As any food-scene observer will tell you, the hottest trend right now is heat. Diners can't get enough of the bold, spicy flavors of Thailand, India, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Bring on that fiery green seafood curry, the chile-spiked cabbage kimchee, the four-alarm salsa. But as every novice cook learns in culinary school, heat needs sweet.
In many chile-loving cultures, fruit provides the refreshment that takes the edge off the heat. Often it's tropical fruit like mango, papaya, or pineapple. But grapes have the same ability to mitigate heat and require little prep time. They are ripe and readily available almost year round, and universally popular.
For diners unaccustomed to spice, grapes can help acclimate them:
Inspired by Mexico:
Inspired by Thailand:
Even classic French preparations with butter-based sauces are getting spiced up for modern palates. Adding grapes to balance the heat can bring the dish back into the wine-friendly realm. For example, chef Samuel pairs a seared baby chicken in a spicy rub with a soothing red-grape sauce smoothed with butter. The sauce has the silky texture of a classic reduction sauce, but it isn't reduced, because the chef wants to retain the fresh grape taste. So he warms the grapes, stock, Port, and butter just long enough to soften the grapes, then purees and strains the mixture. Fresh, fast, and easy. On another occasion, you could pair the same sauce with a grilled peppercorn-crusted pork tenderloin. In many Asian cuisines, cooks pay close attention to balancing sweet, sour, hot, and salty flavors. This principle is worth remembering as you explore ingredients and dishes from cultures that appreciate spicy food. Almost always, the spice is balanced with something sweet (think fresh fruit), salty(such as soy sauce, shrimp paste, or fish sauce), and sour (such as lime juice or vinegar). Fresh grapes can provide the sweet component and that appetizing element of surprise. Featured Recipe: Watch Chef Samuel balance heat with sweet in Seared Fennel and Cayenne-Spiced Poulet with Pan-Roasted Grapes and Gastrique.
California produces 99% of the fresh grapes grown in the United States. Fresh grapes are harvested fully ripe and ready to use. Unlike many other fresh fruits, there is no guessing with grapes.