Aha, I thought, when I got an invitation to go and check out a mystery cooking ingredient with Michelin starred chef Paul Rankin, they’re not taking any chances. They’re hosting the event in the Hospital Club in Covent Garden. In these days of pigs’ trotter icecream and snail porridge, you can’t be too careful.
I’d never been to the Hospital Club before but I was pleased to note there was a reassuring lack of intensive care equipment, steel beds and defibrilators when I was whisked up to the swanky private dining room. The secret ingredient was obviously not *that* secret, or non-toxic anyway. Phew.
In fact, as we tucked into to dainty little portions of shepherd’s pie and spaghetti bolognaise, I very quickly guessed what the ingredient was. If I tell you that everything was quite red in colour, a bit sticky and just a tad sweet, then what’s your best guess?
Yup, ketchup. Heinz tomato ketchup, to be precise. I did waver a bit when a splendid, cinnamony cake was brought out with a flourish at the end, and I thought it might be HP sauce instead, giving it that nice toasty colour. But no, it was tomato sauce. The lovely Paul Rankin says it is often used in Michelin starred restaurants, particularly to jazz up seafood and add a bit of instant tomato puree taste. A slightly scary thought. He said Marco Pierre White was particularly keen, which brought us on to that strange Knorr stock cube ad, featuring Marco, some cardboard cows, some children and a shepherd’s pie. I’m afraid I thought that Marco had just done it for the dosh. But no, said Paul, Marco really does like to add stock cubes for seasoning, and he throws in the odd splurt of ketchup too. His theory is that it’s more easily on hand than tomato puree and adds lots of flavour. So there you are, pop into a Michelin-starred restaurant, and you could be getting all the condiments of the local greasy spoon – though, of course, they’ll be added with huge amounts of finesse by people wearing chefs’ hats and the bill at the end will be rather different too.
I think my view of the whole idea is coloured by a lack of enthusiasm for ketchup. I absolutely hate it on chips and wouldn’t really have dreamed of using it in cooking before, though I’ll happily admit my famous bolognaise sauce is heavily laden with rival sauces like HP and Lea and Perrins. I will, now, give ketchup a thorough go – partly because the recipe book is so nicely produced and partly because that cake was yummy.
It was lovely to meet Paul, to catch up with wonderful blogger Pippa of A Mother’s Ramblings and to meet Octavia of Not So Yummy Mummy, as well as foodie bloggers EuWen – A Rather Unusual Chinaman Carla from Can Be Bribed With Food , Laura of Feast on Scraps and Cassie of A Girl Has To Eat. I’m not completely convinced that this girl has to eat ketchup, though. I’ll report back when I’ve tried out those recipes! Have a go at the cake yourself. The Heinz recipe includes red food colouring to give you a ketchup colour – if you leave it out it’ll be a nice warm brown:
450g plain flour, sieved
2tsp baking powder
1 1/2tsp cinnamon
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
1/2tsp ground ginger
125ml Heinz Tomato Ketchup
2tbsp natural red food colouring
175g butter, softened
350g dark brown sugar
175g cream cheese, softened
175g butter, softened
1tsp vanilla essence
500g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease two 23 cm round cake tins
and line the bottoms with baking parchment. Mix the flour,
baking powder, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, nutmeg and
ginger into a bowl.
Stir the Heinz Tomato Ketchup, water and colouring in a
separate bowl. Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Beat
in the eggs, gradually. Add the flour mixture and ketchup
mixture. Beat slowly, scraping down the bowl as needed,
Beat at high speed for 1 minute. Divide the batter evenly
between the prepared cake tins. Bake for 30 minutes or until
the centre springs back when touched lightly. Cool the cakes
for 15 minutes before turning onto a rack to cool completely.
Frosting: Beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla for
2 minutes or until smooth. Gradually beat in the sugar,
scraping the bowl as needed. Beat at high speed until fluffy.
Fill between the cake layers and over the sides and top of