Last week a friend brought over a paper grocery bag heavy with champagne grapes freshly harvested from her friend’s backyard vineyard (only in California, right?) I’ve never had so many grapes in my possession—tightly-clustered purple globes bursting with sweetness, and with their vines and leaves still attached. Ah, California.
After eating so many I thought they’d ferment into wine in my stomach, and freezing even more in large Ziploc bags (nature’s popsicles!), the next question was how to deal with the rest.
Why, aigre-doux, of course! (Said no modern woman, ever.)
Among our many DIY books (cheese, cured meats, bitters), Paul Virant’s The Preservation Kitchen is a celebration of all things DIY seasonal/gourmet, without the hipster attitude. Most of the stuff looks way too obscure and/or daunting (lemon pickled turnips anyone?), but it’s a beautiful, inspiring book, nonetheless. So after my long ride last Saturday, I turned to the index to look up “grape,” and found only one entry: for aigre-doux.
Aigre-doux is French for sweet and sour; a preserve Virant says is one of the easiest to make, and is made for “cheese snobs and wine geeks.” It’s made by preserving just about anything—squash, asparagus, berries—in a mixture of wine, vinegar, and spices. According to Virant, it’s about as versatile as it is easy. It “pairs effortlessly with cheese,” can be transformed into a pan sauce or glaze for fish (he simmers the liquid until reduced by half, whisks in butter until it’s glossy, then swirls in the grapes), or used as the base of a vinaigrette for an “updated Waldorf salad” (see recipe below).
Other spots around the web feature these preserves in other forms, such as this blueberry aigre-doux from the same book, and a butternut squash version from Blue Kale Road. Watch out! This stuff could be the next kimchi or apple butter.
But remember, you heard it here first.
Makes 4 half-pints
1 1/2 cups white wine (off-dry Gewurtztraminer)
1/2 Verjus (the tart juice of under-ripe grapes, which I couldn’t find, and so substituted with some vermouth and lemon juice.)
1/4 champagne vinegar (I used an orange champagne vinegar from Trader Joe’s I had on hand)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper, ground
1 vanilla bean
scant 4 cups small red or green grapes (he recommends canadice, goldenrod, Bronx, or Thompson seedless, but I used what I had on hand)
- In a pot over medium-high heat, mix together the wine, verjus, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a spoon. Mix in the seeds ad bean and simmer for a minute more. Transfer to a heat-proof pitcher and remove the vanilla bean.
- Scald 4 half-pint jar (oops, I used pints!) in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack (thanks, Mom!) You will use this pot to process the jars. Right before filling, put the jars on the counter. Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal.
- Pack the grapes into the jars, leaving about a 1/2-inch space from the rim of the jar. Pour in the liquid, then check the jars for air pockets, pouring in more of the liquid if necessary to fill in gaps. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight.
- Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover them by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 15 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Turn off the heat and leave the jars int he water for a few minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely.
Waldorf Salad with Apples, Candied Walnuts, and Grape Aigre-Doux Dressing
This classic American salad is originally from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Curry oil and the liquid saved from the above aigre-doux give the mayonnaise a 21st century update.
1/2 cup apple cider
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp Madras curry powder
1 cup grapeseed oil
1 large egg
2 Tbsp creme fraiche (Preservation Kitchen also includes a recipe for this!)
1/2 cup liquid strained from Grape Aigre-Doux (above)
1 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 apple (preferably Honeycrisp), thinly sliced
1/2 cup drained grapes from Grape Aigre-Doux
- To make the dressing, In a small pot, reduce the apple cider, lemon juice, and curry powder until almost dry, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil and cook until it is too hot to touch, about 2 minutes. Cool the oil to room temperature.
- In a food processor, blend the egg, creme fraiche, and aigre-doux liquid. While the processor is on, gradually drizzle in the curry oil until it becomes thick. (If the emulsion breaks and loses its shape, pour the mixture in a liquid measuring cup, add an egg yolk to the food processor, and drizzle in the broken mixture as if it were oil.) Season with salt and refrigerate until needed. You will have about 2 cups.
- To make the candied walnuts, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a cold pan, combine the sugar with just enough water to create a mixture that resembles wet sand. Place the pan over high heat and cook the sugar until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium and stir in the walnuts. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until a frosty coating covers the walnuts. Pour on to the prepared baking sheet and let cool completely.
- To serve the salad, combine the lettuce, apples, and celery. Spoon just enough dressing to coat the ingredients evenly (about 1/4 cup) and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss and garnish with the candied walnuts and grapes.