Your first encounter with Concord grapes probably arrived in the form of peanut butter and jelly. A timeless combination, to be sure, but the gorgeously-hued, beautifully perfumed grapes—starting their season now—are inspiring chefs around the country to create intriguing desserts that go way beyond Welch's.
Brooke Mosley, chef of Outerlands in San Francisco's Outer Sunset, riffs on that classic PB&J, to make a cheese Danish with roasted Concord grapes, honey and salted peanuts. She's also glazed doughnuts with the fruit, and roasted them with Banyuls vinegar, brown sugar and rosemary to accompany hazelnut financiers. "The most unreal thing about Concord grapes, aside from their nostalgic connections, is their color—it's unbelievable, almost unnatural," she says of the small, deep violet orbs. "They're perfectly balanced: Super sweet on the inside, with tannic skins on the outside."
Because of their sharp, musky flavor, clusters of Concords are often used in sweet-and-sour creations applications. José Andrés' Mediterranean restaurant, Zaytinya, in Washington, D.C., has held a Grape Festival (through September 28) for four years running because of the fruit's importance to the cuisine of the region. This year, one of the featured confections is a granita, combining Concord grapes with orange flower-scented yogurt espuma and candied orange.
At Empellón Cocina in New York's East Village, chef/owner Alex Stupak (a former pastry chef) nestles Concord grapes into a pool of cajeta [Mexican caramel sauce]. "Because the goat's milk caramel is sweet and the grapes are tart, we balance the rest of the dish with rich goat's milk and crushed ice," he explains. "These grapes are typically crafted into sorbet, granita or jelly because of their high water content. We prefer to leave them completely un-manipulated.."
Annie Pettry, executive chef of Decca in Louisville, agrees: "There's a sort of disconnect between grapes and the Concord flavor since most people have never eaten one off the vine," she says. She remembers picking them off a trellis on the way home from school as a child, staining her fingers while she snacked. Now she serves a dessert showcasing three different preparations of the grape—a mousse, unripe juice in a verjus gelée and a raw garnish—topped with a creamy chèvre panna cotta with graham cracker crumbs and Thai basil.
The only thing we don't like about the grapes is how short their season is, so when you see a bunch at the farmers market, act fast, and thank us later.
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