Shallot Confit with Cabernet Sauvignon

I wanted to go in a bit of a new direction with my preserves this week, something with an intended savory application.

The grape jelly I made last week had me in the mood for wine and, so, I started there.

I worked at a high-end French restaurant in Madison some years back and we made a wonderful Shallot Confit that we served with our hanger steak and it immediately popped into my head once I sat down to make a plan.

Why not translate that recipe into a preserve? Besides, confit is French for “to preserve.”

The basic plan for the confit is to first julienne the shallots very finely.

Let me just say that I LOVE julienning shallots and onions. Especially with a gorgeous, extremely sharp Japanese chef’s knife.

I am now resisting the very strong urge to go to my kitchen and start cutting things.

I then caramelize the shallots completely.

Then, I deglaze with wine, add sugar, lemon juice, red wine vinegar and sugar-free pectin (important for a preserve with savory applications).

Here’s the result.

I think it would be delicious with steak, terrines and blue cheeses.

Jellies Resurgent

Well, I’ve been working on jellies in the last couple of weeks and I’ve got two projects done.

The first jelly was the classic grape jelly. I got a bunch of fresh, organic concord grapes from Blue Skies Farm for super cheap because they were split in the picking.

I guess the farm makes wine from the majority of the grapes they grow, so the field hands aren’t very careful in picking the grapes. Perfect for a jelly maker.

The first time I had concord grapes, maybe 4 or 5 years ago, they were sitting on the counter in the kitchen of the house I was living at at the time. I absent mindedly picked one off the vine and threw it into my mouth. “Wow,” I thought, “this tastes just like grape jelly!” I had always just assumed that the flavor of grape jelly was as related to the taste of real grapes as blue razzberry is to real raspberries. Wrong! It’s just that concord grapes have a flavor all their own. Musky, tart, striking. I liked them a lot and have been eating them every year since as they come into season.

My goal was to try and make the grape jelly without pectin, as I’ve been trying to do with all my other jams. I found a recipe online that suggested I could do it, but I noticed that Ferber adds whole apples to all of her grape jams and jellies. I decided to trust the internet, over Ferber.

Honestly, what was I thinking?

The long story short is this: I’ve managed to make a great tasting grape thing with the consistency of molasses. There’s not really any pectin in grapes, so making jelly out of them is not really an option without added pectin of some kind. Oh well, lesson learned.

Here’s the jelly slowly working its way through a muslin lined chinois to achieve really clear jelly.

My next project was watermelon jelly. I had gotten a watermelon from my friend Andy at Sprouting Acres farm at market and was excited to get it into jelly form. But, after my grape jelly experience, I was wary. I also didn’t want to go the pectin stock route, because one of the great things about the watermelon juice I was turning into jelly was it’s bright pink color and I didn’t want to mess that up.

In the end, I decided to give commercial pectin a try. I can see that it has it’s uses and I’d like to be comfortable using it when appropriate.

This jelly turned out great in terms of color and texture. I also really like the flavor, but it’s not a peanut butter and jelly jelly. It’s also not really a cheese friendly preserve. I will tell you that it’s nice on toast and english muffins. It needs to be on or with something fairly light and unobtrusive because it itself has a fairly light and delicate flavor profile.

Also, depsite the fact that Watermelon Rose sounds both like a bath gel and a stripper, I added a rose hip infusion to the jelly as well. And before you get all in a huff, rose water and rose petals have a totally different flavor than rose hips, the fruit of the rose plant. Rose hips are tart and unctuous, not overly floral and grandma-y.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to in the jam world.

What’s coming next you say?

Maybe Maple Nectarine, maybe Quince Preserved in Honey.

Maybe something else entirely.

Green Apple Jelly

I made this jelly almost two weeks ago and I’ve already written quite enough on the glories of pectin, so I’m going to keep this short.

I made the jelly using Melba apples from Ela Orchard in Rochester, WI. Bob Ela is like the friendliest, smiliest person on earth and he grows great apples. He also makes the best cider in the state.

You don’t see Melbas in the store too much because they’re very fragile, bruise easily and must be refrigerated, unlike a lot of other apples. But, these qualities actually make them really nice for jelly because they break down so quickly when you boil them, releasing their pectin.

Look at how fast they disintegrate. These pictures are taken about five minutes apart.

I let them simmer, starting with water just covering them, for about 30 min and strained them first through a chinois and then through damp muslin.

The result was a crystal clear liquid, which I measured and added to an equal amount of sugar, by weight, and the juice of three lemons. I let that simmer until it set and canned it.

Here’s the result.

Pectin – everyone’s favorite heteropolysaccharide

Before I get too far into this whole blogging thing, I want to give credit where credit is due. In the not too distant future, I’ll likely be the world’s hottest blogger in the experimental artisan jam scene. And before my head swells with pride, I want to come clean about who does most of the heavy lifting around here.

That someone is pectin.

Without pectin, this blog would be a tour of the world’s worst soups.

Pectin is the veal stock of making jams, with the added advantage of not having to boil babies to make it.

So, what is this marvelous pectin? Well, I’ll tell you.

Pectin is a complex carbohydrate found in plant cell walls that helps to bind the cells together. All higher-order, terrestrial plants have some pectin, but pectin levels vary depending on the plant, the part of the plant and the time of year. For example, unripe fruits have more pectin than ripe fruits and hard tissues have more than soft tissues. In fact, one of the reasons ripe fruit is softer than unripe fruit is because of enzymes produced during ripening that break down pectin in the cell walls, thus softening the fruit’s flesh.

Pectin is important to jam making because of it’s very useful gelling properties. When exposed to the proper ratio of water, sugar and acid, pectin forms a very uniform, consistent gel.

And what would jelly be without a good gel?

Gross, that’s what.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but basically, when you boil the fruit for a jam, the pectin comes out of the cell walls into the acidic syrup (a pH between 2.8 and 3.5 and a sugar concentration of 65% is ideal) and once enough water cooks off, it forms a gel, capturing the remaining water and allowing the jam to sep up. If too much water remains, the pectin molecules won’t come together in a high enough concentration to form the chains needed to create a good gel (you need about .5 to 1.0% concentration). And that’s when you get a poorly set up jam.

If you want to know what that looks like, take a look here.

There are many brands of commercial pectin available to the home cook, but they are all basically made the same way. The peels, cores and remnants left over after the production of apple or citrus juice (all of which are high pectin fruits) are dried and ground and have their pectin extracted in the form of a syrup. This syrup is vacuum dehydrated and the leftover powder is reground, sifted and packaged. A home cook will then add this pectin powder to a jam they are preparing to increase gellation and shorten cooking times. Commercial pectin is a convenient, predictable way to make jams at home.

But, not all of us making delicious jams use commercial pectin. Instead, we rely on the pectin that naturally exists in fruits to create a good gel. It takes a bit more work and a bit more thought and planning, but I think it’s worth it. I put a lot of time, thought and energy into making the best jams I can and I don’t want a heavily processed food byproduct in there.

So, the question becomes, what do I do if I need to increase the gel of a jam I want to make. What if I want to make cherry or pear jam, fruits with very low pectin levels? The answer comes in the form of Green Apple Jelly or what I’ve been calling Pectin Stock. Right now is a perfect time to make it because we’re just at the start of our apple season and, so, many of the apples available right now are very high in pectin. All one needs to do is add a bit of this jelly to a low pectin jam in place of some of the sugar and let it work its gelling magic.

I’m going to do a post on making the jelly in a few days, but the important thing for this post is that I now have several quarts of Pectin Stock that I can use whenever I’m making a jam that requires a pectin boost. And because I made it myself, I know who grew the apples (Bob Ela), when they were cooked (Monday) and what all went into my pectin (not much).

And that, my friends, is the sort of thing that makes me happy.