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Kumquat, Aquavit, Picholine Olive, Caraway

By March 14, 2011Cooking

We’re right in the throes of citrus season in the Bay Area, and very recently I began to notice kumquats popping up in some of the grocery shops around here.  I mentioned this to my friend Joe one afternoon, asking if he’d ever had one before. He brightened and exclaimed “Yeah! They’re awesome! You eat ’em like grapes”.

So a few weeks ago, out of curiosity, I bought a few to try. Eat them like grapes you can, but be warned that popping a raw kumquat in your mouth is a bit like biting into an Atomic Warhead (or some other sour, citric-acid-powered pucker bomb). The outer rind is sweet, but the inner flesh is extremely sour.

I went to Berkeley Bowl this weekend to shop for some for this recipe, and found they had not one, but three varieties of kumquats. Berkeley Bowl, you are my softest lover and worst enemy. Of course I bought some of all three. I had the ‘regular’ kumquat, a variety called Fukushu kumquats, and mandarin kumquats. I later learned, with the help of Wikipedia, that mandarin kumquats (‘mandarinquats’…come on now, really?) are just a hybrid bred from kumquats and mandarins. They tasted a bit sour but predictably mandarin-y, and were notably larger than the other two pure-breds.

The Fukushu kumquats (in the center there) were sweet and citrusy in an ambiguous way, and powerfully sour. They tasted very similar to the regular kumquats, but I dare say they were missing something. The regular kumquats are citrusy but also have another few notes of something floral and delicate to them; of the three, I preferred the regular ones, and was excited to see how they paired with the rest of the ingredients.

Interesting ingredient #2 was Aquavit. I’d never heard of this and had no idea what it was until I looked it up on Wikipedia. I might as well start calling this blog “Shit I Look Up On Wikipedia”.  Aquavit (or Akvavit) is  liquor distilled in Scandanavia, Like vodka, it is distilled from either grain or potatoes. After distillation, it is flavored with herbs, spices, or fruit oil. Commonly seen flavours are caraway, cardamom, cumin, anise, fennel, and lemon or orange peel. I found a bottle of Linie Aquavit at BevMo for about $17.

The idea here is that we cook the kumquats until the inner flesh is soft enough to be scooped away from the outer rind, leaving a ‘rind bowl’ which is filled with aquavit and gelatin. The gel sets in the fridge, and is then topped with caraway powder and a half of a picholine olive. We cook the kumquats in a syrup mixture, which softens them slowly but also preserves sweetness.

My Kumquat bowls; the regular kumquats on on the right, the Fukushu ones in the center, and the large mandarin kumquats are on the left.

I made a little ‘tasting platter’ of the three citrus fruits, to see if I could taste a difference. Turns out, not too much. The Fukushu and mandarin kumquat bowls held more aquavit than the regular kumquat, so the bite tasted much more alcoholic and like a heat-y cocktail than a palette cleanser (or an apertif…not sure exactly what this is supposed to be). I found that letting the gel set in the fridge overnight yielded servings that seemed much less alcoholic tasted much better as a result. The caraway and citrus work really nicely together. The olive got a bit lost for me; picholine olives are much more delicate and mild than the nicoise olives used a few dishes ago.

I kept a bowl of all the internal, candied citrus flesh. It smelled delicious, so I mashed it up a bit and kept it as a marmalade.

This is a table cracker topped with white diamond cheddar, slivered and salted almonds, Lehua honey from hawaii, kumquat marmalade, and pink peppercorn skins. Not as tidy of a presentation as typical Alinea fare, but damn delicious.

 

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