The summer really is the season to embrace when it comes to fresh food. From the limited harvest of tasty spring offerings we suddenly open up to a glut of new flavours. It’s also a great time for traditional fruits and salad vegetables. Berries, plums, peaches, tomatoes, lettuce and all the herbs are in abundance. You can certainly spend the season just enjoying this harvest in their natural state, but you could also employ those wonderful flavours to elevate some meat or poultry to something quite special.
We tend not to immediately think of meat and fruit pairings and yet it’s very common to our palates; pork with apple sauce, turkey with cranberry sauce, chicken with lemon, rabbit with prunes or the classic duck a l’orange and those dishes are just sitting on the tip of the culinary iceberg. Fruit sauces come under many different chef-y terms; compote, coulis, jelly, gastrique (which despite the fancy name is simply a syrupy sugar and vinegar reduction for richer meats) or when mixed with a little vegetable you have a salsa.
If you pick up a full bodied, fruity, red wine that is often suggested as a good pairing for red meat you will find that it has flavours such as blackberry, blackcurrant and or cherry listed. Therefore it makes sense that these fruits will play with meat just as well. As always, the key is balance and not overpowering the meat with the fruitiness. It is about a little flavour hit here and there, mingling with a good quality piece of meat which should always be the star of the show.
I really enjoy the Chinese treatment of lemon, orange and plum sauces with poultry and sometimes beef. When it’s good it is excellent, but occasionally I have had the poorer experience of the strong sauce just covering over the taste of the meat rather than just teasing and enhancing it. Thankfully it doesn’t happen very often and if you learn to make your own, it never should. I suppose it could be likened to the use or misuse of perfume and aftershaves. We all like a gentle fragrance that mingles with the individuals’ own natural scent to create that lovely unique aroma that is pleasant to be around. What you don’t want is that choking, waft of strong cologne that seems to have a personality of its own that takes over a room when the wearer walks in.
So what are some good combinations of meat and fruit? Gamey flavours such as venison go very well with apples, pears, pomegranates and dates. Also berries such as cranberries or cherries. Lamb is very versatile with fruit and herbs. You tend to find many North African and Indian dishes using lamb with fruit. Apricots, dates, figs, prunes and raisins are commonly used in lamb curries, stews and tagines. When it comes to sauce chicken is its usual versatile self.
The citrus flavours marry really well here. Oranges, lemons, mangoes, apricots and grapes are among the myriad of fresh fruit sauces that can be used.
Pork which is commonly paired with apples also enjoys the company of cranberries, strawberries, currants, dried cherries, dried figs, mangoes, quince, plums and pineapple among others.
Rabbit seems to be getting quite popular again on restaurant menus and so that feeds the domestic trends. It has to be said that rabbit has a subtle flavour and isn’t perhaps as robust as pork or lamb. Rabbit is enhanced by plums, prunes and apples. In Mediterranean countries rabbit is often found with citrus flavours such as lemon.
Beef goes quite well with orange sauce but I think instead of a sauce, steak works really well with a fresh fruit salsa.
Naturally in an article like this we are simply scratching the surface of these epicurean playmates but it gives us something to think about rather than just preserving fruits in the freezer for smoothies or making jam.
I also think serving barbecued food or a joint of meat with a fruit sauce or fruit jelly can appear quite sophisticated when the truth is that these are really culinary smoke and mirrors. If the fruit is ripe juicy and in season you can create a stunning sauce in very little time. Also the deep jewel colours of most fruit sauces will add to the overall aesthetic of the dish.
Salsas with fruit added are very simple. In their pure form they are usually made with salad vegetables and chillies and are associated with Spain or Mexico. Mixing in a little summer fruit and some fresh herbs is fine. Chop some sweet red peppers, cucumber, a little red onion or spring onion, baby tomatoes, a chopped peach or some chopped strawberries; add some fresh coriander or a little fresh basil and then some good black pepper. Mix all the ingredients together and enjoy. I’ve often thrown in what is available in the fridge at the time and this is great with barbecued steaks, to perk up a chicken salad or added to a meat wrap for lunch.
Making fruit sauces is just about gently cooking the fruits with a few tablespoons of water to release their juices. Push the cooked fruits through a sieve if you want something very smooth. For a more robust fruity sauce chop up your fruit or dried fruit (such as apples, pears, plums or apricots) and put them over a gentle heat. Instead of water you could add some fruit liqueur and a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg. Bring it all to the boil then reduce the heat and let it simmer for five minutes or so. A sauce like this can be thickened with corn flour. If you want a sweeter sauce then mix the fruit with some icing sugar or honey while cooking.
There are no rules when it comes to flavours. Try different liqueurs or fresh herbs and the combinations are endless. Try not to over cook or cook the fruit too fast. This will just serve to create a more jam like consistency rather than a sauce. For sweet fruit sauces for desserts and cakes just puree the fresh fruit in a blender and add some water as you go to thin it out. If you want it smooth push the mixture through a sieve and then balance it up with some sugar and lemon juice tasting as you go. Go on, let the creative juices flow this summer.