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RBR Tailgating: Chow Chow

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This is a big arrow to have in your entertainment quiver.

This week’s offering is not meant to stand alone. I suppose you could pull up a chair and tuck in to a jar with a big spoon but you’d risk permanent vinegar face and depending on how heavy handed you are with the spices you might introduce an unnecessary level of mistrust to the relationship you have with your taste buds.

It’s hard to just call this a condiment though.

Think of it as a blessing, a boon to a decently large swath of the tailgating oeuvre.

For those of you unfamiliar with chow chow, a quick Google search will tell you that “The Chow-Chow is a sturdily built dog, square in profile, with a broad skull and small, triangular, erect ears with rounded tips.” Google also let me know that unless you are a member of the chow chow’s family unit it will be mean to you.

For our purposes you have to scan through four pages of the one hundred and ten million results for the term “chow chow” until you get a canine-free link. That surprised me. I’m aware of how easily and, once they get started, vigorously people will fetishize their pets, but I’m also aware of how many people like to post recipes on Pinterest and submit their grandmother’s cherished kitchen secrets to Allrecipes and the ilk. I really thought chow chow (the one without a cold nose) was lights out popular but if Google results are any reflection of people’s preferences the blessing has been massively overshadowed by a dog, and not a nice one at that.

When I Googled “chow chow food origin” I discovered that the name comes from the Mandarin word “cha,” meaning mixed, which made its way into the American vocabulary via Chinese immigrant railroad workers and the recipes they brought with them back when industry was revolutionizing.

I also discovered that the name comes from the French word “chou,” meaning cabbage. The Acadians brought it down from Canada en route to Louisiana and peppered the Appalachians with all manner of relish variations bearing the chow chow name. I was thrilled to read that in Pennsylvania the most popular brand of jarred chow chow is called Wos-Wit so in the Keystone State you can pick up some Wos-Wit at the Wawa. We live in the best of all possible worlds.

Apparently “chow chow” was also common Pidgin English for all things Chinese back in the railroad immigration days. “Songshi Quan” is what the mean dog is called when it’s at home. “Chow chow” the dog and “chow chow” the food may both just mean Sino.

However it made its way and through however many languages it wended through, chow chow is here. Stirred into black eyed peas or mashed potatoes, as a topping on pulled pork sandwiches or hamburgers, on a hot dog in place of sauerkraut (I haven’t tried it yet but I’m betting this stuff would make a great substitution for sauerkraut in a Reuben too), it adds a kick of spice, texture, salt, and vinegar. I’m going to try it soon on a sandwich with Italian cold cuts and provolone. It won’t be a muffaletta, but as a relish it will hit some of the same notes as olive salad does. It’d be muffalettesque.

This looks like it takes a long time, but you really have about twenty minutes of actual work ahead of you. The rest is waiting.

Chow Chow

- ½ large green bell pepper, chopped, deseeded, and with the bulk of the pith removed

- ½ large red bell pepper, chopped, deseeded, and with the bulk of the pith removed

- ¼ to ⅓ a head of green cabbage, chopped

- 1 medium onion, chopped

- ½ green tomato, chopped

- 1 large tomatillo, chopped

- 3 tbsp kosher salt

- 1 cup water for the brine plus ⅓ cup for spice mixture

- 2 cups distilled white vinegar

- ½ cup light brown sugar

- 3 allspice berries, smashed

- ½ tsp. celery seeds

- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

- ½ tsp. coriander seeds (I toasted mine but I’m not sure that the toasted flavor came through but it’s an option)

- 1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated

- ½ ground turmeric

- black pepper to taste, freshly ground

- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Start midway down the list at the allspice berries and put them and everything that follows in a bowl - no need to stir it together. You can label the bowl “spice mixture” if you like, but it’s probably just as easy to remember that the bowl is filled with a mixture of spices and will be referred to as the spice bowl whether you label it or not. Set the bowl aside for later.

Put the cup of water in a medium stock pot and add the kosher salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved. This is done at room temperature, no heat.

Add the chopped bell peppers, cabbage, onion, green tomato, and tomatillo and stir. The water should almost cover the vegetables with only a little bit poking through the surface. Cover and place in the fridge to brine for at least 4 hours but no more than overnight. I stirred every hour or so to rotate what few corners of vegetable were not submerged, so do that if it makes you feel like a better steward of your kitchen but know that it’s not necessary.

I chose the peppers, cabbage, etc. because they are traditional chow chow ingredients. Feel free to add more. Corn, okra, and carrots come to mind. Make yourself happy.

After at least four hours you should have a bright array of brined vegetables most of which are technically fruit. Drain and discard the liquid.

In a separate stock pot combine the vinegar, the remaining ⅓ cup of water, and the light brown sugar. Bring to a simmer while whisking or stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved and add the contents of the spice bowl which may or may not be designated in writing as such.

Simmer for 10 to 15 more minutes to make a flavorful spice and ginger tea. Next strain the tea through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl that is sufficient to hold all the liquids. Pour the liquid back into the stock pot and add the brined vegetables.

Simmer the vegetables in the tea for 10 to 15 minutes until the peppers take on a drab color and everything begins to soften.

I went through the trouble of sterilizing a jar because relishes look cool in jars that are oddly called “canning jars.” See:

So put it in a jar, or if you aren’t as worried about looks as I am some Tupperware will do the job. Pour any liquid from the stock pot over the chow chow and let cool before storing in the refrigerator. In a sterile canning jar it should keep in the fridge for 4 weeks. In Tupperware, I’d back that off by a week or so.

That’s a mean dog.

As I mentioned before, there’s no tailgate related downside to having this stuff on hand.

I’m not sure whether we find out what kind of team we have, Texas A&M has, or Vanderbilt has tomorrow afternoon. My suspicion is that by the end of the game Josh will be hard at work making up supposed “Jimbo’s &^%*#@ overpaid” comments for this week’s meltdown thread. We’ll see.

Enjoy, no injuries, and Roll Tide!