Beer BBQ sauce

I’ve enjoyed making my own condiments, and many of these have been blogged about. I’ve tried my own BBQ sauces on a number of occasions, usually the result of playing with the braise a meat has been slowly cooking away in. One of my favorite vehicles for this is Gordon Ramsay’s BBQ Spare ribs recipe in his World Kitchen book (ISBN-10 55470-199-6) – page 243. It involves a LOT of sauce, and wonderfully complex flavors.

We (my son and I) decided to do ribs for dinner but we did have different approaches to it. He wanted to wrap them up in tin foil and bake them – more or less in their own juices – slowly for a number of hours, then finish them on the BBQ. I had more or less an opposite approach – the Ramsay big liquid braise. We did a combination of both. I pointed out that there was an oven conflict: I needed to bake bread and squash – and suggested using a crock pot.

We cut the ribs into portion sizes – 3-4 bones a serving. The ribs were also briefly cured: 1.5% salt (weigh the ribs, use 1.5% of the weight as your salt and sugar quantities), sugar, pepper, cloves. They went in the crock-pot at 250F/120C with a good amount of the braising liquid on the bottom and slathered on top. After 90 minutes, they were definitely done. Until they went on the BBQ they were kept warm in the braise at about 150F/65C.

But its all about the sauce as far as I was concerned. I wanted a supply of amazing home-made BBQ sauce, but I also wanted to play with it – notably I had a failed stout a while ago and am always looking for ways to use it in cooking. Off course when you add beer to something like this in significant proportions, it does tend to change everything. It definitely did so here – so much so that the Ramsay recipe became a launching point for a new recipe.

Here’s Ramsay’s recipe first:

Ingredients
2 litres water
2 tbsp tomato paste1½ medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
3/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
2 dried red chillis
6 racks (approx. 550g each) of pork spareribs (each 18-20cm long, 6 ribs per rack)
For the barbecue glaze
4 tbsp dark molasses
2 onion, finely chopped

4 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp English mustard
2 tbsp cider vinegar

A few dashes of tabasco

Juice of 1 lemon
Method
1. In a large saucepan add the water, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
2. Add the ribs making sure they are covered (if not add more water) and bring back up to a gentle simmer. Simmer for approx 45 minutes, adding more water if it reduces too much. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile place 300ml of the liquid from the ribs in a small saucepan. Boil the liquid until reduced by half. Add the molasses, chopped onion mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, lemon and salt. Stir over the heat to combine thoroughly. Brush this mixture liberally over the blanched ribs.
4. Cook the ribs on a barbecue or grill for approximately 1-2 minutes each side until well coloured.
©Gordon Ramsay 200[8]. All rights reserved

After considerable tasting and adding and generally having fun experimenting using his recipe as a base, here is what I came up with:

Home Cook Explorer’s Beer BBq Sauce

Ingredients

1st set – the braising liquid

  • 1L stout or ale (if you have a choice, use a less hoppy brew)
  • 500ml soup stock
  • 300ml tomato sauce
  • 200 ml tomato paste
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves, mashed
  • 3/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/8 tsp – a pinch – red chili flakes
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 100 ml maple syrup
  • 50-100ml honey, to taste – according to the hoppiness of the beer.
  • 1-2 tsp salt – but add to taste

—————————————

2nd set

  • 60 ml molasses
  • 100g honey
  • 30 g English mustard
  • 1 lemon
  • Worcestershire sauce – to taste – about 100ml

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan add the beer, tomato sauce, soup stock, 100ml honey, 2 tbsp sugar, 100ml maple syrup, salt, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli.
  2. Taste – particularly for salt and sweetness. The more hoppy your beer is the more it needs to be countered by sugar and salt. It should taste adequately salty, and slightly sweet.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
  4. At this point in the process this can be used as a braising liquid for your ribs or whatever you are BBQing.The meat should be held at 185F/85C for about 90 minutes. This could be in the oven (set to about 225F/107C), a crock pot with temperature control, stovetop (suggest using a pot in boiling water and a thermostat) or sous vide cooker
  5. Add all remaining ingredients (molasses, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, remaining honey, mustard.)
  6. Bring to a boil for several minutes, then using an immersion blender, thoroughly puree the sauce.
  7. Taste for saltiness, sweetness and acidity. Start with salt: it should not have a distinct salty taste – but the salt should enhance the inevitable complexity. There are 3 types of sugar in it already, so if it needs more, add whatever feels good in the moment – a little at a time. Finally, there should be sufficient acid tang from the tomatoes, beer, and lemon. If more is required, try a splash of balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar until it feels right.
  8. Return to a boil and reduce for about 10 minutes, stirring often to ensure it does not stick. It should become thick.
  9. Take off the boil and serve or can it.
  10. If canning, follow your usual water bath protocols. In 250ml containers it should be boiled (assuming sauce is already north of 150F/65C) for about 10-12 minutes. This quantity will make between 1-1.5L depending on the amount of reduction.

Some final thoughts….

Well that was fun. I hardly expected it would evolve this way. Previously I had thought that the braising process was absolutely integral to the making of the sauce. It arguably is, as in the braising, the fat is rendered into the sauce, and contributes its own fullness, complexity and wonderful flavour. Because of the boiling and pureeing, the fat is fully emulsified into the sauce, and so you won’t get a fat layer on top.

The pureeing process is different than what Ramsay describes. His instructions are to strain the braising liquid. I did try that with a cup of it, and thought to myself, “this looks like wonderfully tasty stuff in the strainer, and the liquid left over looks pretty thin.” So back into the sauce it went, and out came the immersion blender. It should be noted that his purpose in doing this was to get a smooth glaze, and not to make bbq sauce.

My son made an interesting comment when tasting it. He is a BBQ sauce aficionado, but relies on commercial stuff. He noted that it is much more complex, and also less sweet. He said that it really needs to go on the meat for its complexity to shine through. The commercial sauces are apparently so sweet they can be eaten on their own. I’ll have to take his word on that. The complexity is clear: the molasses, maple syrup, cloves, beer malts, hops and tomato are all strong tastes on their own.

The other interesting learning here is that there are multiple ways to prepare ribs. The keys to it are flavoring – the cure or braise the meat is in before and during cooking – and the temperature/how long. It needs to be beyond 180F/82C for the meat to soften and detach from the bone, but it can’t cook too long or else you have pulled pork. Please see Stefan’s excellent blogs covering these issues. And https://stefangourmet.com/2018/04/01/how-to-choose-time-and-temperature-to-cook-meat-sous-vide/

Next Steps

Since this was definitely experimental, the quantities here are more suggested than firm. Next time I feel the BBQ sauce urge, I’ll start by replicating this, and see what tweaks are needed, and record the results. I’m reasonably confident that it will work well and be replicable as is.  These quantities yielded about 2L of sauce. Perhaps if you try this you can comment on what modifications you made to it.

So you want to make your own delicious homemade tomato sauce…

This blog post is a supplement to my previous blog documenting my own personal process. The purpose is to help the reader sort out how they can best do canned tomatoes. You may be doing it for the first time, or it could be something you have tried before. This article is intended to help you plan it out.

How much you do depends largely on the equipment you have, what your needs are, and to a lesser extent how much you want to spend.

Here in  Ontario, Canada, you should be able to buy conventional tomatoes for about $20 (cdn) per bushel and about $40 for organic, if you can get them. One bushel yields between 18-22 L, depending on the juciness and how much you have reduced them.  Flats are about  half a bushel, or approximately 10 Litres. Add in the costs of garlic, onions, herbs and spices, and propane/electricity, and you are making a litre of homemade organic tomato sauce for approximately $1.50 a jar for conventional tomatoes, $3.50/jar for organic.

The next consideration is the equipment. If you decide to put up multiple bushels such as is described here, you are going to need some specialized equipment. If you are doing a single flat – 10 or so jars, you could do this with your biggest pot, no specialized equipment, and in your (albeit hot) kitchen.  You may wish to consider doing this with  friends, where each of you purchases the burners, presses, and large pots.

Alternatives to a tomato press

Tomato presses separate the seeds and skin from the flesh of the tomato. If you think about great tomato sauces you have tasted, you may recall there are no seeds or skin bits floating around in the mix. If you are trying this for the first time and unsure about the investment, one alternative is to blanch each tomato to loosen the skins, manually take each off, and then once the sauce is cooking, put it through a strainer. As you can imagine this is going to be a thankless task. You could also put up with the seeds and skins in your mix. If you go in this direction, I’d suggest pureeing the tomatoes before cooking them. If you wish to invest in a press, check out cooking equipment stores or hardware stores in neighbourhoods where preserving is part of life.

Alternatives to the burners:

I use a 60k btu outdoor propane burner . Its a massive unit that puts out a lot of heat. You could use it for other purposes – a huge stew for 20 people, a community corn roast – but most of us don’t need this, nor have the space to store it. I started with one, moved to 2 and recently got a third. If you are doing lesser quantities and have a BBQ with a side burner, you can use the side burner to boil the jars, and remove the grills and use the BBQ to boil the sauce. You could also do it inside …… which could work for a single flat, but would get tedious beyond that.

Recipes:

Here are 3 recipes – the only difference being their volume. The process remains the same for each, so its noted only once.

One flat (approximately 10L)

  • 1 flat of tomatoes
  • 10 medium large onions, cut fine
  • 2 garlic bulbs, minced
  • 50g salt (and taste for more before you can them)
  • ¼ tsp pepper (& to taste)
  • 1 tbs each basil, oregano, and thyme (& to taste)
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • enough oil to cook the mash

Bushel (2 flats yields @20L)

  • 1 bushel (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
  • 2 pints large onions
  • 3-4 large bulbs garlic
  • approximately 2tbs each of basil, oregano thyme
  • 5-6 or so bay leaves
  • enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a 1/4 cup or so.
  • 3/4 tbs pepper
  • 100g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later (+1 tbs/bushel at end of cooking)

4 bushels

  • 4 bushels (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
  • 8 pints large onions
  • 10 large bulbs garlic
  • approximately 1/2 cup each of basil, oregano thyme
  • 20 or so bay leaves
  • enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a cup or so.
  • 2 tbs pepper
  • 400g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later

Equipment needed

  • a good food processor
  • 2-3 full bbq tanks
  • 1-2 large boiling pots
  • 1-2 large cooking pots
  • 2-3 outdoor 60k btu burners
  • 2 -3 small tables
  • containers to transport finished sauce
  • 1 large spoon (i.e. 1m in length)
  • 80 L of jars – 1 L, 1.5 l sizes
  • 2 tongs – canning tongs and bbq tongs
  • 4 l measuring cup
  • sharp knife
  • breadboard
  • hose and water
  • metal collander
  • oven mits
  • matches or BBQ lighter
  • tomato press
  • canning funnel

METHOD

  • Cut onions, garlic  – food processor with slicing attachment used
  • Add in spices and oil
  • Cook mash until onions are translucent
  • Divide mash into bowls according to how many batches of sauce  you have
  • Set up: make sure the grinding operation and  burners form a triangle around you.
  • The grinder must be on a firm surface with space. There needs to be a place for the seeds to fall, and a surface for the sauce to drop. There needs to be a place for the breadboard and knife to the right of the grinder, a pot of rinse water beside it, and a platform for the bushel basket to sit on above the pot.
  • Fill the canning pot half way up with water, heat it up until boiling
  • Prepare jars, separating lids, tops and jars. Discard any questionable lids. Place lids in a collander that can be easily inserted then removed from boiling water.
  • Pour one batch of herb mash in the cooking pot, and begin grinding the tomatoes, adding to the mash. Light the burner once the first bowl of tomato juice has been prepared. Keep on a high boil, stirring frequently. (This is the key to a thick and reduced sauce). Once the bushel has been ground and is cooking, taste and adjust for salt.
  • Reduce the sauce  – full boil while stirring for about 30 minutes
  • Shortly before canning, put the bottles and lids in the waterbath for a few minutes. Remove them and set yourself up for filling: lids and caps separate, canning funnel and pouring jar ready.
  • Taste to see if you need more salt
  • Fill leaving 1/4″ at top. Tighten the lids before immersing them in the waterbath. (If you need to add more water, DO NOT add cold water if the jars are already in the waterbath. They will crack and break – guaranteed. Take all the jars out, add the water, put the hot jars back in.)
  • Put on a rolling boil for 25 minutes.
  • Let cool, make sure all the lids have popped down. Lids that have not popped down indicate an air leak. Use these jars first, and refrigerate them until use.

Good luck! I hope you do feel inspired to do this. You will never look back!

Tomato Sauce: The yearly ritual

I have been making my own tomato sauce for over 25 years.

It all started when I was living in the Dundas/Bathurst area of Toronto – at that point a community that was 1/3 Portuguese, 1/3 Chinese, and 1/3 Anglo & others. There was a corner hardware store right at Dundas and Palmerston – and like all good Portuguese hardware stores of the time, it brought in tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and grapes in bushel baskets for the intense canning and wine making in the neighbourhood.

A friend at work suggested I get into it, and I thought it a good idea.

Needless to say Luisa at the hardware store was more than willing to help out me getting started. I still have the 2 50K BTU burners, still the original press, still the same 100L & 150 L pot from way back then.

Nowadays, I keep it all up at our cottage  – by far a nicer environment to do the canning.

And – I do it outside.

Interesting doing your cooking outside – without a nice hard, clean floor beneath you – on the ground. Dealing with tomatoes that themselves may have dirt and sand on them  – and one has to get it into the pots and then the jars cleanly – no dirt, only food. Like anything else one devises ones methods. Mine involves a hose, lots of water, 2 white plastic restaurant bus bins, a sharp knife, and temporary ergonomically suitable platforms and clamps for the equipment  – as you can see in the picture.

My tomato grinding set up - temporary 2-by-x and posts to hold the grinder and bin in place.

My tomato grinding set up – temporary 2-by-x and posts to hold the grinder and bin in place.

But lets get to the recipe. 1 bushel of Romas makes 20 litres. This includes 1 medium onion per litre, a couple of cloves of garlic, and (this is all approximate) 1tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tsp ea of basil, thyme, oregano, and a bay leaf. And oil. Enough to cook the onions and spices in beforehand. Usually a couple of cups for the 4 bushels I make with my cottage neighbour, L. I’m sorry I can’t be more exact – but the recipe is fairly forgiving – except where the salt and pepper are concerned. Less is better – you can add more when a batch has all come together.

The day before I do our 4 bushels we cut the onions and garlic – definitely a tedious job – and best done outside with a glass of wine on the side in eager anticipation of the treat to follow the next day. I do ALL of the onions, garlic, herbs and spices  – mix them all together. First thing next morning I cook them up in the pot, covered, low flame, stirring frequently until the onions are cooked. They are then separated into 3 bowls to be added to each batch of tomatoes as they are ground.

So for each bushel  – one grinds, pours into the cooking pot, add the onion and herb mash,  work at the grinding until the bushel is done, reduce the sauce (when the pot is full you can boil the hell out of it as long as you stir occasionally.

Meanwhile heat up our litre jars in another  – larger (120L or so) pot on another burner  – once you are near to the sauce being done, remove them, fill them with sauce, and can them – I do 25 minutes on a rolling boil. Remove, inspect, store.

The first bushel has been processed and is cooking down. To the left is the pot for boiling the jars.

The first bushel has been processed and is cooking down. To the left is the pot for boiling the jars.

That is basically it. It takes all day for a couple of us to put up our 4 bushels. Make sure you have nothing else going on!

The day before I prepare the setup  – burners, propane, grinding stand. 

Tomato sauce

Ingredients for 80 litres (Adjust as needed for the quantity you have!)

  • 4 bushels (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
  • 8 pints large onions
  • 10 large bulbs garlic
  • approximately 1/2 cup each of basil, oregano thyme
  • 20 or so bay leaves
  • enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a cup or so.
  • 2 tbs pepper
  • 400g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later

And  – I’m guessing for most starting out that 1 bushel will be challenge enough. Here are the proportions for a batch of 20L:

  • 1 bushel (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
  • 2 pints large onions
  • 3-4 large bulbs garlic
  • approximately 2tbs each of basil, oregano thyme
  • 5-6 or so bay leaves
  • enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a 1/4 cup or so.
  • 3/4 tbs pepper
  • 100g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later (+1 tbs/bushel at end of cooking)

Other stuff needed

  • a good food processor
  • 2-3 full bbq tanks
  • 1-2 large boiling pots
  • 1-2 large cooking pots
  • 2-3 outdoor 50k btu burners
  • 2 -3 small tables
  • containers to transport finished sauce
  • 1 large spoon (i.e. 1m in length)
  • 80 L of jars – 1 L, 1.5 l sizes
  • 2 tongs – canning tongs and bbq tongs
  • 4 l measuring cups
  • sharp knife
  • breadboard
  • hose and water
  • collander
  • oven mits
  • matches
  • tomato press

METHOD

  • (the night before) Cut onions, garlic  – food processor with slicing attachment used
  • Prepare jars, separating lids, tops and jars. Discard any questionable lids. Place lids in a collander that can be easily inserted then removed from boiling water.
  • Add in spices and oil
  • Cook mash until onions are translucent
First step - cook up the mash!

First step – cook up the mash!

  • Divide mash into bowls according to how many bushels you have
  • Set up: make sure the grinding operation and 2 burners form a triangle around you – about 1.5 metres apart
  • The grinder must be on a firm surface with space. There needs to be a place for the seeds to fall, and a surface for the sauce to drop. There needs a place for the breadboard and knife to the right of the grinder, a pot of rinse water beside it, and a platform for the bushel basket to sit on above the pot.

The set up

  • Fill the canning pot half way up with water, and put in the jars.
  • Pour one patch of herb mash in the cooking pot, and begin grinding the tomatoes, adding to the mash. Light the burner once the first bowl of tomato juice has been prepared. Keep on a high boil, stirring frequently. (This is the key to a thick and reduced sauce). Once the bushel has been ground and is cooking, taste and adjust for salt.
  • Reduce the sauce  – full boil while stirring for about 30 minutes
  • Remove heated jars and lids from the canning pot and fill leaving 1/4″ at top
  • Place caps on, boil for 25 minutes. Let cool, make sure all the lids have popped down.
On the shelf!

On the shelf!