Sunday, May 13, 2012

A toast to non-traditional preserves

Paul Virant has a message for home preservers: He wants you to see an empty canning jar as more than a mere vessel for sweet spreads. And he wants you to get out of the box.

“Too many people think they’ve got to buy those boxes of pectin to make jams and jellies, but they don’t,” said Virant, author of The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux (Ten Speed Press) and chef at Chicago’s Vie Restaurant. Substitute patience and great ingredients, he said, and the results will be delicious.

If you don't have a dehydrator, slow roast
strawberries to intensify their flavor
Virant is not overly concerned about creating fruity slathers for toast, though he does offer a number of deeply flavored jams – such as the intense Dehydrated Strawberry, which brings undeniable luster to bread and muffins. Most of his preserving recipes come with tips for how to apply them to everything from cocktails to main courses. His Beer Jam, for example, made with stout and spices (see recipe below), results in a loose jelly that he uses to both punch up a Manhattan and glaze tender beef cheeks.

A batch made with North Carolina’s Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout produced a heady brew that that turned a basic grilled burger into a burnished specialty you’d pay way too much for at a restaurant. It also was great on roast chicken and added an appealing varnish to grilled tofu. Rhubarb Beer jam, which I made with Blue Moon, is an ideal accompaniment to a cheese and charcuterie plate. Virant uses it to jazz up a Normandy, a cocktail featuring Calvados.

Grilled burger glazed with Beer Jam and
topped with gorgonzola and balsamic onions
Using preserved foods in new ways is the main takeaway Virant wants readers to experience. “My style has developed over time to a point where preserves are really incorporated into the food, into sauces, reductions, gastriques, glazes. It’s a major part of the dish, not an accompaniment.”

If you prefer the reliability of added pectin, Virant doesn’t mind. He sometimes adds an all-natural dried apple powder made by Patisfrance, and similar products are available online and at natural food markets. He also provides directions for homemade pectin, which is essentially a lightly-set apple jelly. He uses this in several recipes, but most rely on a long rolling boil and a candy thermometer to establish the desired degree of jelling. 

This is especially true of the recipes that start with a slow maceration, a minimum of overnight or up to a week. This allows busy canners to set fruit in sugar at its peak, condense it for easy refrigerator storage and finish the processing later.

“The nice thing about the maceration method is that you’re actually preserving the fruit before you can,” Virant explained. “For example, you have these incredible ripe blackberries that could spoil before you have time to make jam. It’s an easy thing to bring it to a boil and then refrigerate. You preserve the integrity of the freshness and instead of waiting a few days as it decomposes.”

While his methods and recipes may seem novel, Virant got into canning the way many people do – by cooking with his grandmothers.

“It’s a life’s passion. I have more memories of making pies and cakes, but my grandmother on my mother’s side was really involved in canning,” he said. “For me, the appeal is a lot like making bread or beer. You’re dealing with a living microbe. There’s that element of transforming ingredients and waiting to see what it will be like. Finally opening a pickle or a jar of jam, it’s rewarding.”

Virant’s interest in canning and preserving has an important place in his overall culinary expression. Indeed, it’s proved especially valuable at the restaurant, where preserving excess produce both reduces waste and brings a dash of depth or acidity to balance a dish.

“I’ve always had the problem of going to a farmer’s market and buying more than I need,” he confessed with a laugh. “It’s like the old saying: ‘Eat what you can, and can what you can’t.’”

Golden wheat beer tints savory Rhubarb Beer Jam 
Currently, Virant is obsessed with spring onions, which are just arriving at Chicago farmer’s markets. “There’s a recipe in the book for Smoked and Pickled Spring Onions that I really like. It’s a bit labor intensive, but it’s really worth it.” His also notes how to add the mix into a relish he uses to top chicken-fried steak.

Virant also is on a mission to master pickled okra. “We used a lot of smoked okra, but pickling it is not easy,” he said. “I’ve done it for years but I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet.”

The arrival of spring gives virtually everything in Virant’s gaze potential for preserving and repurposing in the restaurant. He wants home cooks to feel the same way.

“We’re using a lot of rhubarb now, and ramps,” Virant said. “It’s important to build experience before you experiment. If you follow recipes from good sources, you’ll learn pretty quickly how things should look and react. It’s usually pretty obvious if something doesn’t work.”

If you open a canning jar and detect an off odor, or anything about the product looks odd, Virant advised, pitch it. It’s far better to lose a batch than risk making anyone sick.

That said, he added that creative canners should not let such fears hold them back. “Coming up with something new is fun and satisfying,” he said. “You just never know where it will take you.”

Below find a corrected version of the Beer Jam recipe included in The Preservation Kitchen. The first-edition publication inadvertently omitted when to add pectin in the directions (highlighted below). I skipped the star anise as it’s my Voldemort of spices. The result was a bold and full-bodied glaze.

Beer Jam
Reprinted with permission from The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Yield: 6 half-pint jars, plus 1 (4-ounce) jar

Stout beer
4 (12-ounce) bottles
3 pounds 3 ounces
1,361 grams
4 2/3 cups
2 pounds
907 grams
Lemon, juiced
1 ounce
28 grams
Vanilla beans, split
Allspice berries
Star anise
Orange zest
1 large strip
Pectin (page 000)
1 cup
8 ounces
227 grams

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, bring the beer, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla beans, allspice berries, cloves, star anise, and orange juice to a boil. Remove from the heat, transfer to a storage container, and refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.

2. Strain the liquid and save the vanilla beans for another use. Pour into a large, wide pot, stir in the pectin, and bring to a boil over high heat—be careful that the beer doesn’t boil over. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches about 215˚F and has the texture of light syrup, 25-35 minutes.

3. Scald 6 half-pint jars and one (4-ounce) jar. (To scald, using tongs put the jars into a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack—you will use this pot to process the jars.) Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal. Right before filling, put the jars on the counter.

4. Transfer the jam to a heat-proof pitcher and pour into the jars, leaving a ½-inch space from the rim. (Depending on how much you reduced the jam, you may not need the small jar.) Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight.

5. Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover the jars by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 10 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Remove the jars from the water and cool completely.

No comments:

Post a Comment