A couple of months ago, I came across Sunchowder's Emporia strawberry guajillo jam, and fell in love. The strawberries, which retained their bright flavor, were complemented by a pleasant tingle of spice, noticeable enough to get your attention but not easy to identify. And then just last week, Merrill gave me a jar of Appledore Cove raspberry chipotle jam, which has a persistent heat and a woodsy smokiness throughout. As much as I love a good, not-too-sweet berry jam, and as much as I hate tarting up such indispensable staples, the combination of berries and chiles makes so much sense. The chiles give the berries depth, and through contrast, have a way of amplifying their presence, much like a shadow emphasizes light.
To make my own, I decided against cooking a jam with sterilized jars and all that. Instead, I opted for a small batch, which I plan to store in the fridge and polish off over the next week. I kept the strawberries intact and cooked them slowly, which draws out their juices to flavor the syrup and concentrates the fruit, so the finished preserve is dotted with shrunken, candied strawberries suspended in the chile-infused syrup. I used one New Mexico chile, which offered up a polite amount of heat. You might want to add a second one, or even branch out into the world of anchos and guajillos.
What to do with it once it's cooked? Spread it on toast, scones or biscuits (with butter, of course), spoon it over ice cream, dab it between layers of cake, or pack it up and send it to me.
Preserved Strawberries with Chiles
Makes about 1 to 1 1/2 cups
- 1 pound sweet, ripe strawberries, hulled and halved (or quartered if larger than a walnut in its shell)
- 1 New Mexico chile (or ancho, if you prefer), or more to taste
- 1 cup sugar
- Juice of 1/4 lemon
1. Place the strawberries in a heavy, medium-size pot. Remove the stems and seeds from the chile (no soaking is required) and discard. Roughly chop the remaining dried chile flesh, and add it to the strawberries. Pour in the sugar.
2. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil -- as the fruit begins to juice, the sugar will melt. Reduce the heat to a steady simmer and cook for about 1 hour. You'll want to give it a stir every 10 minutes or so -- do so gently because you want the strawberries to stay intact and essentially candy. Taste it every now and then to make sure there's enough chile heat and flavor for you -- if not, add another!
3. As the preserves cook, use a spoon to lift off any scum that rises to the surface. The preserve is ready when the strawberries are shrunken and lightly candied, and the syrup has thickened but is no t so thick that it's like jelly. (The best way to test it is to pour a little bit onto a plate and let it cool before checking the consistency.) Stir in the lemon juice and remove the pot from the heat.
4. Serve on toast or scones with butter, over ice cream and on cakes or biscuits. Refrigerate any leftover preserves.