re ready to make the sauce, put the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with about 2 cups boiling water. Use a plate if necessary to keep them submerged and soak until soft, about an hour.
Transfer the fresh mushrooms to a food processor. Use a slotted spoon to move the dried mushrooms to the processor. Then ladle or pour in ½ cup of their soaking liquid, trying not to disturb the grit settled at the bottom of the bowl. Add the vinegar, shallot, garlic, and lots of pepper; purée until smooth.
Put the mushroom mixture in a pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat so it bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture appears homogenous and thick, an hour or so. (To test the consistency, dab a small spoonful onto a plate and let sit for a few minutes; if liquid is released, it needs to cook longer.)
Cool until safe to handle, then put the ketchup in a blender and purée until smooth, almost velvety in texture. Add the Marsala if you’re using it and adjust the seasoning.
If using, stir in granulated sugar in ¼ cup increments, to taste.
Let cool to room temperature, then serve or store, refrigerated, in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 1 quart