“For the longest time I always wondered why cashews were so expensive, because it’s this silly little nut,” Dave Beran said. “And then you see how big the fruit is and how much it takes to get one cashew.”
The cashew apple (which is technically a false fruit, formed from parts of the plant in addition to the ovary) looks like a small bell pepper with a cashew (which is technically a seed) smushed into the wider end.
“The aroma’s incredible,” Beran said. “It’s so sweet, fruity—it almost smells like bubble gum. It’s really cool.” He thought the cashew fruit tasted like a cross between a cashew and an apple, but very tannic. “You put them in your mouth and they dry you out completely. It’s like chewing on a cotton ball.” Though they’re high in tannins (an astringent compound also present in tea and red wine), cashew apples lose their astringency when cooked, Beran discovered. He also noted that they “smell like sweet vomit when they’re roasted.”
Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Beran wasn’t able to locate fresh cashew apples—for one thing, they’re not in season, and even if they were, they’re too delicate to ship—but with the help of a friend who’s a movie producer in LA, he did track down frozen ones. The friend sent some interns out to search for the pseudofruit, Beran said, and “one of them found them in the back freezer section of a little Mexican market in LA. So he overnighted them to me, along with a bunch of random candy and weird trinkets.”
Beran’s first thought was to use the juice to do a dry shot/wet shot concept: “If you drink the juice raw it completely dries out your mouth, and if you cook it and drink it again, it refreshes your palate.” But he rejected that idea as “underwhelming” and began considering what to do with the fruit itself.
He ended up using it several different ways, incorporating cashews as well—though not the ones attached to the fruit he had (cashew seed pods contain an acid that’s both toxic and caustic and has to be removed through roasting). The cashew apples he cooked in a pan with brown butter, brown sugar, and salt, deglazed with lime juice and rum, then roasted until the sugar caramelized. He also made a syrup from the juice cooked with sugar and a small amount of malic acid, serving this both straight and mixed with creme fraiche.
Another main component of the dish was roasted purple sweet potatoes, which Beran said they’ve been experimenting with for an upcoming menu at Next (they don’t taste much different from orange ones, he said, but he prefers the texture of the purple variety). After the sweet potatoes were roasted and cooled, he peeled them and broke them apart into slivers, then deep-fried some of the pieces of skin and sweet potato, reserving other slivers of sweet potato for use in the dish. Candied cashews, grated raw cashew, purple sweet potato leaves, and oxalis (a type of wood sorrel) finished things off.
Beran described cashew fruit as “off-balance”: acidic, sweet, and overall incomplete. “You just start thinking about what the fruit’s lacking and what we need to complete it. It needed texture, so you have the sweet potato. It needed some crunch. It needed fat, something to coat your palate to allow the flavor to linger. The creme fraiche made sense because it’s rich and fatty. It lends itself well to both savory and sweet. So having the syrup in there, it allows it to coat your palate to experience all the other flavors with the cashew apple flavor.”
If fresh cashew apples were available here, Beran said, “I’d put it on the menu for sure.”
Matthew Kirkley of L2O, working with warabi starch, which comes from the rhizome of the bracken fern. It can be used like arrowroot or as a flour substitute, but it’s most common in Japan, where it’s found in warabi mochi. That’s how Beran uses it: warabi mochi is on the current Next menu, Kyoto.
Cashew Apple With Purple Sweet Potato
Purple Sweet Potato
Place in foil with 20 g olive oil and 1 g salt. Roast at 400 degrees F until tender (about 35 minutes). Remove and allow to cool slightly. Peel sweet potato and fry skin at 350 degrees until crispy. Gently break sweet potato apart to get natural sections. Reserve half, fry the other half at 350 degrees until caramelized on edges. Season both with vanilla salt.
1 g vanilla (scraped bean)
50 g salt
10 g sugar
Cashew Apple Syrup
Remove young cashew from fruit. Cut fruit in half and squeeze to remove all liquid.
500 g cashew apple liquid
100 g sugar
.5 g malic acid
Cook at 225 degrees until reduced to syrup, cool and reserve. Combine 25 g syrup with 100 g creme fraiche.
Roasted Cashew Apple
150 g cashew apple, peeled and quartered
100 g butter
50 g brown sugar
50 g rum
10 g lime juice
2 g salt
Brown butter in saute pan. Add cashew apples, brown sugar and salt. Deglaze with rum and lime juice, place in a 300-degree oven and cook until mixture is dry and caramel has formed on bottom. Flip cashew apples every five minutes. Remove from pan to cool. Dice small.
100 g cashew
100 g butter
50 g brown sugar
2 g salt
Brown butter, add chopped cashews, brown sugar, and salt. Cook until cashews are caramelized and brown sugar has melted. Remove candied cashews from oil. Reserve both separately.
Drizzle cashew apple syrup and the syrup mixed with creme fraiche on a plate. Arrange on plate: roasted sweet potato, fried sweet potato, fried sweet potato skin, roasted cashew apple, and candied cashews. Garnish with red, rainbow, and purple oxalis and purple sweet potato leaf. Microplane one raw cashew on top.