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Ingredient Challenge: Nectarines

Image of Chef Don Shank
July’s featured recipe is truly an editable midsummer night’s dream turned into delicious reality by Don Shank, chef/owner of the Rhododendron Café located on scenic Chuckanut Drive, near the small town of Bow in Washington State.
Image of Organic Nectarines
Chef Don’s Ingredient Challenge was to take advantage of the summer fruit season by creating a main course dish with fresh nectarines playing a starring role. It turns out that this month’s “Ethnic Odyssey” cuisine theme at the Rhododendron is “Island Cooking: Caribbean, South Pacific, Hawaii, and More”. So the chef’s challenge was made easy since a version of his Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Nectarine Chutney was already scheduled for the restaurant’s menu. California nectarines are at their peak of the season this month and will continue to be in plentiful supply into September. The word nectarine means “sweet as nectar” and is derived from the German word for the fruit that translates “nectar-peach”. The fruit’s smooth skin has propagated a myth that the nectarine is a cross between a peach and a plum. Botanically, the fruit is a peach variety with its own distinctive taste; however, the gene that causes peach skin to be fuzzy is recessive in nectarines rather than dominant. It’s a shy peach!

Interestingly, there are more than 200 different varieties of this tasty fruit harvested throughout the summer that go to keeping supermarket NECTARINE displays well stocked. However, retailers seldom identify these varieties by name, which is really a missed marketing opportunity. These varietal names are very poetic and many are two-word descriptions of when each variety will peak in flavor like April Glo, Spring Sweet, July Red, August Fire, Summer Jewel and September Fire. Each variety has about a 10-day harvest window when sugars are just right. This unheralded parade of varieties, all having a slight variation in color, size and sugar content, pass in and out of retail produce departments without the consumer noticing anything but consistency of availability. Still, all nectarine growers have their own favorites, similar to a knowledgeable wine connoisseur.

Chef Don’s nectarine chutney really makes this dish special. Use firm-ripe nectarines so the fruit will hold up during the cooking process. In fact, the next time that I prepare this chutney I will cut the fruit into slightly larger pieces so that the bright color of the nectarine has a chance to add more visual contrast to the plate. Also, the amount of chutney in the accompanying picture for this article is staged neatly on top of the stack so as not to cover the other two components of the dish for photographic purposes. The home chef should not feel constrained to this small portion per serving, meaning that the first bite is going to prompt another helping of chutney anyway, so add a few extra spoonfuls when plating so as not to delay the enjoyment of the second bite! As the chef suggests in the recipe, pay close attention to the reduction process of the chutney ingredients. Brown sugar does have a tendency to scorch, which would change the flavor dramatically. The most convenient way to peel a nectarine is to score the tip end with an “X”, blanch in boiling water and then transfer immediately into an ice water bath. Since Chef Don recommends using firm-ripe nectarines, extend the normal 40-second blanching time for soft ripe fruit to at least a full minute. This detail was overlooked in my first batch and made a relatively simple peeling process into a very messy project!

The co-star of this dish is definitely Chef Don’s coconut rice. The recipe suggests either Jasmine or Basmati for this component of the dish; accept no substitutes. The aromas of both these long-grain varieties add a unique flavor to the dish. Each has a pleasant botanical bouquet, which is apparent even raw and reaches full potential once cooked. Both have a nutty taste, though Basmati is a bit stronger because it has been aged. I used the subtler Jasmine because it just seemed like a good pairing with the coconut milk. Soaking Jasmine rice beforehand will decrease the cooking time from approximately twenty minutes to about ten minutes. Once cooked, you will notice that the rice does not stick together like white or brown rice. The variety tends to be light, fluffy and slightly chewy. The day after the dish tasting, I reheated a mix of the chutney and rice, without the pork, for a quick lunch. Simply delicious!

While the pork tenderloin is a perfect match with all the other fresh flavors in this dish, I have also since tried this recipe using boned chicken thighs that had been grilled, cut into long strips and then plated just like the pork. Simply delicious times two! There has been good food prepared from the restaurant’s historical building on the Chuckanut Drive scenic byway, on and off by a string proprietors, since the early 1900s. For the last 27 years, Chef Don and his wife Carole have succeeded in making the place shine even brighter with their culinary creativeness served in a garden-casual atmosphere. Visitors from all over the Pacific Northwest who are out for a Sunday drive, or any other day of the week, on this famed highway of unmatched beauty get the extra bonus of either starting or finishing the excursion at what is simply called “the Rhody” by loyal patrons. Although, for those of us who live in the area, all roads in the region lead to the Rhody!

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Nectarine Chutney
(Serves 4 people)
Image of Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Nectarine Chutney

Pork Marinade
1½ - 2 lbs. Pork Tenderloin
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
½ tsp. each salt and pepper
½ tsp. ground coriander
Dash of cayenne

Trim pork of silver skin and excess fat. Place whole tenderloins in marinade for 1 – 2 hours, turn once or twice. Grill pork over medium-high heat for 10 – 15 minutes; let rest for at least 5 minutes to allow juices to set. The meat will continue to cook while resting.

In stainless 2 – 3 quart saucepan combine the following:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup Perfect Sweet onions, small diced
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. mustard seed
2 tsp. whole coriander seed
½ fennel seed
½ tsp. each salt & pepper
A dash of chile flakes, to taste
4 cups nectarines (3-5 firm-ripe fruits), peeled, diced into small or large pieces

Combine all ingredients except nectarines. Reduce over a medium burner until thick and syrupy, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully so as not to scorch. When syrup is ready, reduce heat and add fruit - leave uncovered so juice from fruit can evaporate while cooking. Stir over low heat until fruit is tender and the syrup is slightly thickened. Serve warm or cold.

Coconut Rice
1 ½ cup jasmine or basmati rice
1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz)
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
A pinch of cayenne, to taste
½ cup toasted shredded coconut (divided in two)
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp. mint, fine diced
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, minced

Combine ingredients in a 3 quart saucepan, cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stir lightly and turn down the heat to low and cook until liquid is absorbed. Allow to rest off heat, covered for 5 minutes and then fluff and serve. Plating: Slice across the grain of the tenderloin, arrange over the coconut rice and top with the chutney, garnish with remaining coconut. Enjoy!
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