The next time you are seduced into buying several pounds of local tomatoes at the height of the season, consider making this spicy tomato jam. A jar goes a very long way and, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself spooning it on poached eggs, spreading it on sandwiches, topping burgers with it, slathering it on meatloaf, and eating it on crackers with your favorite stinky cheese. Give a jar to a friend, and I guarantee they will ask you for the recipe.
My inspiration came from Darina Allen, who runs the world-renowned cookery school at Ballymaloe in County Cork, Ireland. In her wonderful book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, I spotted a tomato and chile jam. A simple, humble recipe: tomatoes, red chiles, garlic, ginger, sugar, vinegar, and something totally unexpected—fish sauce. I had to try it. And now, so should you.
For a small batch (enough to make about 2¼ cups), start with 2 pounds of plum tomatoes. Simply core the tomatoes, halve them, and then chop them. Although you could use any tomatoes, plum tomatoes are meatier; plus, you can get away with not peeling them, which makes this jam super easy. Even in the dead of winter, you can usually get your hands on decent plum tomatoes, putting this jam within reach year-round.
For the jam’s spicy base, puree the following in your food processor: one large jalapeno pepper (trimmed, seeded, and minced), 6 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, and ¼ cup fish sauce. I know this sounds like a lot of fish sauce, but trust me—your jam will not taste fishy. Rather, as the jam cooks down into a dark and jammy mixture, it will take on a mysteriously deep, earthy, and spicy flavor.
Scrape this mixture out of the food processor and add it to a large nonstick skillet with the tomatoes, 1¼ cups sugar, ¾ cup red wine vinegar, and 2 star anise pods (these are optional, but I think they add some depth of flavor to the mix).
Bring this mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. It will look loose, but don’t worry; it will cook down and become jammy within an hour. (My batches were always done after about 45 minutes.) Once this mixture reaches a boil, lower the heat just a little and keep it simmering until it starts to thicken, turns a dark red color, and begins to look very, very dark and jammy. When the jam is done, you’ll see a trail when you run your spatula or wooden spoon down the middle of the skillet.
At this point, remove the star anise pods if you’ve added them, get out your potato masher, and mash around in the skillet to give the jam a smoother, silkier consistency.
Transfer the jam to a large glass measuring cup and pour into sterilized jars. Let cool, and cover and refrigerate. This jam will keep for several months.