Food & Drink

Pomegranates add pop of color, flavor to fall meals

Video: How to peel a pomegranate

Chef Brigitte Theriault offers a few simple steps on how to open a pomegranate, which are in season.
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Chef Brigitte Theriault offers a few simple steps on how to open a pomegranate, which are in season.

If you are curious about what to do with a pomegranate, just ask POM Wonderful.

As the nation’s largest grower of pomegranates, the farming company has worked to elevate the pomegranate from a table decoration to an ingredient worthy of gourmet cuisine. Its website and tumblr are chock full of recipes for cooks from the experienced to the novice.

And with fall quickly approaching, pomegranates season is slowly getting underway. A bulk of the harvest will begin in October with fruit available into January.

Recently, POM Wonderful partnered with some of the nation’s top chefs to create dishes using fresh pomegranates. Among them is Luke Reyes, chef at Butchers & Barbers restaurant in Los Angeles.

POM Wonderful farms pomegranates on nearly 9,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley.

A native of Massachusetts, Reyes didn’t grow up eating pomegranates. His fruit diet consisted mostly of apples, pears and some stone fruit.

“I wasn’t really exposed to pomegranates until I started cooking and moved to New York,” he says.

Now, Reyes says he understands the complexity of flavors pomegranates can add to a dish and the splash of color they provide. The color of the juice-filled arils can vary from pinkish to a ruby red.

“It can make a dish pop with color,” Reyes said. “And people get excited about food when it is visually interesting.”

Reyes contributed a roasted chicken dish to POM Wonderful’s online collection of recipes. The herb-flavored chicken is served with a salad of arugula, feta and pomegranate vinaigrette.

The chef likes how the sweet and slightly tart pomegranate arils balance out the fattier parts of the chicken, including the skin.

“It has the ability to really round things out,” Reyes says. “And even though it doesn’t get that cold in L.A., the dish provides some warm, fall-like flavors.”

For home cooks, Reyes says it is important to become familiar with the taste of the pomegranate before deciding how to use it.

“That sweet, tart and even acidic quality of the fruit can work with everything from a piece of chicken to semi-sweet chocolate,” he says.

Local personal chef Brigitte Theriault encourages home cooks to experiment with pomegranates. They are perfectly fine eaten fresh, but the arils also can be used sprinkled in salads, or in a glass of champagne, prosecco or cava. You can also use the juice to flavor drinks: Just blend the seeds with water and sugar in a blender, and strain.

Theriault, owner of White Apron Chef, has also used pomegranate arils sprinkled on Greek yogurt, or in rice pudding with rose water and pistachios.

And be careful not to cut through the fruit because it will be messy and leak the juice. Instead, score the pomegranate in four sections from the top of the fruit to the bottom. Pry open the skin and gently remove the juicy arils with your fingers.

When shopping for pomegranates, avoid fruit whose skin looks especially leathery or if the fruit feels light. Remember, the heavier the fruit, the more juice it contains.

Local pomegranate farmer Dennis Simonian, owner of Simonian Farms at Clovis and Jensen avenues, says he likes the ones that have slight cracks in them.

“If you can see a little crack in the fruit, those are the best,” Simonian says. “That is going to be a sweet and juicy piece of fruit.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

Roasted chicken with avocado, arugula, feta and pomegranate vinaigrette

Recipe by Luke Reyes, Butchers & Barbers.

Roasted chicken:

1 whole chicken

1 bunch thyme

1 bunch rosemary

Pomegranate vinaigrette:

2 cups pomegranates (or 2 cups 100 percent pomegranate juice)

4 whole shallots, peeled and julienned

2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt, to taste

Salad:

3 whole avocados

1 quart arugula, rough chopped

1 small bag mixed lettuces

Garnish

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Zest from 2 lemons

Dry the chicken (should be done at least the night before): Rub or pat salt onto breasts, legs and thighs of chicken. Place chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. Set open bag in a large bowl, keeping chicken breast side up. Chill for up to 2 days, but at least 8 hours.

Roast the chicken: Arrange a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 500 degrees.

Set a wire rack in a large heavy roasting pan. Remove chicken from bag. Pat dry with paper towels (do not rinse). Place chicken on prepared rack, breast side up. Use half the thyme and rosemary bunches to stuff in the cavity and the other half to season the outside of the bird before roasting. Loosely tie legs together with kitchen twine and tuck wing tips under. Brush chicken all over with some olive oil. Roast chicken, brushing with olive oil after 15 minutes, until skin is light golden brown and taut, about 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from oven and brush with more oil. Let rest for 15-20 minutes.

Make pomegranate vinaigrette: Prepare fresh pomegranate juice, if necessary.

While chicken is resting, pour 2 cups of pomegranate juice into a non-reactive pan and reduce by half. Pour reduced pomegranate juice into a chilled bowl, along with julienned shallots, whisking in 2 tablespoons chili flakes, 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt to taste.

Make the salad: Cut avocados in half, discard the pit, and scoop the flesh out. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes and place in bowl with vinaigrette. Add the arugula and lettuces; lightly mix.

To finish: Return the chicken to the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165°F. Let rest for 20 minutes, then carve.

Place dressed avocado and greens onto a plate and put carved chicken on top. Add lemon zest and sprinkle the feta onto chicken and salad, and lightly spoon any leftover dressing onto chicken.

Serves 4

Pomegranate olive oil cake

By Matthew Petersen, Newport Restaurant Group

¾ cup pomegranate arils (or ¾ cup fresh arils)

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder, sifted

4 whole eggs, room temperature

1 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 lemon, zested and juice strained

½ teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1–2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Vanilla creme anglaise

15 egg yolks

1 quart whole milk

1 quart heavy cream

3 vanilla pods, scraped

1½ cups sugar

Garnish

¼ cup pomegranate arils

1½ tablespoons fine quality extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare fresh pomegranate arils. Butter and flour the bottom and inside of a nine-inch cake pan; do not use pan spray. (The butter and flour provide a “ladder” for the cake to climb, giving it the final height that is needed.) Sift together flour and baking powder.

Using the whip attachment on your stand mixer, begin to whip the eggs at high speed until about tripled in volume. Add the granulated sugar and continue to whip on high speed. Whip the eggs and sugar until they are pale and stiff – generally about 3-5 minutes of high-speed whipping time is necessary. Incorporate the lemon zest, salt and strained lemon juice. Incorporate the melted butter while slowly mixing to avoid splashing. Scrape down the bowl.

Add 1 cup of the flour; mix until incorporated. On medium speed, add ½ cup of olive oil; scrape the bowl again. Add the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated; scrape if necessary.

While mixing, add the last of the olive oil in a steady stream; scrape the bowl. Mix again on high speed for about 30 seconds to ensure a thorough and even mixture.

In a separate bowl, add ¾ cup of arils and 1 teaspoon of flour to lightly coat them; add another teaspoon if you think it is necessary.

Gently fold the coated arils into the prepared cake batter – four or five turns should do it.

Scrape the batter into your prepared cake pan. Generously sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the cake and place the cake into the oven. After about 15 minutes, rotate the cake 180 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes.

The cake should be golden brown on top and the center should spring back when pressed lightly; use a cake tester, if you wish. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing from the pan. Add ¼ cup arils as garnish.

Serve with Vanilla Crème Anglaise (instructions below) and a drizzle of fine olive oil.

Vanilla Crème Anglaise

Separate 15 egg yolks from the whites. Discard the whites or reserve for another use. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl.

Combine milk, cream, scraped vanilla pods and ¾ cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil. Be careful not to burn the sugar while heating, but make sure that the milk and cream scald.

Immediately temper the egg yolks with some of the cream when it scalds. Once tempered, combine everything back in the saucepan and return to the stove. Cook until properly thickened, about one minute.

Strain immediately through a fine strainer into a double boiler or water bath. Blend with a hand blender until very smooth. Cool on an ice bath, with plastic wrap touching the custard to prevent a skin developing.

When made properly, the sauce should be nice and thick, and all of the vanilla beans should be suspended in the custard, not gathered at the bottom.

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