A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chef John Foster: Apples, apples, apples — so many ways to use and enjoy this great fruit

Last week I wrote about the strange and wonderful tidbits you can find in the corners and crevices of the farmers’ markets around town. It’s just such an adventure that keeps drawing me back each week to see what else might have popped up. But there is also a practical reason for my weekly visits and that is to stock a farm to table restaurant for 5 days of service.

I will admit that most of my work now is done by text and phone calls, and that even a few orders are automatic, and need very little change. It makes a difference in your day when you can work that seamlessly with your vendors, and the trust it builds over the years can sometimes fill a gap when the need arises.

There have been times when both parties have had a problem to solve; more produce than expected, or a desperate need for one more delivery, which in a more constrained relationship would not be resolved. It’s typical to find that scenario playing out more than once a season so it’s imperative to establish a relationship early in the process to avoid those issues when they inevitably arise.

It also helps to have those ties when product arrives at the market and is either not up to standards or out of this world good. It happened just last week with the arrival of a new crop of apples.

We have been getting by with a Cortland, sweet, somewhat soft, good applesauce apple but underwhelming overall. A simple conversation between chef and farmer starts the search in motion and this week we are graced with a Winesap, everything an apple should be. Crisp, tart, full of juice and an excellent apple to cook.

What excites me about this find is that it’s not shiny and new, but steadfast and reliable. I can build menu items around it, knowing that it will be available for a while. Because I have a pipeline of product and information, I can, with certainty plan for apple pies and crisps, applesauce for my menu pork, apple brandy pan sauces, and apples for my fruit sides at lunch. While the Winesap may change to a Black Twig or a Spy, I can count on having a steady stream of seasonal produce that remains high in quality and quantity. When one or the other dip, I get a heads up that it’s time to move on.

It’s hard to move on from the apples though.

I grew up in western New York State, prime apple growing country. We had crab apples in June and Winesaps (among others) in the fall. My family had a small orchard of fruit trees, that even after I moved away continued to produce above the weeds and brush that grew up around it.

Apples can be hardy fruits, fragile in the spring but resilient throughout the year. They are also versatile, from chutney to pancakes, cider braised chicken and pork, and apple sorbet. Tartness, floral under and overtones, a grassiness that belies the fall weather, all are present in the apple. Utilized equally well in spirits, beer, and wine, these products also make up a large segment of what we cook with and serve in the fall and early winter.

I had the pleasure of having hard cider or cidre in San Sebastian, Spain over the summer. Apparently, I had never had real hard cider as this was almost clear and it possessed a kick. I immediately began to think of sauces and pairings with meat and poultry. Roasted duck with apples, walnuts and shallots finished with hard and fresh cider gastrique, wild rice and roasted Brussel sprouts comes to mind. And while most people equate apples with the end of the meal, I like a roasted apple and beet salad with mustard vinaigrette, red onion, and toasted pecan goat cheese.

Apple gastrique

A good sauce to have in your repertoire especially in the fall. The balance of tart and sweet is right in line with the rich dishes that start to appear this time of year. This sauce works well with pork, chicken, and duck. In a non-reactive saucepan place equal amounts of sugar/honey/sorghum or any other sweetening ingredient and an acid like apple cider vinegar or hard cider and vinegar and fill the volume with some fresh cider. Reduce the liquid until it starts to thicken slightly and adjust the balance of sweet and tart. Herbs and other seasonings can be added but the main flavor profile should be sweet and tart with neither flavor too dominant. When you serve the sauce, it can glaze the meat or accompany it. If it’s too loose, reduce it some more or you can thicken with a little cold butter whisked in. It should coat the surface of your spoon and hopefully that of the meat.

Sage Rabbit applesauce

This is a quick, chunky applesauce we serve at room temperature with the pork. We like to use the Winesaps because of their flavor and texture. Peel and cube the apples, place them in a non-reactive saucepan with enough apple cider to cover, usually 2-3 cups for 8 apples, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt for that number of apples. Simmer until the apples start to break down and remove from the heat. Let them cool completely in the juice and then if they’re too runny, strain the excess liquid out.

John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene and a promoter of local and seasonal foods for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been the executive chef of his former restaurant, Harvest, and now his Chevy Chase eatery, The Sage Rabbit.

To read more from Chef John Foster, including his recipes, click here.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment