Jason McLeod, the (now former) executive chef at Ria and Balsan, challenged Chris Pandel, chef at the Bristol, to come up with a recipe using jujubes for this installment of our weekly feature.
Jujube fruit is a drupe grown widely in China and many other countries, including parts of the U.S., and is also known as the red date or Chinese date. Chris Pandel, who’d never heard of the fruit before, found it dried at the Hong Kong Market in Chinatown. They also had candied ones—”which I didn’t like at all,” he said. “They were candied to the point that they were hard all the way through; they just hurt your teeth when you ate them.”
He would have liked to try working with the fresh fruit, but it’s hard to come by in February, so dried jujubes it was. “It’s essentially a date,” Pandel said. “The skin is much thicker than a Medjool date. . . . The flesh is a little bit more mealy, a little bit more bitter, and it’s got this kind of coffee/chocolate—a little bit bittersweet note to it. So we kind of took that and ran with it.”
He ended up pureeing the jujubes with coffee, orange juice, orange zest, and honey to make a sauce that he served with lamb merguez sausage, smoked lamb belly, and an endive and blood orange salad.
“We thought dates, and I kind of went to North Africa, and then you’ve got blood oranges, citrus, and coffee, and those made sense—something spicy versus something sweet and earthy always works for me—and then I really like bitterness, so the blood orange and the endive, and then a little texture with the chickpeas . . . it all just kind of made sense,” Pandel said.
“It’s a rich, unctuous, semisweet puree that plays well off the spicy sausage,” he said of the jujube concoction. “It’s the first thing you taste, and it definitely doesn’t leave your mouth. It’s really round, it’s really rich, it helps cut through the spiciness of the sausage and the acidity and bitterness from the salad. It works. It’s balanced.”
He couldn’t say the same for his other experiment with jujubes, a liqueur he made by infusing grain alcohol with the roasted and crushed seeds. “It was disgusting,” said Pandel. “Don’t do it. It’s not good.”
Still, he hopes that time will mellow out the booze. “It’s going to hang out for another month or so, and then we’ll get back to it.”
Greg Biggers of Cafe des Architectes, working with beef tendon. “If you’ve never used them before, they’re kind of a fucked-up ingredient,” Pandel said. “If they’re not served shaved, you have these nodules of ooey gooey beef tendon, which are delicious, but if you don’t know how to work with them, they’re not going to turn out so good.”
“I don’t think he’s worked with them before,” Pandel added. Biggers “just started at this new place. It’s like a little fuck-you to get him started, get him on the right path.”
Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Lamb Merguez With Jujube Fruit Puree
10 dried red jujube fruits, pitted
½ cup fresh orange juice, strained
½ cup coffee
2 T honey
1 t Aleppo pepper
pinch kosher salt
Place all ingredients in a heavy-duty pot and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
Puree until smooth and pass through a fine mesh sieve.
5 blood orange segments, and juice from half a blood orange
½ white endive
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt to taste
Slice the endive and mix it with the orange segments, juice, olive oil, and salt.
1 lamb merguez sausage crepinette
2 oz smoked lamb belly
12 fried chickpeas
Sear the crepinette on one side, then roast in a 350-degree oven until cooked through, and sear the other side. Place the lamb belly in the same pan and cook until caramelized on all sides. Remove the crepinette from the heat and let rest for a few minutes. Warm 2 T jujube puree and place a dollop on a plate. Slice the crepinette and arrange atop the puree. Toss the crisped lamb belly with the salad and arrange around the merguez. Add a few chickpeas as garnish.