Oh, mango chutney, the ketchup of North Indian restaurants. Papadum served with chutneys, samosas with chutney – everyone’s familiar with the basic concept. Except they’re probably only familiar with the Western versions – “chutney” can refer to a wide class of preparations much different than what we commonly understand. That’s not what I want to talk about, though.
I want to talk about preserving, or pickling. This mango chutney is technically a pickle. In the simplest terms, a pickle is a mixture whose pH leans heavily towards acidity (<4.6 pH officially) and that acidity is strong enough to kill bacteria and other fun things – all of which means you can store it (the pickle) for quite a long time without it going bad. Since vinegar and lemon juice’s pHs are 2.4 and 2.2 respectively, either can be used here. To help keep the interior of the jar safe, we need a clean jar, and a tight lid. By clean, I mean it should probably be boiled (or washed in a hot cycle of a dishwasher) beforehand, and dried with a fresh towel.
Apart from the preparation of the jar, all we’re doing here is frying some spice, then stewing diced mango in a sugar-vinegar solution until it’s nice and tender. The final catch: before anything gets jarred, it needs to be cooled first. Why? Because steam produces moisture inside the jar, and warmth+moisture=bacteria growth. Science FTW.
The spice blend used here is called panch phoran. If you are not familiar with it, don’t worry, it is fairly easy to find pre-packaged in any Indian grocery, as well as showing up in some Metros/chain supermarkets and specialty markets. See my notes below if you’d like to make it yourself. The only thing I need to tell you about it is, once you get the spices crackling and then simmering in the pot with the mango, your entire house/apartment will smell exactly like an Indian restaurant. Who doesn’t like that?
- 1 large green mango, 4″ long, 3″ wide approx. and weighing in somewhere around 750-1000 g, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2″ cubes (watch this video to see how, and remember to smell that mango very deeply, as shown)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp panch phoran, see note below
- 1 1/2 cups sugar (I used white sugar, but raw, brown or other sugars would add interesting characteristics and colour)
- 1 cup white vinegar, or lemon juice
- 1/3 cup finely chopped ginger
- 2 tsp salt
Note: panch phoran is a spice blend made of equal parts (1:1:1:1:1) fenugreek seeds (not the leaves!), nigella seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds (black or yellow), and fennel seeds.
What you will need: a sterile jar with a tight-fitting lid (see comments above), small cooking pot, measuring spoons and cups, knife and cutting board, wooden spoon for stirring
- Before you begin, make sure all your prep (chopping the ginger, dicing the mango, and measuring out the vinegar and sugar) is complete. There are a few steps in the recipe where time is of the essence, so be prepared!
- Add the oil to the pot, and put the pot over a burner on medium heat (around 5 on my dial)
- When the oil is hot, toss in the panch phoran, and let it fry for about 1 minute, or until the spices crackle. By “crackle” I mean you will hear cracking sounds (relatively loud) – this is your cue to move to the next step.
- Pour in the vinegar, then add the sugar into the vinegar. Stir the mixture to help get the sugar dissolving. Wait for a few minutes until the vinegar is hot enough to simmer (light bubbling of the liquid), and stir occasionally. By the time the vinegar begins to simmer, all the sugar should be dissolved.
- Add the chopped ginger, the diced mangoes, and the salt. Stir this mixture to dissolve the salt into the hot liquid and mix the fruit evenly into the vinegar. Let it cook until the pot is simmering again.
- Once the mixture begins to bubble again, lower the heat to low (or 2 on my dial) and simmer this pot for about 45 minutes. What we’re doing here is cooking the mangoes, obviously, but also reducing the vinegar-sugar mixture slightly. Keep an eye on the pot, and raise the heat a bit if the liquid stops simmering. Also, give it a stir. Also, enjoy the intense aroma.
- Once you’re happy with the consistency of the chutney (the mangoes should be soft) remove the pot from the heat. Either let the pot sit for about an hour or two, or put the pot into an ice/cold water bath. This is as simple as filling your sink up about 3-4 inches with cold water (or toss in some ice cubes) and sitting the pot in the water. This will speed up the cooling process. In case it’s not obvious, do not get any of this water into the actual chutney. The chutney is ready to be jarred when you can stick your finger into the chutney and it feels like room temperature (or cooler). Basically it shouldn’t feel “warm to the touch”.
- Get your sterile jar out, and carefully pour the cooled chutney into the jar. You’ll know your chutney is still too warm if steam appears on the inside of the jar. If this is the case, put the jar itself back into the ice bath, and let it cool longer. If there’s no steam, you’re good to go: cap the lid on the jar, seal it tightly, and place the jar in a dark, cool place for about a week. This gives the chutney time to mature – the flavours will meld and become more complex. This is desirable. So do it. And then eat some, maybe with a samosa. Which I’m working on.