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Prunes and Lentils II: Prune Sauces for Savory Dishes

Following on from Sunday’s post (have you recovered yet? Should I be selling Tums futures?) I should add that NOWHERE in Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s The Flavor Bible can a mention be found of prunes paired in any way, shape, or form with lentils. Don’t have the faintest why not. They do state that plain old green lentils have more flavor than red or brown.  They also pair prunes with olives, mushrooms, gorgonzola and walnuts as well as sweet spices and red wine. Somewhere in that crossroads there’s got to be some confluence of flavor, but wherever it is, they haven’t considered it.

Others have, however–notably Nathan Lyon of the Discovery Channel, ABC’s “Beat the Chef” show in Australia from a few years back, Hello! magazine (OK, copying straight from the California Prune Board’s UK division–wait a minute, they HAVE a UK division?!–and borrowing its press photo)…Oh well.

The benefit to considering prune sauces is that you can serve them with a lentil dish if you’re ready for that or to lift a more familiar savory dish with meat, fish or poultry.

Pan-seared tuna steak with microwave prune and wine chutney

Pan-seared tuna steak with microwave prune and wine chutney

And yes, I said “lift”. Make of it what you will, but any one of the sauces below is better than whatever Hello! magazine has to offer, even if it were original.

Stéphane Reynaud’s Prune Sauce (excerpted for consideration from French Feasts, 2009)

This was designed to go with a simply pan-fried foie gras for six–probably 3-4 oz per person, which seems like a hefty kind of serving, even though I do like liver.  But the sauce–why 18 prunes? 3 per person? and it seems a heavy load of spice for a small amount of wine. Also he has you rest the stuff overnight at room temperature before finishing it. Not sure why–to thicken up, probably, like Elizabeth David’s recipe for peach jam, which also sits out overnight after the first boil-up before resuming.

  • 18 pitted prunes
  • 1 c red wine
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t quatre-épices
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 2 T light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 T butter, chilled

Boil the prunes 5 min with the wine, spices and sugar, cover and leave O/N at RT. Remove the prunes and reduce the spiced wine to a syrupy sauce. Whisk in the butter, then return the prunes to the sauce.

Microwave Prune Chutney with Wine

My microwave version started out as Reynaud’s wine-based sauce and suddenly morphed, as I was grabbing things out of the fridge for it, with a half-remembered cranberry chutney recipe my mother-in-law served a number of years ago at Thanksgiving. This turns out to be a potent combination, aromatic and sharper, no doubt, than Reynaud’s sauce, with a definite suggestion of saltiness about it–but no actual salt. I don’t recommend eating it straight–too pungent for me, though it’s uncannily close to the relish my mother-in-law served and pretty decent with poultry and stuffing or rice and so on–but cooking 5 minutes or so extra in a saucepan over direct heat or with the food you’re saucing and some extra wine turns it into something pretty special. The whole cloves in particular (which you can take out before using the sauce) do something incredible for any meat or steaky fish you cook with this sauce. Like brisket but just…better, more sophisticated, elevated to the level of cuisine. In fact, put some of this prune sauce with cloves in your next brisket too. 

Makes about 1 cup

  • ½-1 c leftover dark red wine–syrah, aglianico, something inexpensive but rich
  • 8-10 pitted prunes, quartered
  • grating of fresh ginger (1/4 t)
  • grating of 1/2 decent-sized clove garlic or 1 small clove
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped
  • 1-2 t. wine vinegar
  • sprig of thyme
  • pinch of fennel seed
  • 4-5 whole cloves, loose if you can stand picking them out or else stuck through a scrap of onion

Toss the onions with the vinegar and let sit a few minutes while chopping the prunes into quarters–it cuts down on the bite. Mix the onions, prunes, and the rest of the ingredients except the cloves in a soup bowl with a microwaveable lid that can placed on with a gap for steam to escape. Poke the cloves into a larger scrap of onion and add that to the bowl so you can fish them back out easily after cooking. Microwave 1-2 minutes loosely covered on HIGH or until it’s boiling, let sit 5 minutes, stir, microwave again. The prunes will have taken up a lot of the liquid, the onions should be cooked through and garnet-colored, and the wine should be reduced and a bit syrupy.

.  .  .  .  .

From France to China, then:

One year I was determined to make a low-sodium substitute for fermented black bean sauce with roast salmon. I soaked some prunes in a little boiling water and mashed them to a paste, then dressed them up with garlic, ginger and a few other things. It turned out, to my surprise, like homemade hoisin–-dark, glossy, tart and aromatic, less sweet than the commercial stuff, a little smoky from the sesame oil and scallions, with the suggestion of salt (it does have a little from the soy sauce) rather than the excessive reality of black bean sauce. A great choice for salmon, it would work just as well with chicken.

Asian prune barbecue sauce

Mashing in the garlic, ginger and chili paste for asian prune sauce

Asian-style Prune Barbecue Sauce

Makes ~1/2-1 cup, or enough for a 1-lb salmon fillet

8-10 pitted prunes, chopped
~1/3 c water (just enough to cover)
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
1-2 t. grated ginger
1 clove garlic, mashed, minced or grated
few drops of toasted sesame oil
few drops of vinegar, optional
pinch of hot pepper flakes or dab of z’khug, optional
1-2 scallions, either chopped fine and mixed in or laid lengthwise over the top of the sauced fish or chicken before baking

Microwave the prunes and water in a small cup or bowl with a lid for about 1 minute. Let stand a few minutes to soak up, then mash to a paste with a fork. Mix in the other ingredients to taste and garnish with scallions that have been chopped or shredded lengthwise. For salmon or chicken (skinless is probably better in both cases), coat the top surface of the meat with the sauce and if you haven’t mixed the scallions into the sauce, lay some long trimmed or shredded scallions on top, and bake uncovered at 350 F until the fish or chicken is cooked through.

If you just want some plain prune butter or lekvar to add to another sauce, try the following. It’s what I use for filling hamantaschen, but it would also work to thicken a savory sauce and give it some depth of color, sweetness, acidity and spice.

Prune filling/Lekvar

  • 1/3 lb. (15 or so?) chopped pitted prunes
  • 1/2 c. apple or orange juice
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • pinch of cinnamon and/or clove
  • pinch or grinding of green cardamom if you have it and like it

variation: no cardamom, but a spoonful or so of brandy

Microwave the prunes with the juice for 1-2 minutes in a small bowl with a lid, let sit and soak for a few minutes, then mash with a fork or pulse a few times in a food processor with the other ingredients.

Next post–The Lentil Variations, and hopefully with a few more pictures this time, because I do have lentils to play with. A whole pound, cooked, and in need of use.

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