By Dennis Linden
Ingredient Challenge: Summer Peaches
Chef Marc Mora, Executive Chef for Levy Restaurants at Citizens Business Bank Arena (Ontario, CA), was given “peaches” as this month’s featured ingredient and asked to create a dish around this iconic fruit. The ripe peach really symbolizes the pace of the summer season as it entices us to slow down just to enjoy this juicy delight, which can only be fully appreciated sitting quietly in one place savoring its delicate, somewhat comforting, flavor. Orchards in central California and throughout the peach belt of the southeastern states will be in full harvest for the next two months, peaking in production and flowing in a flavorful assortment of varieties.
Chef Marc meets this bounty with a unique ingredient combination that builds on the peach’s origins to create a very imaginative flavor mix that simply works. In fact, the chef put two dishes on his peach challenge menu, suggesting that a choice be made between them for this article. While it was great fun to prepare both and the subsequent taste test was doubly delicious, the decision is to avoid decision by publishing both! Besides, with two recipes it is easier to take advantage of the abundance of the season!
The path that brings peaches to Chef Marc’s kitchen is an ancient one. The fruit traces its history to China, where peaches appear in Chinese writings as far back as the tenth century B.C. In Asia, the peach is believed to bring luck, abundance and protection. Neighboring traders with China, namely Turkey and Iran (Persia), passed the fruit on to the Romans. The Romans called peaches "Persian Apples" and spread the popularity of the fruit throughout Europe, as they conquered it.
Spanish ship records show the first peach tree seedlings landed on U.S. shores in 1562, very near what is now Mobile, Alabama. Interestingly, it was several native Indian tribes from that southern region who took up the peach gauntlet from there. These tribes planted the fruit across the country as they were slowly forced to migrate west by the constant encroachment of frontier settlers.
Today, peaches are the second largest commercial fruit crop in the country, second only to apples. California is the major producer of peaches, followed by South Carolina and then Georgia. And that includes the delivery of several pounds to Chef Marc’s kitchen by the Melissa’s Foodservice Department for this article.
When selecting peaches, focus on the area close to the stem, rather than the overall skin color of the fruit itself. Green around the stem indicates that the peach has been picked too early, before enough sugar could develop for proper ripening. Conversely, a creamy yellow surrounding the stem is a sign that there are sweet delights held within to enjoy!
Peaches are very sensitive to bruising. Handle with extreme care, including not piling on or jostling during the ride home from the market. To ripen the fruit, place in a paper bag at room temperature and check often, as they can ripen quickly. If purchased ripe, always store in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible. For full appreciation of flavor and aroma enjoy peaches at room temperature.
Now that you know the history of the peach, Chef Marc’s use of Chai tea in both recipes makes perfect culinary sense. The flavors share a history that is the foundation for the pleasant balance of taste that this combination has on the palette. The Chai, though robust on its own, seems to soften with the more subtle peach taste. While the delicate peach flavor gathers strength against the Chai that the fruit does not have on its own. Again, like the last time this inventive chef participated in our feature, Chef Marc demonstrates his thoughtful approach to cooking. Namely, the first stage in creating a dish is look for the natural links between ingredients and use them. It’s a great lesson for the serious home cook. Not to mention that Chai has now been assigned a permanent spot in my own pantry of ingredients!
Peach Cups in Chai Cream is scrumptiously simple and fun to prepare. The parchment pouches are easy to work with and really compact the flavors into the fruit halves. I made six small pouches with one set of peach halves in each; however, a larger pouch would work too, just as long as there is plenty of space inside to facilitate the steaming. I strayed off Chef Marc’s directions a little with the mint leaves, which were chopped and sprinkled over the peaches just before filling with the chai cream as well as the top garnish. This added a bit more mint to each bite, which I favor.
For a more formal presentation, the Chai Tarts with Glazed Peaches is truly elegant in both eye appeal and delicate flavor. The recipe is a little more complex in its preparation steps, but very dinner party friendly as it can be made ahead of time. This really is a dazzling dish that deserves a little showmanship; just before serving, drizzle the apple brandy sauce over each serving at the table with a flare. Again, the chai and peach flavors are such a great match that the taste literally stopped all conversation at my table of guests. Delicious does have a sound: silence!
Peaches ‘n Chai, who would have thought it? Once again, Chef Marc Mora serves up a tasty cooking lesson that adds a new ingredient to the home chef’s cupboard as he dresses the summer peach in an altogether unique shade of flavor.Chai Tarts with Glazed Peaches
Serves 6-8 (depending on glass size)
1½ cups peaches
3 tablespoons brandy
2 oz. Brown sugar
1 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons dry unflavored gelatin
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup Chai concentrate (2 chai tea bags steeped in 1 cup of boiling water)
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Sauté peach slices in brandy and brown sugar until soft. Remove peaches from pan and add ½ cup apple juice, place over a medium flame and reduce by half.
Place the other half of the apple juice in a small dish and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the cream cheese and chai concentrate together until creamy. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolks (one at a time) and the sugar. Add the melted gelatin mixture and stir until it is fully incorporated into the mixture. Gently fold in the whipped cream.
Pour into individual martini glasses and chill for about 2 hours or until filling is firm. Once firm, place sautéed peach slices around the tart in a flower pattern. Chill again. Drizzle the brandy-apple glaze over the peaches just before serving.
Peach Cups with Chai Cream
Makes 6 cups
1 cup heavy cream
2 ounces spiced chai tea, reduced
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
3 ripe peaches, cut in half and pitted
¼ cup of dry white wine
1 cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 chai tea bag or 1 teaspoon of loose chai tea spices
6 individual mint
1 sheet of parchment paper
Whip heavy cream, reduced chai tea and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
Keep cool until serving – can be made up to two hours prior to serving.
Form parchment paper into a large pouch. Sprinkle peaches with brown sugar and place in paper pouch, sprinkle spices and wine over peaches. Then seal pouch and put in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until soft.
Once cooked, remove from oven and release steam from the pouch by carefully tearing the paper at the top. Make sure that the peaches have not stuck to the paper and let cool to room temperature.
Place cooled peaches on a small platter and fill with the chai cream mixture. Top with a pinch of ground cinnamon and mint leaf – enjoy!