The juicy side of savoury food

The juicy side of savoury food
Duck l’orange. (Photo: iStock)

Fresh fruit doesn’t only belong in salads and smoothies. The flesh and juice can work their charms on hot savoury dishes across the spectrum.

Duck with cherries or orange. Prosciutto with melon. Peach or pineapple with gammon. Pork and pineapple (that’s the secret to China’s sweet and sour pork). Fruit, whether stewed with spices, charred on the grill, or paired with duck or chicken in a pie, has muscled a place for itself in contemporary savoury cooking.

But the juices of many fruits can be brought into the savoury kitchen too. Just as we use meat or vegetable stocks when making sauces and in stews, along with wine or sometimes beer, fruit juices can add an extra dimension to the complex flavour profile of a savoury meal. Everything has a precedent in cooking: orange juice and orange liqueur used in a sauce for roast duck; apple juice and cider in a reduction sauce for pork; berry juice in a sauce for grilled or roast chicken. 

Fruity relishes have long accompanied classic dishes, from cranberry sauce with turkey to apple sauce with pork. And lemon, orange and lime, of course, have graced many a savoury dish, from fish to lamb and from game to beef.

Grilled fruit is a big thing in current cuisine. Even watermelon gets a grilling today. That idea is a bit out-there, but wedges of watermelon with a coating of spices can be grilled quickly in a hot pan to great effect, then paired with feta; a sprinkling of a nutty, toasted crumb can add a delightful crunch to finish it off. And imagine slices of mango grilled to golden lusciousness and served with a pan-fried chicken breast; charred plums with duck breast and plum juice spiced up and used in its sauce, or pork chops with char-grilled peaches.

Compôtes are one of the French techniques I like the most; almost any fruit can be made into one. Essentially it’s a dessert hailing from mediaeval Europe, of fruit stewed with sugar and spices. But for decades now a compôte has been a factor in meaty main courses in even the poshest restaurants, especially with pork or game. A compôte has become one of those things that a clever chef uses to add that extra something to a savoury dish, a component that can only enhance the quest for umami and balance on the plate.

Add cheese to a meat dish along with fruit and there’s yet another winner for the adventurous palate. Charred nectarines balance with feta; blue cheese paired with fruit is always a happy marriage (preserved figs on a cheese board, but try makataan or preserved citrus too). A good old South African favourite is chicken sosaties in which peaches are skewered between the chicken, with a lekker spicy chutney-based marinade.

In the old Cape cuisine, fruit was largely the preserve of puddings, fruit salads, tarts, jams and jars of preserves. But C Louis Leipoldt recorded having eaten lychees (which had been imported from China and were known at the Cape as Tonkin raisins) with fillets of sole and “as a stuffing for quails wrapped and grilled in fig leaves”. Pomegranate seeds, he wrote, were “used to stuff meat, in the Oriental manner, and as garnishes”.

Enter, from stage left … nuts. … Make a savoury tart with caramelised shallots, grilled pear slices and topped with toasted pecans; or charred prawns served cold in a salad of white and red grapes and toasted walnuts with a tangy, spicy dressing.

A mid-morning Google surf brought me all sorts of lovely ideas: chicken thighs grilled in a skillet with fresh cherries, bacon and a balsamic cherry reduction; sausage and apple pie (and how about the stupendous duck and cherry pies from the old Gatriles in Joburg?); even celery and pear risotto. I once made a tarte Tatin with pear, bacon and blue cheese; it kind of combined the notions of dessert and cheese board in a savoury recipe.

Fruit on pizza? Well, there’s a can of fruity worms. The age-old war between those for and against pineapple and ham on a pizza will be waged forever. I’ve had fig and blue cheese on a pizza very successfully.

My contribution to that debate? I’m not a fan of pineapple on pizza, but the saltiness of cheese and sweetness of fruit balance each other very well, so there’s nothing essentially wrong with the idea if you fancy it. Browsing around brought up bacon and mango (that’s a no from me), blackberry and ricotta (nice), and blue cheese with caramelised shallots and cherries (yes please). But strawberry and spinach pizza with olives and capers… I’ll pass.

I did however use two kinds of fruit in a pork dish the other day. I found beautiful pork rump steaks and concocted a sauce of dried cranberries, cranberry juice, with grilled slices of lime to finish it off. Here is the recipe. DM/TGIFood

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks. Share your versions of his recipes with him on Instagram and he’ll see them and respond.

SUBSCRIBE to TGIFood here. Also visit the TGIFood platform, a repository of all of our food writing. 


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