Tuesday 28 July 2015

Poaching peaches... for Helen.

Poached, cooling... ready to be denuded. What fantastic colours
Lamb chump with pea puree and pickled red cabbage
"I thought I'd leave it up to you." Said Helen. Some groups are very specific in their desires, some are not. Both come with benefits, and their challenges. A specific menu makes you work harder; a cluster of aversions or allergies can make you more creative. It's good to have to rethink. A return to a favourite is a chance to get it just right for once again.
Helen was very trusting for her birthday meal. "Thought I'd leave it up to you."She said. A little enquiry revealed a love of lamb and asparagus and that Peach Melba is her favourite dessert. We decided on asparagus and duck egg starter, my lamb chump main and a dessert of poached peaches.

Helen, in white, in the middle.
Peaches are just right at the moment. Ripe and cheap. I don't understand the winter selling of these fruit. In July they are luscious, juicy and rich with colour and flavour. In November they are like eating very expensive candle wax (£1.99 for two, Waitrose!). However, even the best fruit can be enhanced by a little poaching, introducing some additional flavour and sweetness and leaving the fruit gleaming.

I poach mine in sugar syrup, usually in a deep (and very clean) frying pan. There are many favours to try. Elderflower works well, or raspberry if you want that classic Melba take. Here I went for rose, partly because a friend donated a bottle of rose liqueur. You can obviously use rosewater though. A basic sugar syrup (sometimes called simple syrup) is made by bringing equal weights of sugar and water to a boil. Start with 500g of each.

Some of my syrups:
Spice, citrus and vanilla
I always add some spices and citrus to my syrups too. Here I chucked in loads of things: peppercorns, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and orange peel. Cardamom is wonderfully aromatic but I didn't on this occasion. I have no idea of the quantities  You can't make a mistake really though. The clear syrup will take on the colours of the peach skins: a gorgeous, glowing ruby/garnet. The timings depend, naturally, on the ripeness of the fruit. The ones above were four minutes but as we progress through to firmer fruit, maybe eight or nine. I cut mine before poaching. I cannot yet find a way of removing a stone from a whole poached peach without making a major mush.

Once poached, allow to cool and then peel. You will need to peel, as the poaching turns the once downy coating into a tough tongue torment. I feel there must be something interesting to be done with them though. Perhaps if I stretch them out and crisp them up in a slow oven? It's tricky though because the working window between burny hot but pliable and cold, sticky rag is very small. Might be a nice garnish though: a weirdly shaped but wonderfully coloured sail.

Post poaching, you'll be left with a fabulous, rich syrup. It will keep for ages in the fridge. Use it for further poaching or pour it over ice cream. Combine it with whipped cream for a fake syllabub or cocktail it with lemon juice and vodka (2 vodka, 1 lemon, half syrup) for an interesting end to dinner.

I served mine with almond biscuits, a nutty crumble mix and a passionfruit syllabub. 

Another way to go, something I used to do in my 20s, would be to press the crumble mix with a little added butter into the peach halves and flash them under a hot grill. Serve with a good drizzle of the rose scented syrup and some frosted petals. Try and find a good old English rose variety that still smells of something.

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