Years ago, maybe when Kid Two was a baby and my parents, Downtown Tom and Grandma Juju, were visiting, I got it in my head to make barbecue sauce. I remember glancing at a few recipes, getting the gist of it, then just going to town improvising with some mad assortment of ingredients that I only remember included ketchup and tequila. It was surprisingly amazingly REALLY delicious. Even my dad, who claims to only really enjoy food that was available in Granite City, Illinois in the glory days of the old radio show, loved it. It spoke to my emerging whole foods/homemade/foodie sort of palate and I vowed to never buy a bottle of barbecue sauce again.
But you see, I didn’t write down the recipe and my attempts to duplicate it fell flat, so my vow to eschew bottled sauce only resulted in years with a distinct lack of savory grilling sauces.
Until this weekend . . . bingo! I finally realized there was no way I could recreate a recipe that only lives in my vague sense memory. So I started from scratch, inspired by a bottle of Bulldog sauce Buddy’s mom picked up for us at the Japanese market in San Jose. Bulldog is a fantastic thick sweet and savory hybrid barbecue/hoisin sauce that has an astonishing number of ingredients, including prune puree. (Which reminds me, the best cioppino I ever had included prunes in the sauce. There may be a prune-y moral somewhere.)
Like all good soups and sauces, this one benefits from slow cooking. Add your ingredients in batches, first the onions and garlic to soften and caramelize to bring out their natural sweetness. Then add the apple juice, vinegar, and bourbon and cook out the alcohol and the harsh notes of the vinegar, giving all those strong flavors a chance to meld. Finally the heat, sweet, zest, and the main ingredient, the ketchup, and simmer to bring all the flavors together. Scroll to the recipe below the picture.
This was enough sauce for a rack of ribs, a half dozen drumsticks, a few slices of tofu, and a large barbecued chicken pizza. Double the recipe and freeze in small batches for all your summer grilling.