The sticky-sweet watermelon wedges were all well and good this past weekend, but we're most excited about the arrival (finally!) of fragrant, jammy-sweet strawberries.
Goodbye, pale and listless grocery story imposters, and, hello, blushing Ozark Beauties and zingy Mara des Bois. There's so much more to strawberry varieties than just Tristar, so we asked chefs for their favorite cultivars across the country and took note of the best ways to enjoy them, aside from, you know, eating them straight out of the carton.
Slender and marquise-shaped, this everbearing variety produces an especially floral and aromatic berry. Maybe that's because the usually wild fragaria vesca descends from the rose family. "It's almost electric when perfectly ripe," Jason Bond, chef at Bondir in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says. "It has a real depth of flavor, with strong raspberry and Concord grape notes." Chefs in the northeast, where the heirloom is normally found in the late summer, are big fans. "Alpines are awesome," Jonathon Sawyer, chef at The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, says. "Aside from eating them fresh with clotted cream, they make surprisingly excellent wine and even better vinegar!"
Berry good for: preserves and vinegars
? Ozark Beauty
"I like to call them Ferrari red," Edward Kim, the chef at Ruxbin and Mott St. in Chicago, says of these tiny, intensely red berries. This everbearing strawberry drops in around June (and later in September) and grows all over the country—wherever they can get the most sunlight and moist soil, really, which happens to include Ruxbin's rooftop. "The benefit of growing strawberries yourself is that you can control when they're picked—whether that be when they're super ripe, so they're sweeter than any grocery store strawberry, or when they're green with a slight blush of red, making them perfect for pickling," Kim explains.
Berry good for: pickles
These blush-red berries are born and bred Californians. Developed by University of California, Davis professors, this thumb-size strawberry variety is beloved—and engineered—for a pink inside that's more flavorful than commercial breeds and a super-juicy, soft texture. Obviously, chef Erik Niel at Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga loves them in shortcake, but he also swirls them into panna cotta, "because there is no need to add a lot of sugar." Grab a carton as soon as they appear in early spring, since this berry has a short season."It's always a treat to see these guys come in," Billy Allin, chef at Cakes & Ale in Decatur, Georgia, says. "I like to shave good-quality Parmesan and a little cracked black pepper on them—that's it. It's a great way to end a meal, especially if you have a little red wine left in your glass."
Berry good for: shortcakes and panna cotta
? Mara des Bois
Not to be confused with fraises des bois (aka alpines), this French strawberry strain is more oblong and slightly more orange than its fellow Frenchman. Available from late summer into fall, this guy is a garden variety, making it slightly larger than wild ones but still fragrant and fruity. "It's as if the Japanese invented a strawberry. It's perfect," Kriss Harvey, the pastry chef at The Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills, says. "They are sweet and juicy with a slightly acidic finish and delicate sting." At the restaurant, Harvey infuses them in water for meringues and gelée.
Berry good for: jams and meringue-topped pies
Clearly, Californians know their strawberries. This young cultivar first fruited at the University of California, Davis specifically for growing during wet and cold seasons. Its deep red color, year-round availability and low acidity makes it another favorite among pastry chefs. "I prefer Gaviota to bake with," Karen Hatfield, the pastry chef at Odys + Penelope and The Sycamore Kitchen in Los Angeles, says. "They're a little firmer with a nice acidity." Meanwhile, pastry chef Andy Jin at L.A.'s Patina likes to bring out the berry's bright flavor in cool sorbets and lemongrass-laced consommé.
Berry good for: sorbet and baked goods
Strawberries often get a bad rap for being difficult to grow—we're looking at you, alpines—but these June-bearing berries are nice and hardy. Larger than tiny Tristars and a glossy red color, this midseason variety is built to flourish in most growing conditions, fend off disease and hold up in the freezer. "They're the perfect size," Diane Yang, the pastry chef at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, says. "I love how they are a little more sweet than tart." She serves the berries with sweetened condensed ice cream at the restaurant.
Berry good for: ice cream
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