A Thousand Years of Apricots (Put them on the Grill)

apricots
apricots
Rouges de Roussillon

I plucked a small, red-freckled apricot off the tree, looking furtively around as I did so.. I’d been gazing at these apricots for days,  watching them turn gradually from greenish orange to orangish red.  We’d been debating, my friends and I, whether they were ready and the answer was non, non, non.  But when no one was looking I went out and plucked.  When I bit into it I expected tart disappointment, and I was prepared. But oh!  I got melting sweetness instead.   Apricot season is here!

apricots
Rouges de Roussillon

The market stands in Normandy are overflowing with rouges de Roussillon and I will get them to make jam, as I do every summer.

apricots
Apricots on the grill

I’m going to get some and turn them into jam, the way I always do. And then I’m going to put them on the grill. Oh my!  There they turn from hot sun to molten, honey and spice-tinged syrup so please, follow my lead and that of FRENCH GRILL, and grill some apricots.

apricots caramel
Apricots and salted caramel sauce

You can mix them with other seasonal fruits for Grilled Summer Fruit Salad (page 225), or eat them as here, drizzled with Salted Caramel Sauce!

My moment of apricot theft (I only stole from the season not the tree; the fruit was mine for the taking) occurred  in the Savoie, in the region of the Rhône Alps, where every apricot tree I saw  was so laden with fruit that the tips of the branches touched the stony ground.   I was so excited when I saw them, for the Rhône Alps is famed for the Rouge de Roussillon an apricot so prized it has a pedigree – the famed AOP, or Appellation d’Origine Protegé. This means that these little jewels, similar to the one I picked and enjoyed, are protected, vaunted not only for their red freckles on a pale, slightly furred orange skin, but also – and primarily – for their flavor which begins as honey, passes through sweet spice like thyme, oregano and mint, then ends with alpine flowers. They are, truly, exceptional.

I’ve always used this particular apricot variety for my jam, thanks to Miche, who gave me her recipe. I believed her then and I believe her now, for these small, large pitted fruits epitomize the proverb “good things come in small packages”.

I’m not saying there aren’t other amazing apricots.   The larger Bergeron and l’Orange de Provence, both on the market later than the Roussillon, are full of juice and flavor and delicious out of hand.

The rouges de Roussillon have  been cultivated in the Rhône Alps for ten centuries.  Imagine.  One thousand years ago the  Arabs, or Saracens, arrived in the region on horseback, apricot pits in their saddlebags.  They planted the pits because they knew, all those long years ago, that the plains, the winds that blow down the mountainside, and the soil would make them prosper. Even if the fruits weren’t extraordinary, their history makes them so.

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apricot removal
Removing apricots from the grill

There’s a little trick to grilling them perfectly.   After cutting them in half and rubbing them with a bit of olive oil, set them pit-side up on the grill, cover, and about 3 minutes later,  later turn them. Their little bottoms will be dark. Cover them again and in 2 minutes they’ll be ready to remove. Here is the trick.  They look almost the way they did when you set them on the grill but they aren’t the same, so be careful for they’ll almost inevitably collapse. This makes no difference in flavor or presentation, it just means each one has to be handled gingerly.   You cannot change this about a grilled apricot;  you can only know it so your little heart doesn’t break when they lose their chubby shape. Don’t worry, though.  Your chagrin will disappear immediately once you put one in your mouth.

CARAMEL SAUCE - SAUCE CARAMEL
This is a dessert sauce everyone swoons over. It is rich with caramel flavor, bright with salt, and so good you’ll want to lap it up from a teacup. I love to use it with grilled pears and pound cake, or over just about any ice cream. You’ll find many uses for it, too, and since it keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week, you can take your time! ASTUCES: don’t move one inch from the pan while the sugar is caramelizing!!! It can burn in the blink of an eye, so keep watch over it. When you whisk in the warm cream the mixture will boil up; be brave and courageous and just keep whisking until it calms down. SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: whisk, medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan PREPARATION TIME: 10 minutes DIFFICULTY LEVEL: medium (well, easy, but intimidating)
Servings: 1 cups
Ingredients
  • 1-1/4 cups (310ml) heavy cream, non ultra-pasteurized
  • 1 cup (200g) vanilla sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon Fleur de sel
Instructions
  1. Place the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and warm it so that it is hot to the touch, but nowhere near boiling. Keep it hot over low heat.
  2. Place the sugar in a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan in an even layer, over medium heat. When it begins to liquefy and darken at the edges, tilt the pan and stir gently so the sugar is melted and caramel begins to smoke and turns a deep amber color. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly whisk in half the hot cream, slowly but thoroughly. The mixture will bubble up. Be brave and continue to whisk until the cream is incorporated.
  3. Replace the pan over the heat and slowly whisk in the remaining hot cream. If there are any hard bits of sugar in the sauce or at the edges of the pan, just keep whisking over medium heat and the caramel will melt into the sauce
  4. Season the sauce with the fleur de sel to taste, and use it warm or cooled.

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