Recently while eating out at Casey Lane’s new venture, The Parish, I had a revelation. Odd as it sounds, while eating the fried chicken alongside grilled peaches, I thought, “Wow, this works.” Now don’t get me wrong, I know that grilled peaches are delicious, and I know that peaches and fried chicken are happy southern cohorts. However, it got me thinking about all the ways we can incorporate fruit into our diets, and that doesn’t include baked into a pie.
In my mind, summertime is peach-time. Peaches are one of the gleaming byproducts of hot, sunny summers. Nothing really beats sloppily eating a peach over the sink with the rosy juices dribbling down your chin. A perfectly ripe specimen is a thing of beauty, and it honestly can’t be replicated any other time of year. Peaches are delicious bases for cobblers, crumbles, and of course, the classic pie. However, as with any other sweet fruit, peaches can hold their own in savory applications too. Right? I mean, why not?
For example, we’re all familiar with menu-exhausted mango chutney or apple compote. But why not use peaches in a similar way? Bring something unexpected to the table (pun absolutely intended). Pickling is a fun idea, and grilling is a slightly more approachable option. Try treating peaches as you would a summer squash. They can be roasted, sautéed, grilled, pickled, and confit. Anything, really. You can also use them as the side dish (or garnish) to your main-course protein.
Inspired by recipes out of a Pilipino cookbook I have, I recently made a tomato relish with lots of Asian flavors—cilantro, fish sauce, agave, green chilies, and diced peaches. As crazy as the dish may sound, I served it with roasted pork, and it was absolutely outstanding. The sweetness of the peaches paired with the spice of the chilies and the unctuous quality of the pork complemented each other perfectly, much like how Lane’s buttermilk fried chicken pairs beautifully with his grilled peaches.
Here is a simple recipe for pickling peaches. Since peaches have a more delicate texture than starchier vegetables, you have to treat them with a little more finesse. Scale back a bit when creating your pickling solution, and don’t let them sit in the concoction quite as long.
- 1 quart water (for blanching)
- 3 pounds large peaches (about 10 to 12)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup of white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar if you have it)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- Large pinch of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon Vitamin C powder. (It prevents discoloration. You can buy this at specialty food shops or even at the pharmacy—it’s totally safe, and it’s a sneaky trick to keep your fruits and vegetable from oxidizing.)
- First, blanch the peaches. Slice an “X” in the tops of the peaches, then submerge in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately transfer to an ice bath to shock them. When cool enough to handle, delicately peel off the skins, then slice into large wedges. Place all the wedges into a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle the vitamin C powder over the peaches. Toss gently with a wooden spoon.
- In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and salt. Bring to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat, and pour over the peaches in the large bowl. In several large gallon-size zip-top bags, add a several large handfuls of ice cubes.
- Carefully, pour the peaches and pickling liquid into each. Try your best to squeeze out as much air as possible. Place in the refrigerator, and allow to cool down completely (at least 2 hours, no more than 12 hours.)
- Once chilled, remove from the refrigerator, and taste a peach. If they’re slightly tart but still a little sweet, then it’s perfecto. If they taste too sweet for your liking, let them sit in the mixture a while longer. Once they come to your proper sweet-tart preference, strain from the pickling liquid, and use as you like. Paired with fried chicken, pork loin, or even oysters, the pickled peach would be ridiculously delicious.
Also, as a side note, save that pickling liquid. You could use it in the future as the base for an interesting bloody mary or as an amazing salad dressing. Whenever you have delicious byproducts from cooking, always save those bits! They’re where some of the richest, most complex flavors come from. These little extra flavorings will enhance many other endeavors in your kitchen. Simply strain it, and stick it in your refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely.
I hope this has inspired you to view peaches in a new way. Once you’ve exhausted all your peachy dessert recipes, go for the opposite. Embrace peaches in all their mighty, savory glory.