Black Currants

In Making Food on July 11, 2010 at 9:22 am

Week 21
Black Currants

Black currants really want to get you drunk. When I was trawling the web for black currant recipes, an astonishing number of the results were booze-related. This is in large part due to the black currant’s presence in creme de cassis, its namesake liqueur, which is used in such awesomely monikered drinks as the Boozy Rouge, Beautiful Fungus, Lion Heart, My Place or No Place, Baltic Murder Mystery, and The Red Devil.

Since I’m mostly laying off the sauce these days, though, I stuck to less alcoholic search results. But let me back up.

I came across black currants in much the same way I did the garlic scapes from a couple weeks ago: at the Nichols Farm stand at the Green City Market. I’d never seen them before, so I bought them. (Well, technically, The Husband bought them. Usually when we go to the farmers market, he follows me around patiently, agrees with everything I say about everything, then pays for whatever I point at. He’s a good guy, The Husband.) I could’ve sworn I’d seen a tart recipe involving black currants in my favorite Nigella Lawson book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. But when I got back home and looked it up, the recipe called for white currants and blackberries. So it was back to the drawing board.

The British, of which Nigella Lawson is one, loooove black currants. So much, in fact, that they’ve got The Blackcurrant Foundation, an organization of the fruit’s growers who are dedicated to raising “widespread awareness of the mini superfruit hero.” The foundation touts the latest health research on black currants: the fruit may help asthma, can help fight urinary tract infections, may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, and has been proven (albeit in a very small study of 33 Japanese women) to reduce dark under-eye circles. The website even features a countdown clock to this year’s black currant harvest, which as I write this sentence, is only six days, seven hours, thirteen minutes and seventeen seconds away.

Black currants, which pretty much look like black blueberries, have super-high levels of Vitamin C. During World War II when citrus fruits were scarce, the British government encouraged cassis cultivation. During the ’40s and ’50s, most of the nation’s black currants were made into syrup, which was given gratis to children to prevent scurvy. The foundation’s hard at work making sure this generation of British schoolkids continue to carry the black currant torch; they recently sponsored a cartoon mascot design contest for elementary school students. To me, the winning entry looks kind of like an obese grape with a giant leaf sticking painfully out of his head, but to be fair, it was conceptualized by a seven-year-old.

But pro-cassis propaganda aside, the foundation’s got a ton of recipe suggestions that can help you incorporate black currants into any meal. (Or into my new favorite beverage-related word: gripe water.) I swiped their recipe for warm venison salad with black currant dressing and made a few changes to it, based on what I thought had in the kitchen. And then I made some more changes, based on what I actually had in the kitchen. And then some more changes, based on how those things I actually had actually tasted.

I was all set to rub our goat loin and rack chops with a homemade spice rub that involved juniper berries, fennel seeds and allspice, but I couldn’t find it. I was pretty sure we’d had a jar of it, but I guess I was imagining it, because now that I think about it, I don’t even know what a juniper berry looks like. I half-heartedly dug around the spice rack for a while, trying to think of what I could use instead, but all I kept thinking about was how easy it would be to order Thai food instead. So I resigned myself to the timeless simplicity and elegance of: salt and pepper.

I seared the bone-in chops in some olive oil for about ten minutes on each side, until they were medium-well-ish, then removed them from the pan to let them rest.

While the chops were cooking, I started making the sauce. I dumped about a cup of black currants into the blender, then remembered that I should taste one, in the interests of science and this blog. I fished one out, popped it in my mouth, chewed, and promptly spit it out. It tasted — and I believe this is the most charitable description available — like bile.

I stared at the blender for a while, hands on hips, and thought again about dumping everything into the trash and calling Cozy Noodle for some dumplings and pad si ewe. But then I thought about what a waste of money that would be, and how we’d gone to the farmers market to get the berries and the goat chops, and how hard the farmers had worked, and how disrespectful jettisoning it all into the garbage would be. I thought (skeptically) about something I’d read that said black currants taste much better when they’re cooked. But mostly I thought about what a wuss I’d be if I threw everything out and how I’d have to find something else to write about this week. And that sounded more exhausting than just making the whole damn dinner already.

The Husband walked into the kitchen just then, and I warned him: “Dinner probably won’t be very good tonight. But we have to eat it anyway.”

He looked at me carefully, and said, “Um, okay.” Were I in his shoes, I would’ve left the room (and quite possibly the house) at that point, but he asked what he could do to help, so I got him started spinning the salad greens, cutting the goat meat off the chops, and thinly slicing a shallot.

Forging ahead with the black currant debacle, I added 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of port and 1 tablespoon agave nectar, then whizzed everything together then (very, very tentatively) tasted the now-magenta puree. It wasn’t bad — kind of earthy, kind of musky, a little tangy, a little sweet. I added a bit of salt and pepper, a little more vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 teaspoon olive oil, then whizzed it again. The sauce was full of seeds and skin bits, so I poured it through a finely meshed strainer into a saucepan and gently heated it.

While I was tasting the now-pretty-good-tasting sauce for salt/pepper/sugar/acid (it needed more of all four), I hear The Husband yelp. When I looked up, he was shaking his head vigorously and making the universal “I just ate something awful” face.

“So, we might not want to use raw shallots on the salad,” he said.

I found some green onions in the fridge instead. We thinly sliced them,  then piled the greens onto plates and topped them with toasted pistachios, the green onions, crumbled goat cheese and the sliced goat meat. Then I messily poured the warm dressing over the salads, and there was dinner:

Lessons learned tonight:

  • Check the shelves before you get your heart set on a particular spice or flavor. If it’s not there, and you’re tired and already a little crabby, you’ll be overwhelmed by the temptation to say “screw it” and order in.
  • Shallots are best cooked.
  • Keep going, but always have a Plan B. (By Plan B, I mean “ingredients for a normal salad dressing lying around the house, in case the weird one you’re making turns out to be disgusting.”) I think a lot of things taste or smell gross before they get good. See, for example, the stench of uncooked queso blanco, or the hog-rendering-facility smell of pork belly as it braises. Sauerkraut, vinegar and beer fall into this category too, I’m told.
  • Eating goat meat and goat cheese in the same dish makes me feel weird. I asked The Husband if he felt kind of like a cannibal doing so, and he said yes, so it’s not just me.
  • Duck, venison or lamb might’ve been better in this particular dish, but the goat from Mint Creek Farm is so good it’s hard to care.
  • Black currants are probably not something I’ll buy again, but Bolshoi Punch just might become my signature drink.
  1. I can totally see Sam’s face when you tell him dinner is going to suck but we have to eat it anyway. 🙂 You’ve got a good guy there.

  2. when i was a kid we would raid my grandfather’s garden for red currants which were so good. also – i hate it when there’s too much dill in my gripe water.

  3. […] me are stumpers for other people, too. The number of hits I get for ways to deal with pork belly, black currants, guanabana, palm sugar and salt roasting are encouraging — could Smart Cabbage actually be […]

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