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Monday, August 8

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It is toward the end of currant season, but you're still likely to find them on the shelves of a grocery store or even at area farmers markets. And if you've not had them before, or if you've looked at them and wondered what you can do with them, then hopefully I can offer a few suggestions.

There are generally two types you'll see: red currants and black currants. Pink and white currants also exist, but are harder to find. And they're all different varieties instead of different ripeness levels of the same fruit. Both red and black are suitable for cooking, but only the black are really tasty when raw. The red variety have an astringent flavor that many people (including yours truly) find unpleasant.

And since I'm not likely to buy 12 pounds of currants so I can get a few jars of currant jam (and I doubt many of you are either), I wanted to come up with a few ways to use a pint of fresh currants. Of course, before you can use them, you have to know what to look for when you buy them.

My mother disagrees, but feel free to eat one before buying it. If there is a musty taste then you want to avoid them. It means they've been infested with gooseberry mildew, which is very rare in local fruit. Otherwise look for fruit that is bright and smooth. Wrinkled currant skin can still have a lot of flavor, especially for cooking so don't discount it if you're planning to cook with it, but they won't be attractive if eaten raw.

Currants grow similarly to grapes and are often sold in clusters. It will take a while to carefully pick the currants off the stems and discard them. But once you're past this stage, you'll have a cup or so of fresh flavor ready for cooking. Either variety can be used in the following recipes.

Chicken Breasts with Currant Stuffing
2 chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup of pine nuts
1 stalk of celery
1 small yellow onion
1 clove of fresh garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 cup of fresh currants
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley

Place your chicken breasts between layers of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin or the base of a sturdy glass, pound the chicken breast until it is a half-inch thick or less. Sprinkle each with a little salt and pepper. Sprinkle the pine nuts in a dry skillet over low heat. Stir them every minute until they're toasted, about 6-8 minutes. Do not let them burn. Mince the celery, onion and garlic. Once the nuts are toasted, crush them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, or pulse them a few times in a food processor. Combine the celery, onion, and garlic mix in a skillet over medium heat. Cook until the onions are transparent and the celery is starting to turn soft. Dump in the currants and stir for a minute until they're warm. Crush with the back of a spoon until the fruit is popped and the juices are running. Let this cook until some of the juice evaporates. Stir in the fresh herbs and pine nuts. Spread the fruit mixture over the chicken breasts. Starting at the narrow end, roll it toward the fatter end. Use kitchen twine to tie the roll in place and to tuck the loose ends over the roll. Or use toothpicks to pin it in place. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the bottom of the skillet over medium heat and cook the chicken breast in the skillet until it is cooked all the way through. Turn a quarter turn every 2-3 minutes to prevent it from burning, but let it create a crust on the outside. After 8-12 minutes, the inside should be cooked through. If you're nervous, take one out of the skillet and cut it in half. Once you've cooked everything satisfactorily, cut the chicken breast into 3/4" or 1" rounds and serve over rice with vegetables and a salad. Serves two.

Red Currant Salad Dressing
1 clove of garlic, minced 1 large pinch of salt 1 large pinch of black pepper 1 pinch of sugar 1/4 cup of black currants (you can also use red, if you like the flavor) 2 tablespoons of olive oil 3 tablespoons of balsamic, red wine, sherry or rice wine vinegar

In a wooden, or glass, bowl use the back of a stainless steel spoon to smash the garlic into the salt, pepper, and sugar until you have a paste. Crushing it with the back of the spoon will take the bitter tang out of the garlic, but leave the fresh flavor. Pour your fresh currants into the bowl and crush with the back of your spoon. Now add the olive oil and vinegar and stir quickly to combine. The fruit juice will help keep the oil and vinegar combined, but you will want to shake or stir before pouring over the salad of your choice. Add 1/2 cup of raw black currants to the salad. This should be enough dressing for one large salad for 4-6 people or a couple of servings if making smaller salads. It will keep well in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Fresh Currant Marinade (for meat or tofu)
1/2 cup of currants
1 cup of apple juice
2 shallots, minced
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon of dried mustard
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 pound of tofu, chicken breast, pork loin, or turkey
1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil (or two teaspoons of flour)

If you want a very liquidy marinade to turn into a thin and smooth pan sauce, run the currants and apple juice through a blender. Then line a small strainer with two layers of cheesecloth and pour the contents of the blender through it into a sauce pan set to medium-high heat. If you're not worried about a smooth pan sauce, pour the currants into a bowl. Using a fork, mash the currants to release as much juice as possible. Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and combine the mashed currants and the apple juice. Let the mixture come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots and the garlic. Let it cook for 10 minutes and stir occasionally. (Cooking the marinade first will alter the flavor of the currants just slightly, releasing the astringent flavors.)Turn the heat off and stir in the mustard, soy sauce, and ginger. Whisk to combine. Add a handful of ice cubes to cool it down quickly. Now it is ready to pour over your tofu steaks, chicken breast, pork loin, or turkey. Let the marinade work for at least two hours. Flip over halfway through.

Bring a skillet to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Place your marinaded meat or tofu in the skillet and cook to your preferred doneness. Remove the meat to a plate where you can keep it warm. Spoon the solids out of the marinade and into the skillet that is still at medium heat. Once all of the solids (garlic, shallot and currant skin if desired) are in the skillet, add 1/2 cup of the liquid and turn up the heat to high. It will slowly bubble so stir continuously with a spoon or high-heat silicone spatula. Keep stirring and once the liquid is reduced by half and the shallot and garlic are cooked through and soft, if not slightly browned, add just 1 scant tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Stir continuously and once it is melted, take it off the heat and pour it over the meat or tofu. Adding just a little fat at this end stage takes some of the brashness out of the marinade and helps to create a creamy mouth feel that also sticks to the food. Or, if you want to leave fat out, you can add 2 teaspoons of flour to the sauce and stir until it has combined thoroughly and thickens up. The flavor will still be a bit sharp, but will be a similar enough substitute if you're trying to reduce fat in your diet. Serves two to four as a main dish.

These very basic recipes should give you a couple of ideas on how you can use this mid-summer fruit. Most recipes that I found called for using jam or jelly, which seems limiting when the fruit itself is tasty and wonderful. Another simple way to use the fruit is by mashing a small handful of the berries and putting it in lemonade or iced tea, or even a glass of champagne. If you have any exciting uses for fresh currants, feel free to add them in the comments.

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MMG / July 27, 2007 5:45 PM

YOU, my friend, are a genius in the kitchen. These recipes look delicious. Currant marinade is currantly on my "to do" list!


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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