Caramelized Raisin Sauce ala Michael Laiskonis

Caramelized Raisin Sauce
Caramelized raisin sauce

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Push the puree through first a coarse and then a finer sieve. Taste and adjust seasonings and thickness.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Tuesday, January 13th, 2009 in Desserts, Experiments, Gluten-Free or modifiable, Sauces and Condiments, Vegan or Modifiable, Weblogs.

12 Responses to “Caramelized Raisin Sauce ala Michael Laiskonis”

  1. January 14, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    Looks great…I myself am the lone raisin fan in my household, so I feel your pain.

    Two immediately useful and somewhat tested variations/additions that spring to mind are 1) some kind of pairing with roasted cauliflower, pine nuts and saffron? May have to ditch the port for that one, and 2) in a chutney-er direction with tamarind and fennel seeds..again, not sure how the port would play with those two.

  2. January 14, 2009 at 5:46 am #

    glad you read this guy’s blog, don’t know how I found it but he is amazingly intelligent

  3. January 14, 2009 at 9:37 am #

    First, yes! to chevre ice cream.
    The variations sound interesting, but I like your original combination best. The big pinch of black pepper sounds perfect.

  4. Sarina
    January 14, 2009 at 10:32 am #

    Glad there are people out there who can support your use of raisins! Sorry I wouldn’t taste it for you…but I have to draw the line at those slimy little buggers.

  5. January 14, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Not a huge raisin fan, but the idea of caramelizing them is fascinating. Do they take on a molassesy taste?

  6. Michael Natkin
    January 14, 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    That’s an interesting comparison. I’d have to say yes. Impressive ability to
    imagine a flavor you haven’t tasted! You should go caramelize and handful
    even if you don’t make the whole sauce and let me know what you think.

  7. January 14, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    Love the sound of this sauce, and love Michael Laiskonis’ blogs.
    Cinnamon ice cream and bananas sounds like a divine combo too :)

  8. January 14, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

    great idea and thanks for the links to the (new fave) blogs… the only thing is that both your links lead to workbook instead of one re-directing to michaellaiskonis.typepad.com… other than that ~ def and idea i will be snatching! :))

  9. Michael Natkin
    January 14, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    Thanks Kayce, and thanks for pointing out the bad link too, it is fixed now.

  10. Michael Natkin
    January 14, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    Those variations sound good. I like your cauliflower idea, maybe with sherry
    vinegar instead of the port.

  11. Pix
    January 17, 2009 at 10:11 pm #

    I thought that butter was not considered a vegan product. Perhaps this is just a vegetarian and gluten-free recipe?

  12. Michael Natkin
    January 18, 2009 at 7:13 am #

    Pix – thanks for the note; I fixed the recipe to say “vegetarian if you use
    margarine”. On my blog I call those categories “vegan or modifiable” and
    “gluten-free or modifiable” so that folks in those dietary groups won’t
    needlessly exclude themselves from a recipe if there are simple subsitutions
    or omissions.

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