Although chutney is best known as a condiment originating in India, the concept has spread worldwide and transformed to suit local tastes. The term chutney comes from the East Indian chatni, meaning "strongly spiced," and refers to a condiment which usually consists of a mix of chopped fruits, vinegar, spices, and sugar cooked into a chunky spread. Most chutneys are on the spicy side, but it's easy to adjust the heat factor if you make your own.
The sweet, tart, and spicy flavor complements strong-flavored meats such as wild game, but also works well with beef, pork, and chicken. Chutney perks up cheeses and sweeter versions make a fabulous spread on crackers, toast, or bagels.
Chutney or Relish?
Chutney and relish are often used interchangeably as condiment terms. The confusion is understandable. Chutneys can be savory, and relishes can be sweet. In general, chutneys have a chunky spreadable consistency much like a preserve and are usually made with fruit, whereas relishes are hardly cooked, use less sugar if any, are more crunchy to the bite, and use vegetables. An example is pickle relish, a common condiment in American cuisine, versus the fruity rhubarb chutney.
Chutneys have a fruit base, but many non-sweet vegetables can also be used. Once you get the basic concept down, you can experiment with any number of fruits or vegetables.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible combinations to make this tasty condiment. The most common flavors in chutney are ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, raisin, mango, tamarind, citrus fruit, apricot, peach, coriander, mint, onion, and garlic. But those aren't the only options; there are plenty of innovative takes on chutney that use pineapple, coconut, rose hips, pumpkin, quince, plums, or carrots. Get adventurous with kiwifruit chutney, this refreshing papaya raisin chutney, or a tropical pineapple chutney.
Remember these basics before you start:
- Use firm-fleshed, under-ripe fruits such as green mangos, bananas, peaches, apples, nectarines, and apricots. Rhubarb and firm or under-ripe tomatoes are also good candidates. Try our rhubarb chutney recipe or the sweet pear ginger chutney.
- Avoid soft fruits with delicate flavors such as raspberries, strawberries, and similar because they will cook down into more of a smooth jam and their flavor will be lost.
- Dried fruits work particularly well in chutneys since they retain their texture, yet contribute a tart flavor offset by the sugar and spices.
- As a rule of thumb, use 6 1/2 pounds of fruit per 32 liquid ounces of vinegar, and 2 pounds of sugar. Adjust the content of vinegar and sugar depending on the tartness and acidity of the fruit you're using. For sweet mangoes use less sugar, for tart apples or quince use less vinegar. For an acidic chutney, great for beef, make our green tomato and apple chutney.
- Chop your fruit or veggies carefully: too small and they'll become a mush, too big, they'll be unspreadable and the chutney won't be smooth.
Cooking Method and Utensils
For a successful chutney, follow these recommendations:
- Have at hand a saucepot or dutch oven for slow cooking processes or big batches of chutney. Use non-reactive pots because the acid in the mixtures will react to iron, copper, and brass causing discoloration and a metallic taste.
Wooden spoons or plastic utensils are recommended for the same reasons.
- Buy glass airtight containers to preserve the chutneys and sterilize them before using; most chutneys will last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator if preserved correctly. Beware of double-dipping with a saliva-contaminated spoon, that'd be it for your chutney!
Here are a few ideas to spice up your chutney:
- Mix chutney with cream cheese, sour cream, or creme fraiche for a cracker spread or fruit dip.
- Mix chutney with olive oil or butter to glaze your roasts. Keep in mind that the sugar in the chutney will caramelize, so add the final glaze when the meat is nearly done to avoid charring and flare-ups.
- Mix with homemade or packaged mayonnaise for accenting cold meats, poultry, or as a potato salad binder. Try this chutney mayonnaise.
- Mix your chutney with water and olive oil for an overnight marinade for beef or poultry.