• California Grapes: What a Food Pro Should Know

    grape-beautyWith its mild, Mediterranean-type climate, California is paradise for grapes. Everyone knows that the Golden State grows world-class wine grapes, but table grapes excel there, too. In fact, California produces almost all of the U.S.'s commercially grown table grapes. 

    Harvesting: If you prefer to "buy American," look for California table grapes during their long season, from May through January. The harvest starts in the southern Coachella Valley and then moves progressively northward, through the 200-mile-long San Joaquin Valley, some of the most productive agricultural land in the world. Today, 99 percent of the fresh grapes grown commercially in the United States come from California. 

    Some 500 farmers — most of them family farmers who have spent generations growing California grapes — oversee the State's table grape crop. They grow more than 70 varieties—some with very familiar names and others less so. But for ease, you can group them by color: green, red, or blue-black. The vibrant colors expand the options for creating eye-appealing plates. Just using grapes of all three hues can make a simple fruit salad pop. 

    Handling: Growers take pains to get grapes to market in good condition. First, skilled workers harvest the fully ripe clusters by hand and inspect them for undamaged and uniform-sized berries. The grapes are quickly chilled to eliminate field heat and retain moisture, and they are shipped to market in refrigerated trucks. 

    Storing: Keeping grapes cold is critical to maintaining quality. Ideal storage conditions are 32°F to 36°F and 80 to 90 percent relative humidity. 

    When purchasing grape lugs, stack the lugs carefully. Be sure there is adequate air circulation between the layers and that the grapes aren't touched by the lug above. 

    Always store grapes unwashed and rinse them just before serving. The powdery coating on their skins, known as bloom, is a natural protectant that keeps them fresh longer. When stored properly, grapes will stay in prime condition for almost two weeks. 

    Unlike other fruits that are shipped underripe, grapes don't require any guesswork. They are picked at full maturity and are always "good to go." 

    Featured Recipe: Chef Samuel adds grapes to a fragrant couscous to accompany Moroccan Seared Pork Tenderloin.

    Who Knew? Surprising Techniques with Grapes

    rgb-green-beauty-001Grapes are the ultimate hand-to-mouth fruit, a wholesome snack that needs no peeling, slicing, coring, or treating to prevent discoloration. They don't bruise or drip. They don't require a knife and fork. In short, they are lovable as is. 

    But for cooks looking to make an impression, grapes have other traits to exploit. 

    Juicing 

    They're juicy, for one, so why not juice them? As Chef Samuel discovered in the CIA kitchen, a fresh grape puree, strained and reduced, adds fruitiness to a vinaigrette. The same strained puree, uncooked, can be the foundation for a sweet or savory coulis. Chef Samuel adds crème fraîche, lime juice, honey, cayenne, and salt to make a cool, tropical sauce for grilled fish. But you could omit the savory seasonings and use the grape coulis on an updated "shortcake" made with grilled poundcake, warmed grapes, and whipped cream. 

    Roasting 

    Grapes have abundant natural sugar, so why not roast them? Roasting heightens the flavor and caramelizes the sugars, giving the exterior an appetizing glaze. You can roast them in a slow oven, as Chef Samuel did for Ajo Blanco with Slow-Roasted Grape and Extra Virgin Olive, or you can roast them fast, as he did for Roasted Red Grape, Octopus, and Fingerling Potato Salad with Lime Aioli. 

    "The slow roast concentrates the flavor without caramelization," says the chef. "I did it slow for the soup because I wanted the grapes to retain their shape and not burst. With the octopus, I wanted the richness of caramelization. But don't over-roast them. They can go from caramelized to burnt pretty quickly." 

    You can roast the grapes on the stem or off. Chef Samuel prefers to roast the whole clusters and then remove the individual grapes. "You get more variety of flavor," says the chef. "The outside grapes get more heat and color, while the inside ones stay juicier." 

    Frying 

    Chef Samuel also made what may be the world's first fritto misto with grapes. Yes, you can fry grapes, and they make an inspired addition to this Italian antipasto. The chef was hoping that the fried grapes would produce a compelling contrast of crisp and juicy and enhance a vegetarian fritto misto. He added fennel and lemon slices to the batter, and paired this innovative mixed-fry with lemon crème fraîche. Brilliant, but it took some tinkering. 

    "When I tried frying the grapes unfrozen, they burst immediately and got oily," says the chef. "So I thought to freeze them first so they would hold their shape. The batter has a chance to cook before the grape gets too hot, so you have a room-temperature grape in a crispy batter." 

    Featured Recipe: Watch Chef Samuel prepare his surprising Fritto Misto of Grapes, Fennel, and Lemons with Lemon Crème Fraîche

    Featured Recipe: Never roasted grapes? Watch Chef Samuel prepare Roasted Red Grape, Octopus, and Fingerling Potato Salad with Lime Aioli.

    Grapes on the Cutting Edge

    Chefs active in the realm of molecular gastronomy are getting attention for manipulating ingredients in ways never imagined. Some of their experiments work, some don't, but they deserve praise for nudging all cooks to unleash the potential in their raw materials. 

    What else can you do with a fresh table grape besides eat it (always a good idea), heat it, peel it, or puree it? rgb-measuring-beauty-001Chef Samuel challenged himself to probe the frontiers of possibility and made an intriguing discovery. 

    "The idea came from one of my colleagues," says Samuel of his effort to carbonate grapes. "You put the grapes in a whipping-cream canister with wine and then charge it. You have to prick the grapes first. When I didn't prick them, they exploded. Pricking gives them the ability to transmit pressure. When you take the grapes out, they're fizzing, like soda pop. It's an easy way to do something really unique. You get that punch of flavor in your mouth." 

    Chef Samuel decided to showcase his fizzy grapes in a salad with goat cheese, greens, shallot vinaigrette, and a gastrique (a reduction of wine, wine vinegar, and sugar). "The carbonated grape is part of the textural appeal of the salad," says the chef. "It plays off the creaminess of the goat cheese and the crunchiness of the crostini." 

    These astonishing grapes would add style to many salads, but it's easy to imagine other uses for them: as a garnish for a sorbet or panna cotta, as a counterpoint to seared foie gras, or as a component of a cutting-edge cheese course. 

    Rethinking the rules for vinaigrette led Chef Samuel to another discovery: that a fresh grape puree, strained and reduced, contributes desirable body and sweetness to a salad dressing. When a salad has a tart fruit component, like citrus, the grape vinaigrette balances the flavor. You can infuse the grape puree with fresh mint, thyme, ginger, or vanilla bean before whisking in the acid (Chef Samuel uses white balsamic vinegar and lime juice) and the oil. 

    Don't these two imaginative uses for table grapes make you wonder what else this tasty fruit can do? 

    Featured Recipe: Watch Chef Samuel give grapes an unexpected twist in his Carbonated Grape Salad with Crispy Toast, Goat Cheese, and Muscat Gastrique

    Featured Recipe: Watch Chef Samuel prepare a vinaigrette with some surprising techniques in Grape, Toasted Almond, and Shaved Fennel Salad with Vanilla-Grape Vinaigrette.
  • Fun Fact


    Fresh grapes make a remarkable drink: clean and crisp, perfect alone or mixed in a cocktail. To make fresh grape juice, simply blend fresh grapes and strain — or blend with ice for a richer texture.

  • Presented by

    Grapes from California logo

  • Fun Facts


    The Thompson Seedless grape was created by Scottish immigrant William Thompson in 1876.

    William Wolfskill, a former trapper is credited with planting the first table grape vineyard on land just outside of present-day Los Angeles in 1839.