Jean-Georges Vongerichten cod and ketchup recipe
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)
By Jean-Georges Vongerichten / October 4, 2019 6:37 am

In his combination memoir and cookbook, JGV: A Life in 12 Recipes, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the most revolutionary and decorated chefs of the last 30 years, takes the Proustian response to a new level. In the charming and entertaining new book, he revisits the great dishes of his life and the stories that go along with them. One, in particular, caught our eye because, well, it’s fish and a ketchup sauce. That just didn’t sound right to us. Yet when we tried it, we were stunned to find that it’s actually delicious. That shouldn’t have shocked us when you consider where we got the recipe from. But we decided to let the chef sell it to you, dear reader. So here, from his new book, we present one of the oddest recipes that you think shouldn’t work, but it does.

I’m going to admit it here for the first time. I wouldn’t have put the word on my menu or offered the information, but the fact is, one of my best sauces at JoJo was made using ketchup. Yes, it’s true. This, too, is part of being flexible. Again: I had only six burners; I could not afford to use up all that cooking real estate for stocks. Nor did we have the space to do à la minute fumets and jus, as I’d been doing since L’Oasis.

This is a classic JoJo dish, highlighted by a sauce using only bottled staples you can get at any grocery store. Remember, my kitchen was a 150-square-foot rectangle into which were shoehorned all counter-tops, cook surfaces, the pass, and the three main stations — garde-manger, hot line, and pastry — as well as the dishwasher’s station. Three hundred covers a night out of that little closet of a space. I had to be crafty with the sauces, which had originally been stock-based when I’d had plenty of space in Lafayette’s kitchen, a palace in comparison to JoJo’s space. So I created this: ketchup, red wine vinegar spiked with Tabasco (I love Tabasco, one of America’s oldest prepared sauces), and soy sauce, all brought together with plenty of butter.

Again, I looked to one of my previous preparations, then simply swapped ingredients. Remember the soy-butter-lime sauce I mentioned? A simple emulsion of those three ingredients is great on all fish and chicken. This would be the same thing. The only things I did differently were to change the acid from lime to red wine vinegar, seasoned with Tabasco, and add fish sauce. But the idea is the same: butter emulsifying the soy and vinegar. To give it color, body, and more flavor, ketchup! It’s amazing. I love ketchup. This base could be made in the morning and be ready to reheat and serve whenever I needed it. I called it my sauce américaine! Traditional sauce américaine, a French classic, is a tomato-based sauce usually used for lobster or other shellfish. You would never find soy sauce in such a preparation, so this is my nouveau version using only bottled American sauces. On the menu at JoJo, so that people wouldn’t confuse this with the traditional French sauce, I simply called it sauce aromates.

It’s dead simple. You can use it just as is. At the restaurant, I wanted a ratatouille-style garnish, so while the sauce is simple, the garnish is a nightmare. (More than a dozen ingredients!) Feel free to use whatever is on hand and tailor your garnish to the ingredients you have and the time you have— ideally, there will be a sweet vegetable, a salty component, and an aromatic component. Because this was a three-star dish, I went all out: brunoise of blanched and shocked fennel, zucchini, celery, and red and orange peppers, along with a brunoise of tomato, oil-cured black olives, and bright green Castelvetrano olives, plus capers, thyme leaves, a minced Thai chili, Thai basil chiffonade, and, importantly, saffron.

Prepare everything ahead of time: about ¼ cup of each of the vegetables, a tablespoon each of the salty ingredients, ¼ teaspoon of the herbs, and the saffron, which is great for color and flavor in Provençal dishes.

Also three-star cooking: an optional decorative flourish of herb oil.

Parsley

Chives

Basil

Olive oil

Salt

Blanch and shock the herbs, then puree them with the olive oil and a hit of salt and strain the mixture. (True to the JoJo philosophy of letting nothing go to waste, we add the strained herbs from the puree to pureed potatoes for an herb-potato side dish.) The oil makes for a great presentation and seasoning if you want to go to the effort. Make this ahead of time as well.

To finish the garnish:

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, cut into small dice 

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt

Sweat the garlic and onion in the olive oil, hitting them with some salt. They should fry in the oil. When the garlic and onion are simmering and hot and very soft, remove the pan from the heat. Add whatever vegetables you wish for garnish. Here’s what we use (as mentioned above, the fennel, zucchini, celery, and bell peppers should have been blanched and shocked so that they’re tender):

½  fennel bulb, cut into brunoise

½  zucchini, cut into brunoise

2 celery stalks, cut into brunoise 

1 red pepper, cut into brunoise

1 orange pepper, cut into brunoise

1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and cut into brunoise

10 oil-cured black olives, pitted, cut into brunoise

10 Castelvetrano olives, pitted, cut into brunoise

1 tablespoon capers

Thyme leaves from one twig of thyme 

1 Thai chili, minced

2 Thai basil leaves, cut into chiffonade 

Pinch of saffron

Toss everything together to warm it all through. Set the mixture aside and keep it warm.

Make the sauce:

4 ounces ketchup 

3 ounces soy sauce

3 ounces red wine vinegar 

1 teaspoon Tabasco

10 ounces unsalted butter

Combine everything except the butter in a saucier over medium-high heat. When the ingredients are combined and just beginning to simmer, add the butter in chunks, whisking continuously until the butter is melted and emulsified into the sauce.

And that’s all, two minutes on the stove. Look at it. It’s got the depth of color of a long-simmered stock-based sauce. Taste it. A fabulous all-purpose concoction for fish, chicken, shellfish, even rice. Just before serving the sauce, because it can be very rich and unctuous, I give it a buzz with the hand blender to lighten it.

To finish the dish:

Four 4-ounce fish filets (cod, hake, or other white flaky fish)

Salt

Grapeseed or olive oil

Season the fish with salt and sauté it in the oil over medium-high heat just until it’s warm in the center, a couple minutes per side. (In the restaurant we’d flip it and finish it in the oven.) Remove it to a plate lined with paper towels while you spoon warm sauce onto the plates, and rim the sauce with the herb oil, if using. Set a piece of fish in the center of each plate. Spoon a ½-inch-thick layer of the ratatouille vegetable garnish over the top of the fish. Top with a couple of fresh basil leaves or thyme sprigs, if you wish.

Serves 4 

And there it is. A dish created to accommodate JoJo’s 150-square-foot kitchen in 1991, three hun- dred covers daily, and still on our classics menu once a week today.

Reprinted from JGV: A Life in 12 Recipes by Jean-Georges Vongerichten with Michael Ruhlman. Copyright ( c ) 2019 by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved