Nicola Miller: Why chamoy deserves to be better known outside of its homeland

nic miller
nic miller

The craze for fermentation, pickling and preserving continues unabated and in the food media, it is largely unfettered from concerns about getting through seasonal food gaps alive. Our concern is more boredom-driven. How can we enliven our weekday meal staples, those dishes that we cook and rotate regularly?

I might own a few thousand books about food but I’m no different, I am always on the hunt for interesting things to do with the usual suspects. Once you’ve tackled the issue of quality, flavour and price, a steak, pork chop or piece of fish is just that, and what you do with it makes all the difference. This is where a good condiment comes into play. From Korean sriracha and Filipino atchara to tabasco from Louisiana and the Roman and SE Asian fish sauces, these umami-rich flavour bombs enliven whatever they are added to.

We’ve all enjoyed the sriracha period of food history where it seemed to be in every other recipe but please do consider the chamoy which deserves to be better known outside of its homeland. In Mexico, a chamoy is a kind of sweet-savoury sauce distinct from a salsa and covers a lot of ground, texture-wise. Ranging from bottled liquids to thick pastes, they are spiced with chiles and have much in common with their Japanese cousin, the umeboshi, which is traditionally made with pickled plum, or the Chinese candied sour salty plum called see mui.

Chamoy will typically have mango or apricot as a base and a rich, chewy flavour. The fruit is packed in dry salt flakes or brine, sometimes acidulated with vinegars and slowly gives up its moisture. We’re left with two glorious things to eat: the dried fruit which is removed from its salty bath and sold as saladitos, which translates as ‘little salty things’, and the fruity liquid base which remains. This will be deepened by adding chile powder, reduced further over heat to become a thick sticky paste or thickened with extra fruit puree before being bottled.

I’ve created two recipes here: a cheats version of chamoy, made with fresh apricots which are in season right now, and an apricot-rich cross between a chamoy and a salsa. British apricots can be underwhelming in flavour and texture so cooking and preserving is the best way to enhance them and these recipes turn them into something far removed from their sometimes-woolly natural state. The apricot and peanut chamoy is delicious with baked cheese, and accompanies chicken, pork or beef, tuna or swordfish well. There’s a genius Mexican street food called tostilocos which can be replicated at home too. Simply tear open a bag of corn tortilla chips and top with a few pork scratchings (best approximation of the cueritos used in Mexico), sliced jicama, cucumber, a dash of lime juice, salt and chile powder. Tostilocos usually has peanuts on top but a dollop of my peanut apricot chamoy 
will more than finish the job 

Cheats chamoy

Wash and pit 12 apricots, cover them with water in a saucepan with 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar. Boil for 20 minutes. Let them cool down to room temperature and mash into a puree with a cup of the cooking water, 2 tablespoons of chile paste/ powder, a quarter cup of vinegar, and a tablespoon of sea salt. Decant into a sterile container and seal. Leave in a cool place for a week or as long as you can stand to wait and treat as any other pickle or condiment.

Apricot, peanut and chile chamoy -style sauce

I was inspired by the instagram of Mextrade UK when they posted a photo of a salsa made with de arbol chiles, peanuts and dried apricots. My version is more apricot-heavy and uses the milder ancho chile but any chile of your choice will do.

1/2 cup orange and mango juice (fresh or from carton) / 1/2 cup white wine vinegar/ 1 1/2 tsp sea salt / 1 1.2 lb fresh apricots cut into small pieces / 3 garlic cloves, minced / 1 ancho pepper, stemmed, seeds removed and finely chopped /small pinch cumin / 1/2 medium red onion, chopped finely / two small sprigs fresh mint, finely chopped / handful of roasted salted peanuts

Place the orange and mango juice in a pan and bring to a boil. Keep stirring and gently boiling until the juice has reduced and is darker and syrupy. This should take around five minutes. Now add the vinegar and salt and stir until the salt is dissolved. Return to the boil and add the chopped apricots, the garlic, cumin, ancho chile and onions then turn the heat right down and cover the saucepan. Checking frequently, let the contents cook until the apricots have started to break down into a thick and soft pulp and the onion and chile is tender. This will take 7-10 minutes. Keep the lid on whilst this happens. Now remove from the stove top and let it cool to room temperature. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add the chopped mint and peanuts then keep in the fridge until needed.