When I bought my plum tree, the tag on it claimed it would produce purple Italian prune plums. But instead, it makes these rose-colored, pear-shaped plums that are dazzlingly delicious. This year I left them on the tree to sweeten up—and to put off the decision of what to do with them—but the squirrels found my tree and began raiding it, so I had to pick them off.
Normally I would look to dehydrate the plums, except that the fruit clings to the pits, making the pits hard to remove. So, I stood by my tree pondering what to do with all of my plums, and as luck would have it my neighbor, Wild Bill, walked across the alley with a pair of ducks and a goose—duck, duck, goose—he’d shot that morning. Thus, the fate of my plums—a few handfuls, anyway—was determined.
The marriage between fruit and meat is one enjoyed by many, though often perhaps without realizing it. Wine and steak is an example, I suppose, but I’m talking about the long and slow process of cooking fruit and meat together, as in pork chops and applesauce, or chile verde, which is meat cooked with tomatillos.
Cooking fruit and meat together creates a mutual unlocking of flavors and textures. The fruit’s acid softens the meat, while the tangy, fruit flavors interact with the meat’s fat and flesh-tones. The flavors merge into one, and create a harmonious love-fest of a meal.
I have a specific way of cooking fruit and meat together. I call this “The Technique,” and it can be used with any number of combinations of fruit and meat.
I discovered this method a few years ago when I acquired a rabbit. Rabbit recipes are a bit tough to come by, but since I’d heard it tastes like chicken, I found a recipe for chicken in plum sauce and applied it to my bunny, with a few minor changes.
The results were fabulous—not too sweet, as I’d feared, and what sweetness there was complemented the meat surprisingly well. So I tried it again, this time with elk and apricots, which also didn’t disappoint.
I’m going to explain “The Technique” in the context of how I prepared Wild Bill’s wild duck and my rose-colored plums, but keep in mind the meat could just as easily have been elk, chicken, rabbit, pork, buffalo, etc., and the fruit could have been apricots, apples, peaches, pears, tomatillos, etc. Each combination has its own personality, and perhaps requires some fine-tuning in the spice department—cumin in the chile verde, for example, or mint with elk and apricots—but the process is the same.
I cut Wild Bill’s wild duck into normal bird parts, and sprinkled the parts with salt and pepper. Then I dredged and fully coated them in breadcrumbs—I prefer Japanese-style crumbs, aka panko flakes—and fried these coated chunks slowly in butter until perfectly browned.
If the animal that you are using is a mammal, like cow, deer, elk, duck-billed platypus, or my cousin Brian, then focus on a tough cut of meat like shoulder or shank. The tough cuts often have the best flavor, which the slow dance with the fruit helps liberate. If using wild duck, though, it’s all tough.
The other good thing about using tough cuts is that after the initial step of breading and frying, it’s tempting to forget the rest of the recipe and eat the fried meat. But at this stage the tough cuts are still too chewy to pose any significant temptation—unlike tender cuts, which might not make it to the next step.
As my duck approached golden brown, I added the peeled whole cloves of one or two heads of garlic, five bay leaves, black pepper and roughly twice as much plums—pits and all—as meat. Then I covered the whole business with chicken stock and cooked it in the oven with the lid on until everything was falling-apart tender. (The tougher the cut, the longer you have to cook it. Just keep adding water so nothing burns.)
As it cooked, I tasted the broth and seasoned with salt and pepper. By serving time, the plum pits had settled safely to the bottom of the pan, and the fruit had dissolved into the broth.
As you customize the spices for your specific fruit and meat combo, don’t feel bound to spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and other spices traditionally used in sweet, fruity dishes. Sweet and savory are not mutually exclusive.
You can also experiment with different veggies in your fruit and meat combo. Root vegetables like potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips and turnips are some of the better candidates, although I’d stay away from beets. That is, unless you really like beets, because the whole meal will look and taste like them.
Whatever the specifics of your dish, you’ll notice that as it cooks the whole house will begin to smell amazing, and you might need to put on a bib to manage the drool.
As for the rest of my rose-colored plums, I’m going to juice them in a steam juicer and can the juice. That way I’ll be able to use it on a year’s worth of meat, using the juice in place of the fruit. Now if only Wild Bill would go hunting again.
Ask Ari: Keeping up with kombucha
Q: Hi Ari,
I am mildly addicted to kombucha, and since my SCOBY went bad while I was away, I have been buying it at the Good Food Store, and it is expensive. Do you know who has a healthy culture in town that I can get a baby from?
Also, I have read some random rumors about kombucha being potentially bad for you because of the acetic acid. What do you think? Thanks!
Love your work.
—The Kombucha Kid
A: For those of you who don’t know, kombucha is a drink that’s made by fermenting tea, sugar and kombucha culture. It’s been consumed medicinally for hundreds of years, and a plethora of health benefits have been attributed to it.
The kombucha culture is often called a “SCOBY,” which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” The SCOBY looks kind of like a beige pancake. As the culture digests the sugars, it makes all kinds of nutrients, including the acetic acid that KK fears might be a problem. But fear not, friends of kombucha, for acetic acid is the active ingredient in vinegar. In fact, the bacterial component of kombucha is none other than acetobacter, which is the bacterium that creates vinegar.
As for where you can get it, there are a number of companies online that will sell it to you, but not being a kombuchaologist, I can’t offer any advice in the acquisition department. So I’ll turn the question to you, dear readers, hoping some of you might either know of a good SCOBY source, or even have some to share.
Send your food and garden queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.