One of my earliest memories of tomato jam was at a restaurant near my house.
It was made by one of my favorite local chefs, Will Gilson (now chef-owner of Puritan & Co), who used it as a topping over bacon. It was fantastic. I loved the deep, intense, and sweet tomato essence paired with the smoky, salty bacon.
And then I had it again, this time at a pop-up called Whisk, where they served it alongside beef tartare and a sunny side up egg.
I've always wanted to try making it myself (even saying so in this early, early post at Menton), yet never had the time or inclination to actually figure out how to do it. After all, jam making sounds hard, and the idea of standing over a pot for hours sounded intimidating.
A couple weeks ago I became re-inspired to try while having a conversation with a woman from Sonoma Valley.
She told me that homemade ketchup was delicious but a real pain to make. It usually takes days and then it disappears just like that. She said it was so much work she stopped doing it.
"Now tomato jam, on the other hand, I make all the time. I love it. You throw everything into a pot, boil it down, and in a couple hours you have tomato jam."
"That stuff is so good I could eat it all the time."
I remembered my old promise to myself, that someday I would try making tomato jam. After searching around the internet a bit (the woman told me she used Mark Bittman's recipe with her own tweaks), I ended up following a similar path.
I picked up some Backyard Farms tomatoes as part of a partnership we're doing together right now. I decided to get the cocktail tomatoes (the little ones) because they are sweeter and I felt that their intense flavors would really shine in a tomato jam recipe.
Mark Bittman's recipe uses ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves. To be honest, I'm typically not a huge fan of those flavors, so I most certainly hesitated. I finally decided that I would be OK with ginger and cumin, but I decided to omit the cinnamon and the cloves.
There's a sizable amount of lime juice (30 mL / 2 tablespoons), which I barely managed to squeeze out of one of my jumbo limes. I grated my ginger with a Microplane zester and finely minced one jalapeno pepper and one serrano pepper.
Finally, the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar. I just couldn't bear to dump the whole amount in (I'm typically sensitive to things that are too sweet), so I added just ⅔ cups. Bryan always says not to mess with a recipe the first time, but I am impatient, I was pretty confident that adding less sugar would be OK because many commentors online confirmed as such.
It was just as easy as advertised.
Once you chop the tomatoes (I didn't even bother coring them since these little cocktail tomatoes have such little cores), you just throw everything into a pot, turn on the heat until it boils, and then simmer.
The simmering can take 1-2 hours depending on how juicy your tomatoes are. Once the jam thickens, turn off the heat.
Taste and adjust flavors accordingly. I was shocked to find that the one serrano and one jalapeno were not enough, and I craved for more spice. I ended up adding about one teaspoon of red chili flakes before the jam had the level of heat I wanted (I like it pretty spicy!).
The resultant jam has an intense and rich tomato flavor that's also bright (from the lime juice). The ginger works in this recipe, and overall I found the flavors to be well balanced.
As for the sugar, I thought it was definitely sweet enough. I'm so glad I did not add the whole cup. Frankly, I could cut down even more on the sugar and still enjoy it. At its current state, it's just a bit too sweet to enjoy straight up, though it's excellent paired with other things.
Many have successfully used their canning skills to seal up several jars of this glorious spread for future use. Since I was a newbie at this canning business, I just waited for the jam to cool before storing it in one of my cute little glass jars. It the refrigerator it will last at least one week.
Enjoy this as a spread on toast, combined with cream cheese as a spicy dip, or served on top of savory meats. The spicy sweetness complements the umami of meat beautifully. It's super versatile.
Spicy Tomato Jam
Adapted and slightly modified from Mark Bittman's original recipe here
- 30 oz Backyard Farms cocktail tomatoes (3 packages), quartered
- ½-2/3 cup sugar
- juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
- zest of 1 lime (optional)
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated or minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1-2 hot peppers, stemmed, seeded, and finely minced (e.g., jalapeño, serrano)
- red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan (like a Dutch oven!)
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.
2. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate (will keep at least a week).
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