For me, the start of December is synonymous with chutney making, for many it is much earlier- an ideal way to make the most of the oversized courgettes and other such legumes left over from the summer glut. I always make red onion chutney, the perfect accompliment to all that left over turkey, goose, squirrel or badger served up on Christmas day (I know, my house is a little ‘eclectic’).
This year I had in my possession some particularly bad-ass chillies from Espelette, a small village in South-west France in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Now, for those of you who are fond of a little fire in your dishes, you best take your own if you are heading frog side, it appears the Gauls (yes, they do refer to us as Anglo-Saxons, so the alias is indeed justified, however derogatory) are about as partial to heat or spice as a vegan is to a steaming pile of offal. There is a faint appreciation the closer to Spain you get, but fresh chillies are hard to come by, praise the lord for the proximity of the Spaniards! Rather than tuck in to my Espelette’s in standard fashion I wanted to preserve it in something that would go a little further, so after the success I had had adding chillies to the membrillo, why not add them along with a generous helping of port this years batch of red onion chutney. Always a good choice.
Chutney has something inherently imperialistic about it, the relish of upstanding British gentry romping about India with pith helmets, big moustaches, blunderbusses and a hamper stacked with Gin & Tonic. So it won’t surprise you that’s where it came from in the 1600’s appearing in Europe as a ‘luxury good’. One of the first brands to make it big in Britain was ‘Major Grey’s’ reputedly named after a British army officer quite similar to the description above…
It must be noted that the traditional Indian chutney and our unequivocally ‘British’ version are two very different creatures. While we will add vinegar, sugar and a variety of spice and simmer for up to two hours, traditional recipes are made Indian recipes are prepared fresh, not cooked and don’t have the sweet, jam-like consistency of Western varieties.
As with most of my potted goods, Weston’s finest seemed particularly fitting for such a condiment, whatto, pip pip, hurrah, huzzah and all that jazz. Word of warning: be careful when you make this as your clothes and kitchen will smell like pickled onions for up to two days after…
Red Onion, Port & Chilli Chutney.
Makes 4-5 jars.
8 Medium Red Onions
2 Red chillies (finely chopped)
4 Garlic cloves (finely chopped)
200g Light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp of olive oil
250ml red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
For the Spice bag:
A small chunk of ginger
1tsp black peppercorns
1tsp coriander seeds
1 stick of cinnamon (broken up)
10 Cardamom pods
First chop all the onion into halves then quarters and then cut into 5mm slices. Heat the olive oil large pan (ideally a chunky la Creuset or pickling pan) on a low heat, add the onions, chillies, sultanas and bay leaves and cook gently for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
Make the spice bag using a small square of muslin and a piece of string, wrap up all spices, tie up tight and add to the pan.
Once the onions are cooked and translucent, add the sugar, vinegar and port and stir well, simmer on a low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chutney is thick dark and sticky.
Remove the spice bag, fill 4-5 warm, sterilised jam jars with the chutney (I usually recycle old mayo and mustard ones) and allow to cool before sealing. If you can try to give it a few days to allow it to mature slightly, reaches its best after 25 days, just in time for them leftovers!
Been a busy couple of weeks doing book signings and laying down plans for next year, spent a couple of days in Devon with a few lads and took them out for a spot of coastal foraging down near Burgh Island, plenty of Pennywort, sorrel and sea beet and even a few Jew’s ears. The photo of the squadron of starlings below was actually a complete accident! Going up to the city to film for Market Kitchen next week as their Guest blogger, which should be a good crack…