Food & Drink

It’s crunch time for apple lovers – or cook time

Pork chops with apple (see recipe above) was developed by Daniel Neman.
Pork chops with apple (see recipe above) was developed by Daniel Neman. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

We are at the peak of apple season, and the orchards and markets are laden with America’s second most popular fruit (after bananas).

Now is when they are at their freshest and best. The apples you buy next spring and summer will have been picked now, or maybe in the next couple of months, and kept refrigerated until they are sold.

More than 7,000 varieties of apple grow around the world, with 2,500 types in the United States. Of those, about 100 find their way to your produce store.

With those guidelines in mind, I made three apple-based dishes – one savory, two sweet. Knowing the right type to use for each dish made them even better.

I began with apple fritters.

This recipe takes a very simple dough (no yeast) and adds spices you’d find in apple pie – cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. It also cooks the apples for several minutes, making them more tender than raw apples but still retaining just the right amount of crunch.

For my savory dish, I made pork chops with apple.

To this classic combination, I added sliced onions, caraway seeds and Dijon mustard, all simmered in chicken broth.

The flavors blend together into a rich and hearty melange that is just the thing on a crisp and chilly night. And it takes mere minutes to make.

For my last dish, I made apple custard pie.

Apple custard pies are richer, though they don’t really taste rich, and are far more elegant. The apple flavor imbues the whole pie with its essence.

A custard requires eggs but this custard uses melted butter. That’s the secret that makes this pie over the top.

Take your pick of apples

At this time of year, you’re likely to find perhaps a dozen varieties for sale. Which should you pick? What are their best uses?

To help with these questions, food writer Daniel Neman offers this handy guide.

Granny Smith: The tartest of the most commonly available varieties. It’s great for cooking dishes and is excellent in salads.

Gala: Sweet and juicy, the Gala is firm enough for baking and sauteing,but is also great eaten raw.

Pink Lady: Crisp and juicy, with a creamy, custard flavor. Good for cooking and great for eating raw.

Golden Delicious: Sweet and mild, with a trace of vanilla, it has a dense texture that makes it particularly suited to baking and pies.

McIntosh: Juicy, with a sharp, lemony taste and tender flesh. If you don’t mind the texture, eat it raw. Otherwise, use it for applesauce or apple pie.

Honeycrisp: Currently the “it” apple. Sweet, with a nice, crunchy bite, it’s best eaten fresh.

Braeburn: Juicy, crisp and sweet, with a rich but mild flavor of spice. Their texture makes them great for baking and pies, but they are suited for all uses.

Jonathan: Sweet, tangy and spicy, these are good to eat raw but are probably most often used in pies, mixed with a firmer-fleshed apple that doesn’t break down as much as it cooks.

Fuji: Sweet and tart, but mostly sweet, with a touch of spice. Crisp and best eaten raw.

Envy: Very crisp; sweet with an underlying hint of tartness and notes of vanilla. Great for eating out of hand and for cooked desserts, especially with caramel.

Red Delicious: Still the most popular apple in America, though its lead over Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp is shrinking. Sweet and juicy flesh under a bitter skin, and a flavor that is defiantly unassertive.

Apple fritters

Yield: 12 fritters.

Adapted from Allrecipes.com.

1 tablespoon butter

2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 / 4-inch dice (precision is not required)

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 large egg

1 tablespoon melted butter

1/2 cup apple cider

Vegetable oil, for frying

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon milk

In skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat and cook until it turns golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add apples and cook until apples just begin to soften around the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar and continue cooking 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a strainer and allow to come to room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; whisk until well-combined. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together egg, the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Stir in the cooled apple pieces and the cider. Add the flour mixture and stir until just incorporated.

Heat oil in deep fryer or large saucepan to 350 degrees. Spoon about 2 tablespoons batter per fritter into hot oil, slightly flattening them. Cook in batches, no more than 2 or 3 at a time. Cook until golden brown on bottom and small bubbles appear on top, about 2 minutes. Flip fritters over and fry on the other side until richly browned, about 2 minutes more.

Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate. Cool slightly before glazing.

To make glaze, stir together powdered sugar and milk until smooth and just runny enough to drizzle over the fritters. If too runny, add a little more powdered sugar; if not runny enough, add a little more milk. Use a spoon to drizzle glaze over the fritters.

Per serving: 323 calories; 24 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 18 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 25 g carbohydrate; 14 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 165 mg sodium; 43 mg calcium

Pork chops with apple

yield: 4 servings.

Developed by Daniel Neman.

4 pork chops

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup apple cider

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 small onion, sliced thin

1 tart apple, such as Jonathan or Granny Smith, sliced

1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/8 teaspoon (2 pinches) salt

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Combine apple cider and chicken broth, and whisk in mustard until thoroughly mixed; set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear chops until golden brown on both sides; remove to a plate. Add onion and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add the cider mixture and deglaze pan by scraping up any brown bits on the bottom. Cook until liquid reduces by half.

Return pork chops to the pan; add apple slices, caraway seeds and 1 / 8 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook until pork is done, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar, test for seasonings and serve.

Per serving: 273 calories; 17 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 75 mg cholesterol; 23 g protein; 6 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 482 mg sodium; 31 mg calcium

Apple custard pie

Yield: 8 servings.

Adapted from Tasting Table, by Mika Paredes.

1 pie crust

2 sticks butter

1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 semi-tart apples, such as Granny Smith, Baldwin, Cortland or Idared

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce inside of pie crust all over with a fork, line with parchment paper or foil and weigh down with pie weights or dry beans. Bake until crust is a light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment. Keep the oven on.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. If using a vanilla bean, split the bean lengthwise with a sharp knife, spread each half open and use the knife to scrape out the seeds from both sides into the melted butter; add the vanilla bean pod halves.

Continue to cook, swirling the pan often, until the butter foam subsides and it becomes golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 10 minutes to cool.

Whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract, if using. If using vanilla bean, remove the pod halves from the butter. Slowly add all the butter to the egg-sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Add the flour and salt and whisk until smooth.

Peel and core the apples; slice into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange them in a slightly overlapping circle around the edge of the pie crust, with a few slices in the center when the outer ring is complete. This may not take all of the apples. Slowly pour the filling over the apples, giving it time to seep down into the crevasses between the slices. Add enough filling to come within 1/4 inch of the top of the crust. This may not take all of the filling.

Bake until the apples are a deep golden brown and the filling is set in the center, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer pie to a wire rack and cool for 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 518 calories; 32 g fat; 17 g saturated fat; 79 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 55 g carbohydrate; 34 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 441 mg sodium; 32 mg calcium

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