Friday, August 27, 2010

Fancy Apricot-Currant Compote

'Apricot-Currant Compote' sounds fancy, doesn't it? Well, it sounds fancy, looks fancy, and tastes fancy. In fact, I think it is fancy enough to be served on a cheese plate at a nice restaurant. And, I made it.

And, it's all thanks to Ad Hoc at Home. A wonderful, glorious, gorgeous cookbook by Thomas Keller.

I'll be honest with you, when I heard Thomas Keller, the Thomas Keller, was putting out a cookbook for home cooks, I was as cynical as I was intimidated. He has won 3 Michelin Stars not once, but twice for The French Laundry and Per Se. He is obviously one of the top chefs in the world. Surely, I thought to myself, there is no way he could come down to my level.

But, there, on the first pages: a recipe for fried chicken. Then, a few pages later, tips on how to add salt to a dish (sprinkle from a height). And all of a sudden it dawned on me: this book was designed for me and this book was going to make me better... and more fancy.

Take, for instance, this apricot-currant compote. It is something you can have in your pantry at all times. Add it to anything, cheese or charcuterie plates, meat main dishes (porkchops are especially nice), and, voila, it is instantly 'gourmet'.
And it doesn't involve any special technique.

Here's the trick: in addition to the apricots and currants you add a sachet of star anise, coriander seeds, and cinnamon. And, just like that, you have elevated apricot jam into this slightly spiced, elegant, impressive apricot-currant compote. Now, adding a sachet of spices to jam would never have occurred to me. But, now the possibilities are endless. And its those kind of insights that are making me a better home cook.

Enough preliminaries, let me show you how I made the jam.

(Now, I must confess. The first go round with this jam did not go well. If you want to know what to do when jam caramelizes to the bottom of your Dutch oven, see the end of this post).

First off, start with some firm, but ripe apricots.
Halve them.
Sprinkle sugar over them.
Let that sit for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, it is important to combine your pectin with part of the sugar. If you add pectin straight away to preserves, you will end up with a glue-like mess. You need the sugar to help it all dissolve.
Next, for the spice-sachet. Add a star anise, coriander seeds, and a cinnamon stick to some cheesecloth.
Roll that up and add it to your apricot-sugar mix. And, enjoy the fact that you just did something that will make your compote 'gourmet'.
Bring that to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. And, do be sure to stir, or else disaster can and will strike (see the end of the post).
Time for the currants. These:
are currants. It's like cranberries and raisins had a baby and the baby is way better than its parents. I am officially addicted. (Although, a note of warning, don't add them to pumpkin muffins. In my currant-zeal, I tried to replace raisins with currants and the currants took over in a throw-away-that-batch-of-muffins way).

Add those into the mix. And simmer for 5 minutes.
Next, slowly whisk in the pectin-sugar mixture.
Continue to simmer until the jam becomes this gorgeous amber,
and can pass the plate test. Once it passes the plate test, add in a little lemon juice, take out the sachet, and you are done.

And, just like that, you made something that is delicious... and fancy.
Thank you, Thomas Keller. You just made me better.

Apricot-Currant Compote (from Ad Hoc at Home)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon pectin*
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 star anise
2 1/4 pounds ripe apricots, cut in half and pitted
1/4 cup dried currants
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Combine 1/3 cup sugar and the pectin in a small bowl, mixing well so that the pectin will dissolve smoothly; set aside. Make a sachet** containing the coriander, cinnamon, and star anise.

Put the apricots in a large bowl, add the remaining 1 2/3 cup sugar, and toss to coat the apricots in sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes to draw out some of the juices from the apricots.

Transfer the apricots and any sugar and juices to a wide sauce pan*** and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Add the sachet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. The apricots will release more liquid as they cook; stir to submerge the apricots in the liquid. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the apricots at a simmer, and cook until they are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.

Stir in currants and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the currants are tender. Slowly whisk in the sugar and pectin mixture and continue to cook until the syrup registers 215-220 degrees.*** * Remove from heat.

Remove the sachet and stir in the lemon juice. Spoon the compote into a canning jar or other storage container, cover, and let cool to room temperature, the refrigerate up to 1 month.

*Keller calls for apple pectin, which I could find nowhere. So, I substituted Sure-Jell no-sugar pectin and it worked just fine.
**To make a sachet, get a 7-inch square piece of cheese cloth. Put the spices near the bottom of the square and fold up the bottom edge over them. Roll once, tuck in the two ends of the cheesecloth, and continue to roll. Tie the cheesecloth at both ends with kitchen twine.
***Keller calls for a medium-sauce pan, but I prefer to use my 5.5 quart Dutch oven
****My compote never reached 215, it just hovered around 210. But, it passed the plate test after about 40 or so minutes. And it ended up jelling just fine.

As I said, the first go round did not go well for me:
I didn't stir it, which to my credit, Keller doesn't tell you explicitly to stir it all the time, and it literally caramelized onto the bottom of my pan.

Two lessons were learned from this:
1. Stir
2. If you are devastated because you caramelized jam on the bottom of your Le Creuset Dutch oven isn't coming off. Don't cry! Instead, boil some water in the pan and add baking soda to it. Then, gently scrape up the caramelized disaster with a wooden spoon. After doing this three times, it finally came off. Thank goodness.

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