Slice them, dice them, roll them in dough: great fall recipes start with tart apples

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This year's cooler-than-normal temperatures mean the fall apple crop will be smaller and more tart than in years past.

In desserts, of course, we can add sugar to compensate. But we also can use these tart apples in savory dishes.

Apples impart a rich, winey tone to the likes of duck, pheasant, poultry and even the red meats of lamb, beef and game. Apples stand up to sauteing, roasting, grilling and even frying. The firm texture becomes more like a starchy vegetable than a tender fruit.

Cooked apples can be silky with a delicate texture or seared crunchy on the outside with a soft, firm center or even extra crunchy. Go for a texture that accentuates the main ingredient of your dish. For example, for a crunchy breast of duck, choose a technique that will give you a silky or delicate apple.

The most common techniques are:

* Sauteing, in a broad skillet or saute pan over high heat. For a crisp texture, add the apples without crowding to a very hot pan with just a touch of canola or corn oil, cooking to lightly brown the edges, about 3 or 4 minutes.

This works best with diced apples, because heat is applied quickly to all the surfaces. You also can use sliced apples, but they will need to cook longer for the texture to change from raw to merely crunchy.

When done, quickly transfer apples to a strainer. If you don't, the pan juices will soften the crunch.

* For a softer textured apple, modify the technique. Sear over high heat to brown the apples slightly, then turn down the heat to allow them to cook thoroughly. Depending on the variety of apple you're using, some juice may be released. The juice can be reduced to just coat the apples, or it can be collected and added to your sauce.

If the apples brown too much, even at lower temperatures, add a splash of cider, white wine or even water. It will enhance the silky texture as well as the flavor.

You can increase the browning by adding maple or granulated sugar. The sugar also will brown and cling to the apples. Add just 1 tablespoon to a 12-inch saute pan to get the best results. To balance the additional sweet flavors from the sugar, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of cider or red wine vinegar to the pan in the last few seconds of cooking.

* Frying, in wedges or diced in the form of fritters. Select apples with low moisture so the batter clings during cooking. High-moisture apples will release their juices and result in soggy batter, which may fall off the apple. The apple wedges or rings should be about 1/4 -inch thick so they will cook in the same time as the batter. If you want thicker slices, precook by sauteing, then lightly bread and fry. Fry in lighter oils such as canola to allow the natural apple flavor to come through best.

* Roasting. Whole small apples and edible crab apples are terrific when simply oven-roasted in their skins. They may be served whole, glazed with accompanying sauce or dusted with complementary spices in the last minutes of cooking.

The whole roasted apple can be cored easily from the bottom, stuffed with a wild mushroom ragout and served with the apple shape preserved. The presentation is a showstopper, and the ragout inside will surprise your guests halfway through the meal. Whole apples may be stuffed before baking, but the internal temperature is too low to do much more than warm or melt soft cheese. Stuffings that contain poultry, meat and associated juices should be avoided, because of potential bacterial contamination.

Apples also can be cut in large wedges, tossed in a little light oil or butter, seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh herbs then roasted in an oven heated to 400 until browned and tender -- just like potatoes. Stir occasionally to ensure even browning and cooking. Do not cover with foil or the apples will steam and taste quite boring.

Although savory apples stand on their own, they are great additions to your favorite recipes. Try a puree of celery root and potatoes with the addition of applesauce. A puree of apples and a jolt of cider will pick up just about any savory sauce. A compote of seared apple will add flavor and texture to your next potato, gratin or escalloped. Although not as starchy, apples can go just about anywhere a potato goes. Try a few apples in your next pot of leek and potato soup, better known as vichyssoise.

This autumn, discover the more savory personalties of apples. ,, The flavor combinations are limited only by your imagination.

Apple fritters Makes 18 fritters

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup red onion, diced

2 cups of apples, cored, peeled, diced

1 tablespoon superfine sugar (substitute granulated)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped scallion greens

2 egg yolks

2/3 cup of milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks

corn oil to fry

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the butter over high heat. Add onions, cooking until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the apples and sugar, cooking until lightly browned

on the edges, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the nutmeg and the scallion greens.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the yolks and the milk, then mix in the flour and salt. Combine with the apples and onion mixture until well coated. Fold in whipped egg whites.

Line baking sheet pans with parchment. Spoon the fritter batter into 2 1/2 -inch rounds on the parchment. If the batter is too loose, adjust its texture with additional flour. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Fill a large skillet with corn oil to a depth of 2 inches. Bring oil to 350 degrees over high heat. Remove the fritters from the parchment, then place directly into the oil. Cook until browned, about 2 minutes. Turn over to finish cooking, about 2 minutes. Remove to drain on paper toweling. Keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.

Apple, potato & leek soup Serves 8

5 tablespoons unsalted butter (substitute olive oil), divided

1 large onion, peeled, ends removed,

diced

1 large leek, trimmed, cleaned well and diced

4 large potatoes, peeled, diced

6 large apples, peeled, diced

10 cups poultry stock (substitute water and 1 bouillon cube), cold

salt to taste

freshly ground white pepper to taste

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon superfine sugar (substitute white granulated)

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/4 cup fresh snipped chives

In a large pot, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over high heat. Add the diced onion and leek, cooking until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the potatoes, all but 2 cups of the diced apples and the cold stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, testing for doneness by inserting a skewer in the vegetables, about 45 minutes. Pour the soup into a colander over another pot to separate the vegetables and stock.

Ladle the vegetables into a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade until about half full. Add cooking liquids to cover. Place the lid on the blender and carefully puree until smooth. Pour into a fine sieve and strain into another pot. Repeat with the remainder of the vegetables. Add more cooking liquids if the soup is too thick, or place the soup over heat and bring to a simmer to cook until thickened to your desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

In a medium nonstick pan, heat the remaining butter over high heat. Add the remaining apples, cooking until seared and beginning to brown. Sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar over the apples and continue cooking until golden. Add the vinegar and remove from heat. Set aside for garnish.

Ladle the hot soup in a tureen or serving bowl. Spoon the diced apple garnish into the center of the soup. Garnish the top of the soup with chives.

Breast of chicken with roasted apples Serves 4

5 whole small apples

1/2 cup maple syrup

4 1/2 cups apple cider, divided

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 boneless chicken breasts, about 8 ounces each

1 cup poultry or veal stock

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Calvados or brandy (substitute apple cider)

salt to taste

freshly ground nutmeg to taste

pinch of black pepper

pTC 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

4 sprigs of chives or other fresh herbs as garnish

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In an ovenproof baking dish, place the whole apples standing upright. Combine the maple syrup and 2 1/2 cups of the apple cider and pour over the apples. Bake about 35 minutes, until tender, basting with the liquids about every 15 minutes. Remove and cool enough to handle. Remove the core from the apples with a melon baller.

Transfer the basting juices to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until reduced to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Spoon the reduced basting juices over the apples to coat. Keep warm while cooking the chicken.

In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until well browned, about 3 minutes. Turn over and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and remaining 2 cups of cider. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and return to a boil. Cook until the liquid thickens to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken to a dish and keep warm.

Transfer the liquid from the pan to a blender. Peel 1 apple. Cut into a rough, small dice and add to the blender. Add the vinegar and the Calvados. Season with salt, nutmeg and a generous pinch of black pepper. Carefully place the lid on the blender and slowly puree until smooth. Quickly strain through a fine sieve.

To serve: Position 1 apple on each serving dish. Cut the breast of chicken into thin long slices with a sharp knife. Lay the slices of chicken breast onto the plate, slightly overlapping the apple. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and the apple. Sprinkle chives over the chicken. Garnish the plate with the sprigs of chives and serve.

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