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The time I’ve been waiting for all winter is finally here: the first of the season’s strawberries.
I’m surprised to find out that many people don’t associate spring with strawberries, but I do. In the South, they always marked the arrival of new spring crops and, of course, lasted well into the summer, when most people think strawberries are at their best. And while I agree with that opinion, I still love the first strawberries, with their slight tartness.
That tartness suits them well to maceration, my favorite treatment for strawberries. Akin to marinating meat, maceration is when you soak a fruit in liquid in order to soften it. How you macerate it and in what liquid is where you can get creative.
For tart strawberries, I start with the smallest pinch of salt and an even covering of sugar. Because I like to add citrus to balance the sweetness but the berries are already slightly tart, I sprinkle a little orange zest on top, which is a sweet citrus that really highlights the berry. I also use ruby port, an often overlooked liquor, because of its deep, caramel, almost berry-like flavor and aroma. When all these combine and you let the fruit sit for about 10 minutes, the sugar dissolves and forms a sublime syrup with the strawberries’ own juices and creates a fruit compote perfect for spooning over yogurt and granola, a slice of cake, or even in a cocktail glass with champagne.
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Macerated Strawberries in Port
Makes about 4 cups
1 1/2 pounds cored strawberries, diced
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ruby port
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Grated peel of 1/2 small orange
- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and then toss gently with a spoon. Let sit for at least 10 minutes and then stir again until sugar dissolves and fruit is softened. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to an hour.
Note: The longer the fruit sits after being combined with the other ingredients, the softer it will be come. If it sits for several hours, it will become mushy. At that point, simply puree it in a blender and you have a simple fruit sauce to drizzle over cake or spread on toast like a fresh jam, or mix into vanilla ice cream for a strawberry milk shake.
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