I’ve been using stuff up in a mammoth few days of cooking, Part I of which can be found here. My fridge and veg cupboard were/are full of stuff that needs using up through cooking and freezing. I’m now tackling the kilo of small red onions that I had, by turning all but one of them into Caramelised Red Onion Chutney. It’s the sort of thing I buy ready-made and makes even the cheapest cheese toastie made on plastic bread with budget cheese into something a bit special, so I thought I’d see if I could make my own.
The recipe is simple enough but I’ve not preserved anything in jars before and needed to look up how to do it.
Some people say it’s fine to re-use jars from bought jams and sauces, whilst others say it’s a bad idea and can lead to breakages. Since the only jars I have are re-used from bought stuff, I’d been a bit worried about this happening. I’d washed the jars in a dishwasher at 70C and they were all fine, so then I washed them thoroughly by hand, rinsed them with hot water and followed the instructions in the video. Nothing broke.
The recipe says it makes 4 -6 jars but I suspect that one of the things I’ll like about preserving stuff (when I understand it) is the flexibility you seem to have. My onions were small ones and whilst I looked up the weight of an average medium onion and added more for good measure, I was lucky to get 2 jars. I suspect that’s for the best as I’m nervous about whether I’ve done this right. They need to be left for a month to allow the flavours to develop so I’ll try and avoid opening one until the end of October.
Stuff I learned on this one: it took far longer than the recipe said to get things to the stage I needed. Further reading tells me this isn’t massively unusual, so I’ll relax a bit about that. Since it took so much longer than expected, this threw out my timings for sterilising the jars as the hot marmalade goes into the hot jars and is then sealed, creating the vacuum as it cools, which is what seals the lid. Both my jars have sealed (the safety seal is sucked down like a new jar of jam before you have opened it) so that’s something, but I suspect that they could have been hotter and I will adjust how I do this another time.
If you’ve never used bay leaves (which are dried) before, you must always remove them before you put the finished recipe into jars as nobody wants to get the bay leaf in their serving. I am notorious in my family for either forgetting this or bouquet garni, although it’s always someone else that finds it for me. I haven’t actually done it in years, but the fact that they still remember demonstrates that bay leaves are not for eating. Nor do you want to break them up as it makes it harder to retrieve all the bits from the very hot chutney later.
You’re using a lot of vinegar, obviously, so bear in mind that you might get a face full of the fumes as you try and pour it into the jars, which can be entertaining when you’re trying to see what you’re doing as it’s a bit stingy on the eyes. I got a faceful a few times last night, so probably needed to do this bit under the cooker hood or open more windows. (The taste should mellow with storage so am trying not to worry that it’s sweet enough but with a vinegary taste that needs to die down a bit to make it really nice.)
I am buying a jam funnel as it isn’t expensive and it’ll make my life easier but, because I didn’t have one last night, I sterilised an oven-proof glass jug in the oven with the jars and I boiled my ladle with the jam jar lids to enable me to try and get the hot chutney into the jars without spilling it everywhere. It’s not the end of the world if you do, but you need to be careful to wipe up anything before you put the lids on or bacteria will breed. I wore oven gloves with proper fingers for this bit because I needed the full use of my hands.
Safety first: anything with hot sugar or milk in it (like hot chutney or a cheese sauce) will stick to your skin and burn horribly if it gets on you when it’s boiling hot. If that happens, immediately stick the affected area under cold running water and follow the advice here. If you’re going to learn to cook and you haven’t done much before, take some time to learn how to deal with things like burns and cuts if you don’t know. I wouldn’t want to deter anyone from trying new things, but injuries are more common when you’re new to something and it’s common sense to know how to deal with minor injuries in the kitchen before they happen, because they will. Trying to do too much at once or doing something too quickly is a pretty common cause of cock-ups so I generally try and concentrate on the food while I’m in the kitchen and prepare and measure out everything I need before I start using it, so there’s less time pressure.
If this works, I am hoping that it could be pretty versatile and have had thoughts of stirring a blended version (bits too big at the moment) into hummus or using it as is, in various other dishes. According to the recipe, you can cook this (the veg prep will obviously take a lot longer, especially if you keep stopping to cry from the onions, like I did) in just over an hour, including sterilising the jars. It took me probably 1.5 hours to cook, although I was getting on with other things for most of the time.
Top tip: Chalk pens. I love them. I have a black and a white liquid chalk pen and use them to write on storage jars. My original intention was to use them with vinyl ‘blackboard’ stickers to label things but it’s a nightmare to clean off so better to use those for permanent labelling of stuff like flour. I can do proper labels for stuff when I know it’s worked. Also, writing and drawing on stuff with chalk is fun. Never allow yourself to forget that. (Just don’t write rude things and draw silly stuff on the beautifully-white surface of your fridge door because it’s much less amusing after you’ve had to scrub it with bleach for an hour to make it come off because you forgot the fridge paint was slightly porous.)