Before everyone panics, I’ll make the very obvious disclaimer that by “everything” I do not mean dessert. You got me, okay? Ketchup does not belong on ice cream. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find a lunch or dinner item that I wouldn’t squeeze some ketchup onto. This is the hill I have chosen to die on, and I’m damn proud of it.
I’ve mentioned before my childhood love and dedication to Heinz ketchup. I shared a harrowing (if not somewhat embarrassing) tale of how my grandparents crossed a border to retrieve subpar quality ketchup because I refused to eat the watery excuse for ketchup I was being served at the time. That should sum up how much I enjoyed ketchup as a kid, right? You’d think I grew out of that. Nope.
Growing up, tacos were a common meal in our house. Every meal my grandma made included tortillas, and it was usually a mix of flour or corn tortillas because as a kid I preferred the flour tortillas. The thing is that I had to have ketchup with every single protein, whether that be chicken, steak, pork, I did not care. Ketchup was a necessity. So, my carne asada tacos would be topped with a squiggly line of ketchup, much to my mother’s embarrassment at family barbecues. On one truly egregious occasion, I even put ketchup on one half of the taco and sour cream on the other. It genuinely was not a bad combination, but I figured I’d stop before my mom fully disowned me.
It’s this kind of ketchup dedication that makes my mother question where she went wrong in my upbringing or say things like, “this is when you’re your father’s child.” But in some ways, this was one of the first expressions of my Latinx identity. I chose to meld a fairly traditional Mexican food with a condiment most people only put on burgers or fries, generally American fare. That’s art right there.
Ketchup pairs beautifully with plenty of things that people might sneer at:
- Scrambled eggs. I love ketchup on my scrambled eggs. The ketchup should be chilled so that when it’s squeezed upon piping hot eggs it acts as a cooling agent, allowing you to take an immediate bite without burning your mouth. Plus, think about when you order a skillet at a restaurant—it’s the same thing without the potatoes.
- Rice. Once again possibly slapping my ancestors in the face, mixing some ketchup into Mexican or Puerto Rican rice is an extremely underrated combination. It adds just the right amount of tang to the rice.
- Steak. Got a steak that turned out just a little too dry? Forget the A1 steak sauce. Try ketchup instead.
- Hot dog. Though it will pain many of my fellow Chicagoans to hear this, ketchup does in fact belong on your hot dog. Just as mustard has a place between those buns, as does ketchup.
- Italian beef. GASP. Yes, I said it. Now, if you ordered the beef juicy or dipped then it doesn’t need the ketchup, but if your Italian beef is even a tiny bit lacking in moisture you should take a ketchup packet and let it rip. The ketchup once again softens the dry bites of meat and adds a bit of tang.
- Seafood. Fish is not immune to the enhancement ketchup can provide. Cocktail sauce is essentially ketchup, so if you don’t have that on hand there should be no shame in dipping a shrimp in some ketchup. This also applies to fish sticks and any other form of fried, breaded seafood. Much like a chicken tender, dipping these items in ketchup only makes the experience more enjoyable.
Look, I’m not asking for all my food to take a deep dive in a pool of ketchup, what I’m saying is that I’ve yet to come across a piece of protein that couldn’t be improved with a little dip of ketchup. The Takeout does it’s best not to yuck anyone’s yum, and so I ask that you take on that same energy by embracing what this little red condiment can do beyond fries and burgers.