Surprising Techniques with Grapes
Grapes 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.
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.
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 Oil, 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."
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.
The Thompson Seedless grape was created by Scottish immigrant William Thompson in 1876.