Friday, February 20, 2009
Macerated strawberries are a very simple dessert component I learned during a brief apprenticeship as an assistant pastry chef at a local restaurant. The owner had tried to convince me that culinary school was a waste of money and that I could learn everything I needed to know by starting at the bottom rung of his kitchen and working my way up. While this may be true for restaurants whose style of food you appreciate and whose technique you hope to emulate, I’m not convinced the apprentice track applies to a local diner. Still, the experience provided an invaluable glimpse into the restaurant industry. Unfortunately, working at a stressful job, 50 – 60 hours a week, at the time and trying to deal with the physically grueling restaurant work on the weekends proved too much for me. After a few months, I thanked the folks for the opportunity and reclaimed my weekends spent cooking for friends and family.
One of the techniques I picked up from the pastry chef during my time there is how to macerate strawberries. Macerating is the process of softening or breaking down a food with a liquid (usually something acidic). It’s a simple process, but so versatile. I have found a multitude of uses for the delicious little red treats, not to mention how much fun it is to say you’re macerating something. Dessert is an obvious application, but I also like to use mine as a sort of relish in cheese courses and as a topping for breakfast dishes. Variations on a theme are a good thing here. Experiment with different wines, vinegars and flavored liqueurs as a macerating agent. My preference is balsamic vinegar. Also try varying the citrus you use. Lemon is often my choice, but on the morning when I made these strawberries, I had just freshly squeezed some orange juice for breakfast, so that’s what got thrown into the mix.
Culinary school is still on hold, for now. In the meantime, these strawberries are a great takeaway from an equally great learning experience. I hope you find them as useful and delicious as I do.
Makes about 2 cups
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 T orange or lemon juice
Pepper to taste
Pour vinegar, sugar and citrus juice over the sliced strawberries and let sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Before serving freshly crack some pepper over the strawberries. Mix well to redistribute the juices and serve as desired.