It was the pickled cherries at the Napa Valley’s Bouchon that made that duck sing. Bouchon, superstar chef Thomas Keller’s chic Parisian-style bistro in California wine country, had added pickled cherries as a special that warm summer night.
Most often Bouchon’s duck breasts are served with Picholine olives, small green orbs that give the dish a perky accent.
But that night it was sweet-sour cherries that were added higgledy-piggledy over the meat and rice. The server said that for several weeks the kitchen had been pickling everything that wasn’t nailed down.
Mmmm, the marriage of vinegar, sugar and summer produce.
Jeffrey Cerciello, Bouchon’s talented executive chef and co-author of ‘‘Bouchon’’ (Artisan, $50), has cooked with Keller for more than 10 years, first at French Laundry, then since 1998 as executive chef at Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery (now in Las Vegas as well as the Napa Valley).
He was quick to confirm the kitchen’s pickled bounty.
‘‘We do quite a bit (of pickling) and serve it most often with charcuterie, such as patés,’’ he said. ‘‘The whole idea is to cleanse and refresh the palate. We’re dealing with fat on the tongue, and the pickled cherries, for example, clean the palate. Both the duck and the red rice — which is from the South of France — are very rich.’’
Yes, vinegar and sugar team up to create bright, refreshing bites amid the richness. And the possibilities for fruits and vegetables seem endless.
‘‘Other pickled items that I like? Oh, you name it: carrots to cauliflower, artichokes to cipollini (small Italian flat onions), what’s in the market that’s fresh, like mushrooms, little chanterelles,” he said.
Salty and rich teamed with sweet and sour.
Cerciello said you want to look for balance on the plate and that pickled produce can offer that balance. And the meaty elements can be as easy as well-seasoned cold roast beef or pork. Or a burger or ham sandwich. Or a luscious slab of buttery cheese. And it came as good news that the process needn’t include the water-bath method to ‘‘can’’ the pickled treasures. Water baths require setting sealed jars in covered cauldrons of boiling water for a prescribed amount of time. It’s hot, tiresome work.
‘‘We do a quick pickling,’’ he said. ‘‘Some dense vegetables will need to be quickly blanched first, like baby leeks or carrots. Bring the pickling mixture (generally vinegar, sugar and spices) to a boil (and dissolve sugar), then pour it over (the fruit or vegetables).’’
A crunchy texture is part of the appeal, too. So he cautions cooks to cool down the pickling solution quickly after the hot brine is added. After the brine is added to the fruit and/or vegetables in the jar, put on the lid and refrigerate. Use care not to contaminate the pickling solution with your hands. Use a spoon for serving.
No fingers allowed.