Saucy this chilli jam is, but not in a ‘suits you, sir’ kind of way. Initially cooked on a boil, it spends most of the cooking process simmering, which gives a sticky, soft consistency, not too wet to spoon over crackers and cream cheese, but easy to loosen up with some rice vinegar and tamari to turn it into a dipping sauce. Ever since I made my first ever chilli jam last summer, it has become my most commonly used condiment, whether as an additional flavouring to cooking, an extra element for salad dressings, or as a table sauce. The cherry tomatoes give a nice fruitness, and extra flavour is given by the garlic and onion. I normally use ginger in this recipe, but was all out, so threw in fennel seeds instead. Next time I’ll be using ginger as well as the fennel! In terms of heat, use your judgement, and taste, taste, taste during the cooking process. This time around, I used three fat, medium hot chillies as I picked up a bagful in the reduced section at the supermarket for a mere twelve pence. I don’t normally cook with those, so wasn’t sure how much heat would come through – I decided to use two of them whole and one with the seeds scraped out. I should have kept the seeds aside, but threw them straight in the bin… And when I tasted the jam, it was a little mild. Managed to rectify that by adding some dried chilli flakes. There’s a bit of guesswork involved, since as much as it’s important to taste the jam as it cooks, do bear in mind that the heat develops over a couple of weeks after you’ve jarred it up. But then again, the flavour will be tempered somewhat by whatever you eat it with.
You know how some things you can do without, after a time, without really noticing? Not sure I could ever give this stuff up now. It’s one of those things that makes a simple dish all the more memorable. Makes a great gift, too, if you can bear to give it away! This recipe makes three large jars.
500g (about 7 large) peppers
60g medium red chillies (or chillies of your choice – I often go for hot jalapenos)
250g (about two medium) red onion
10 cloves garlic
350g cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, roughly chopped (I didn’t use it here, but think it’s an important element)
350ml cider/white wine/red wine vinegar
1 kilo Demerara sugar
Over a gentle heat, slowly dissolve the sugar with the vinegar in a large pan. Meanwhile, use a food processor to finely chop the onion, garlic, ginger, peppers and chillies (remember to deseed some, depending on your taste and the variety you’re using.) Add this to the pan.
Next, the tomatoes. If you like, chop some into halves or quarters – I tend to just blitz them all until they resemble the consistency of the peppers. Strain off and discard the juice, then add to the pan. Bring up to a rolling boil, then cook for fifteen minutes. After this time, give it a good stir and add the fennel seeds before reducing the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the pieces of pepper take on a translucent quality and the liquid has reduced to a syrup (if you’d like it to be thicker and more jammy, boil for another ten minutes or so. It’ll still be able to double up as a dipping sauce, you’ll just need to heat it gently in a pan with the rice vinegar and tamari immediately before serving.)
Pour into sterilised jars. Once opened, store in the fridge.