What’s Cooking: Jam, the secret ingredient

07/23/2014 12:00 AM

07/22/2014 10:15 PM

It was probably 15 years ago that I discovered the magic that is a nearly empty jar of jam.

Until then, I’d always hated those sticky-knuckle moments of scraping the dregs of the jar, hoping I had enough to add that sweet balance so needed by the otherwise leaden smear of peanut butter on my bread.

Then an Italian cook who was supposed to be teaching me pasta making got sidetracked. She wanted a salad to go with our orecchiette, and she wanted to make her own vinaigrette. That’s when she reached for a nearly empty jar of strawberry jam, dumped in some olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, some salt and pepper. Then she put the cover back on the jar and shook like mad.

Revolutionary? Hardly. But it was delicious. More important, it changed my relationship with jam. It wasn’t just a sandwich spread. And it totally made sense. After all, a jar of grape jelly has been the not-so-secret ingredient for many a potluck meatball. And since that day, I’ve used a dollop of one jam or another in nearly every vinaigrette I’ve made.

I now regularly turn to jams and jellies for adding oomph to everything, including sweet-and-sour chicken (apricot jam), barbecue pork ribs (seedless raspberry), beef marinades (orange marmalade), ham glazes (blackberry or cherry), even sandwich spreads (anything goes!). If nothing else, you really must try fig jam in a grilled cheese (use extra-sharp cheddar).

Knowing I’m not alone in loving this low-brow food trick, I asked some pros for their favorite outside-the-PB&J uses for jams and jellies.

TED ALLEN: “Jams and jellies are valuable shortcuts for sauces and vinaigrettes because those preserves – note that word – are always in the pantry, bright and tart and sweet and ready to go,” Allen, host of Food Network’s “Chopped,” said via email. “They can add a depth, complexity and acidity to a lot of foods. ...

“Pork, duck and turkey notably benefit from the addition of fruit,” he said.

BED FORD: Ford, the chef behind the cookbook “Taming the Feast,” loves jams for their simplicity. It’s part of what makes them so versatile. He particularly likes tomato jam.

“I use it for a seafood cocktail sauce, a mignonette for oysters, or as a lamb burger condiment along with goat cheese, roasted spring onions and applewood smoked bacon,” he said via email. “Other jams and preserves are well suited to game birds, like apricot. Add a little water to the preserves and spices like cloves, black pepper and cardamom to make a glaze.”

APRIL BLOOMFIELD: The chef behind the New York restaurant The Spotted Pig, she favors adding cranberry jelly to pan sauces for meats. It’s an easy way to gussy up a simple sauce. “It makes it glossy and adds a touch of sweetness to something gamey like venison,” she said.

DORIE GREENSPAN: “I often use bitter orange marmalade as a glaze for roast chicken,” she said. “I like using citrus with chicken. It sharpens and brightens the pan juices, and adding a marmalade glaze ups the citrus pop without really adding sweetness. When the marmalade cooks, its bitter edge becomes more prominent.”

MELISSA D’ARABIAN: The star of Food Network’s “Ten Dollar Dinners” is a fan of the classic party meatball, but she prefers raspberry jam. She also likes to spice it up: “I love to make cocktail meatballs and coat them in a bit of jam jazzed up with some spice (like cayenne or chipotle) and acid (vinegar or lime juice). That salty-spicy-sweet flavor is a perfect party starter!”


Fig and chili-glazed pork tenderloin

Serves 8

Basmati rice and black beans go well with this spicy pork tenderloin dish. The fig-and-chili glaze also works well with chicken thighs.

The fig preserves can be substituted with apricot preserves or any not-too-sweet stone fruit jam.

Recipe from Cooking Light for The Associated Press.


1/2 cup fig preserves

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon chili paste with garlic

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

Two 1-pound pork tenderloins, trimmed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cooking spray

Fresh chives, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)


Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

Combine preserves, vinegar, chili paste, soy sauce and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring with a whisk.

Sprinkle pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Place pork on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 18 minutes or until thermometer registers 160 degrees (slightly pink), turning occasionally and basting frequently with fig mixture. Garnish with chives, if desired.

Per serving: 193 calories (18 % calories from fat); 4 g fat (2 g sat.); 24 g protein; 14 g carb.; 74 mg chol.; 274 mg sodium; 11 mg calcium


Strawberry balsamic vinaigrette

Serves 2

This is Rachael Ray’s recipe for an easy, delicious vinaigrette. Try it on a summer salad of spinach or mixed greens and fresh strawberries..


2 teaspoons strawberry jam

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste


Place jam in a medium bowl and whisk in vinegar, then the extra-virgin olive oil. You can eyeball the amount of oil, adding more or less as needed.

Season the dressing with salt and pepper. Whisk again and toss with greens and other salad fixings to coat.

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