Michael Laiskonis is the executive pastry chef at Le Bernardin. He also manages to write two blogs in his "spare" time, which is awe inspiring. His Notes From The Kitchen tend to be somewhat philosophical, while the recently launched Workbook contains more off-the-cuff ideas. Both are required reading as far as I'm concerned.
Today in the Workbook, he posted a Caramelized Fig Puree, which he had arrived at from ruminating on agrodolce, the sweet-sour flavor combination most commonly associated with Sicily. It immediately brought to mind a half-finished experiment I'd done a couple of years ago, involving caramelized and pureed raisins, though my thought process had been based more on a rum-raisin concept. I only tried it once, because a certain member of my household holds raisins in approximately the same regard that you might reserve for, say, a nest of vipers under your front stoop.
Anyhow, I was compelled to revisit this sauce, and I have to say it came out wonderful. This time I added port, Mandarin juice and zest, brown sugar, and black pepper, and served it with vanilla ice cream and a strawberry/cinnamon powder. I think it would be incredible with a cinnamon ice cream or bananas. Hmm, or chevre ice cream.
By the way, you see that picture above? (Yeah, the one that looks like amateur hour at the plating factory?) If you serve it that way, you'll be bummed because it tastes way too good to have three little dots. When I finished taking the picture and went to eat it, I added another tablespoon of the sauce.
The base flavor is quite chocolatey, and could be taken in many directions by varying the spices and using any manner of high quality vinegar instead of the port and orange. Kaffir lime? Curry leaf? Habanero? Smoked paprika? Apple "balsamic" vingegar?
It is critical that you take the time to thoroughly sieve this puree. The flavor is great right away, but the texture of the raisin skin bits is unpalatable. When you push it through a fine sieve, suddenly it has this nice smooth shine and the textural distraction is gone. This might be less of an issue if you have an ubersonic blender.
Caramelized Raisin Sauce
Vegetarian, vegan (if you use margarine) and gluten-free
Yields about 1/4 cup, enough for at say 4 dessert servings
- 30 g. unsalted butter (about 2 tablespoons)
- 150 g. raisins (I used Thompsons)
- 10 g. brown sugar (about 2 teaspoons)
- big pinch of salt
- 2/3 cup port (something drinkable, please – there is some scary "port" out there)
- juice and zest of 1 mandarin orange
- big pinch freshly ground black pepper
- In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the raisins, sugar, and salt and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. You want the raisins to be caramelizing but definitely not burning. They will grow humorously plump. (Carefully) taste one occasionally to see how the flavor is developing.
- Add the port, zest, and juice, and simmer until reduced to a thick sauce. You should be able to easily leave a lasting line in the pan when you drag a spoon through.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the black pepper. Puree in a mini food processor or other violent instrument of your choice. You may need to add a bit more juice.
- Push the puree through first a coarse and then a finer sieve. Taste and adjust seasonings and thickness.