Thursday, December 2, 2010

Flavor trapped in amber

One of the common questions that gets posed to foodies across the social media-verse from time to time is, What are your staple food items? What do you always keep on hand in your kitchen?

The answers include a lot of the familiar items like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, various spices, stocks, produce, etc.
Of course we wouldn't be foodies if many of us didn't try distinguish ourselves with less typical responses. Cubes of frozen demi-glaze, jars of duck fat, truffle salt, preserved lemons, chow chow are a few that come to mind.
In my case, I keep two squeeze bottles in easy reach of my stove. One of them contains olive oil (probably the number one answer) and the other contains apple cider reduction.

Mmmm, I love this stuff. Just a little bit adds sweetness and a nice pop of flavor to vegetables, meats, desserts ... so many things.
Try finishing a quick saute of zucchini & onions with a tablespoon of cider reduction or drizzle a little over a piece of pan seared salmon. It makes a great finishing glaze for pork or poultry. Use it to sweeten your breakfast oatmeal. I even like to put a touch into Earl Grey tea.

All of these require just a small amount of the reduction; that's why I keep it in a squeeze bottle. As the sugars and the flavor in the apple cider are concentrated, you want to be able to carefully portion it out in small amounts. A little goes a long way with this stuff.

The recipe is simple:
1 gallon of fresh apple cider
Use only the real, pressed apple cider. If it is kept on an unrefrigerated store shelf, don't use it.
If the ingredient list contains anything other than apples (or pears if you choose to make a pear cider reduction), don't use it.

Measure 2 ¼ cups of cider and place it in a 5 or 6 quart sauce pot. This is so you can see how much liquid should be left in the pot when it is done.
Pour the rest of the gallon of cider in the pot and place it over medium heat. Bring it to low boil & continue to cook until it reduces to 2 ¼ cups.
This is going to take a while, probably a couple hours and you'll need to keep an eye on it, especially as it gets closer to finishing. Don't try to rush it by turning the heat higher.
As the cider begins to get close to desired level of reduction, the bubbles will get smaller & the boil will look somewhat “foamy”. You'll need to reduce the heat slightly at this point so that it doesn't boil up or scorch.
Be careful, hot syrup is dangerous.

Once it is done, allow to cool to room temperature before putting it in a storage container. Ideally it should be the consistency of honey. If it is too runny, it can be reduced more. If it is too thick, it can be gently rewarmed and thinned down with a little more cider.

Like honey, cider reduction is shelf stable, although feel free to keep it in the fridge if you like.
I make a couple batches during the fall when fresh, local cider is available and even with as much as I use it, that's usually enough to last me most of the year.

I used it just recently when I made a pumpkin pasilla bisque topped with caramelized pears & cider reduction.

2 pasilla peppers, sliced (leave in seed & sponge to your taste, that's where most of the heat of the peppers lives)
½ small onion, sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
1 sugar pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded & diced
1 quart good quality chicken stock or broth
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons crushed schezuan peppercorns (or ground black pepper )
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon cider reduction
½ cup heavy cream

Saute the peppers and onions in the butter until soft. Add the remaining ingredients except for the cream and simmer until pumpkin is soft. Remove from heat.
Add in heavy cream & puree in blender. Be careful pureeing hot liquid; do it in small batches and then strain.

1 ripe pear, peeled and diced small
cider reduction, to taste

Quickly saute the pear in a very hot pan until it begins to darken in color.

Top the soup with a spoonful of pears and drizzle lightly with cider reduction.

Note: If you are feeling ambitious, a bit of shredded duck confit makes an excellent addition to toppings for this soup.