Making Chow Chow

by Matt on April 15, 2007

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Growing up in Galveston, Texas with parents who love good food gave me a
million food memories. Chief among them are shrimp po-boys, fried
oysters, endless Tex Mex and one little particular sandwich I’d always
insist on grabbing from the Old Strand Emporium. Without giving too
much of a history lesson about this "interesting" island off the gulf
coast, Galveston was home to a booming port and bustling city during
the end of the 19th century. While many things have come and gone, the
Emporium is still there. Think high ceilings, Victorian-style general
store with tons of candy. You can see why it was one of my favorite
places to visit as a kid, but it wasn’t for the sweets or soda. It was
for one particular sandwich that has been stuck in my head for over 30
years.

This sandwich-that-I-pine-for is like no other.
Wrapped in foil and meant as a grab-and-go selection, it was a savory,
salty spread layered between a fresh baguette. It was sweet, a bit hot,
with a salami-esque and relish-style flavor that begged to be enjoyed
with a cold Dr. Pepper (or Mr. Pibb, even better!) My mouth waters just
thinking of it. I’ve asked just about every Galvestonian I know,
including family members, but the response is usually the same: "Oh, I
remember those sandwiches! Sure were good. I have no idea what it was."

Of
course that’s never the answer you want to hear, so after the trail
went cold I decided I was going to have to pick up the phone and call.

"I
know this sounds crazy, but my parents would buy a particular sandwich
from the Emporium when I was a kid. This was 30 years ago and I have no
idea if you still make it," I asked.

"Oh, sure, of course. We
still make it. And it’s a secret recipe. About the only thing I can
tell you is that it’s made with Chow Chow. And that’s it." replied the
voice on the other end.

My initial reaction was frustration, but
then it hit me: she said Chow Chow! Knowing this I could rely on memory
to get close enough to replicate it!

And then it hit me again. What the hell is Chow Chow?

I
had to stop for a moment and run through the list of marinades,
dressings, pickles and relishes that litter my brain. It wasn’t easy,
but after making a few funny faces and scratching my head the secret
ingredient came up and I began to remember it as a Southern thing. Some
sort of vegetable and pickle relish that can be made with anything on
hand, although cabbage and onions are key. It’s a familiar taste and
just slightly different. This would explain the sweet and tangy flavor
of the sandwich I grew up loving and I was going to do my best to make
it again. From memory.

The Chow Chow mission started and I found
a very basic recipe for it but wouldn’t you know little old impatient
me would have to wait a month before tasting it. Because it’s a
vegetable relish it takes 4 weeks to pickle, not to mention the week it
took me to track down a batch of green tomatoes. But waiting did the
trick, and my first bite of my homemade chow chow relish made me wonder
why it wasn’t a regular ingredient in my cupboard or fridge. Green
tomatoes, green cabbage, red bell peppers. onions, spices, sugar and
vinegar create a luscious, tangy, crunchy slaw that is neither too
sweet nor too salty. It’s just perfect and it stays crunchy, and the
large dice of vegetables means it’s not mushy and pretty damn hearty. I ate half a jar just standing there before I could even start the
sandwich.

I love the moments of discovery you can find in the
kitchen. What originally started out as an attempt to recreate a
sandwich led me to what I might consider one of the best condiments
I’ve ever tasted. Over the course of a few days I discovered that chow
chow is phenomenal on hamburgers and Adam found out how delicious it is
on a hot dog. I can’t wait to serve it alongside barbecued meats like
ribs and chicken. But it doesn’t have to be all meat – it’s even great
on top of plain white rice. I’m sad to report that the jars of my new
favorite relish are almost gone. Time to track down more green tomatoes!

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Chow Chow Relish
I’ve read that Chow Chow was perfect way to save
random vegetables from a farmer’s harvest as it can be made with a
mixture of almost anything. This recipe features unripe green tomatoes
but a quick google search will yield a million variations. I recommend
a rather good-sized chop here as you can always go smaller once your
Chow Chow is ready. You can’t go backwards. And my next batch may
include a few chili pepper flakes for added heat. This recipe for Chow
Chow Relish makes 4 pints.

Ingredients
4 cups chopped cabbage
3 cups chopped cauliflower
2 cups chopped green tomatoes
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
1 cup chopped red bell peppers
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons celery seeds

 

Directions
1.
Combine the chopped cabbage, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions and
green tomatoes in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and let the mixture
stand 4 to 6 hours in a cool place.

 
2. Drain the vegetable mixture well. Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard, turmeric, ginger, celery seeds and the mustard seeds in a large saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes. Add vegetable mixture and simmer 10 minutes longer. Bring to boil.
 
3.
Pack, boiling hot, into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head
space. Adjust lids and process 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Let
rest in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks before opening.

Recipe adapted from Pat in Phoenix…thank you!

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Chow Chow Salami Spread
Ok,
so it may not be exactly like the sandwich of my youth but it comes
pretty damn close. And even if it didn’t it sure tasted good. I’m not
trying to malign salami on sandwiches, but am I the only person who
finds it hard to eat if it’s not sliced paper thin? You take one bite
and end up pulling it out of the sandwich if you don’t make the effort
to bite all the way through, and then the slice flops around and hits
your chin and you end up looking silly as you shove it into your mouth
with your fingers. Anyone? Anyone? Just me? Ok, nevermind. This spread
is tangy, flavorful, and easy to eat. Too easy. Perfect for picnics. Or
any time of day, say breakfastlunchordinner.

Ingredients
4 ounces sliced salami
1 cup chow chow relish, drained (see recipe above)
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Directions
In
a food processor process salami until it’s fully chopped into small
pieces. Remove from processor and repeat with the chow chow relish.
Once processed remove the relish and do the same with the provolone
cheese to create smaller pieces. Once all ingredients are processed
combine them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and mix
thoroughly. Depending on the moisture and age of the salami you can add
more mayonnaise or a tablespoon of the chow chow brine if your sandwich
spread is too dry. Spread onto a sliced baguette and enjoy.