"They look like big orange tomatoes," Craig Koketsu, chef and partner of NYC's Quality Branded restaurant group, explains about a fruit you're about to start seeing at the farmers' markets. Persimmon season is upon us, and we couldn't be more excited.
Packed with floral sweetness and ripe, tender flesh, persimmons are unlike any fruit you've ever had. "When very ripe, the texture is soft and custard-like, much like a very ripe mango. The flavor is delicate, honey sweet with undertones of pear, apple, vanilla and cinnamon," Zeb Stevenson, chef of Watershed in Atlanta, says.
Since they have only a short season, many cooks are unfamiliar with how to handle them. So we're chatting with some of our favorite chefs to break down the best ways to use this versatile fruit, including Stevenson's mouthwatering broiled cheese dip with persimmon purée (see the recipe).
Worth the Ripe
The first thing you need to know is the difference between the two varieties you will find at the store and when to eat each one. "In terms of size, they are similar to a medium-sized tomato (about two and a half inches in diameter)," Stevenson explains. "The Fuyu variety is flatter than the Hachiya variety, which has a shape more like a Roma tomato with an elongated body and slightly pointed tip."
Don't mix up the two varieties, because they vary in when they can be eaten. "Fuyu persimmons can be eaten while hard and crisp like an apple, and they taste like a ripe, milky fresh fig or even somewhat like a mango," Patty Morton, executive pastry chef of Restaurant August in New Orleans, explains. "Hachiya persimmons, or 'baking persimmons,' need to be very soft before you eat or use for cooking; otherwise, they are very tannic and unpleasant."
"I really enjoy combining persimmon with soft and pungent cheeses," Stevenson tells us. "You'd think that the delicate flavor of persimmon would be overridden by the cheese, but they just seem to meet up with each other in a magical way."
Stevenson isn't alone in pairing persimmons with cheese either. Koketsu says he will be serving the fruit in a salad with stracciatella this fall at Quality Meats (count us in). Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito of restaurant Don Angie, opening this fall in NYC, tells us honey-pickled persimmons are coming onto their menu to pair with ricotta-filled fresh pasta and brown butter. So, skip the grapes for your next cheese board and reach for a ripe persimmon.
If you have a sweet tooth like we do, start using these guys in your fall baking. "I enjoy them puréed and incorporated into a cake or breakfast bread, muffins, etc.," Morton, who makes persimmon jam to use all year, says. "They add a great depth of flavor and keep baked items nice and moist.
Now that you're better acquainted with this special fruit, get cooking. 'Simmon says!
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