Split the piece of vanilla bean in half horizontally.
Pit and halve the cherries (if you don't have a cherry pitter, halve them, then pit). Toss them in a bowl with the vodka, sugar, vanilla bean pieces, and salt. Let stand for 5 minutes or so to dissolve the sugar.
Heat a wide, nonreactive skillet over medium-high heat until it is hot enough that a cherry sizzles when you toss it in. Add the cherries and their juices and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan frequently to prevent the juices from burning, just long enough to reduce the juices to a thick, sticky glaze; this should take only a couple of minutes. Scrape the glazed cherries into a bowl and taste, adding a few drops of lemon juice if necessary to brighten the flavor. Leave the vanilla bean pieces in the mixture and refrigerate. The compote keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week.
How to make using frozen cherries: Thaw a 12-ounce bag of whole frozen cherries in a strainer set over a bowl, leaving them long enough to release at least 3 tablespoons of juice. Pour the juice into a cup and set aside. Dump the cherries into the bowl with the flavor ingredients called for in the recipe and proceed as directed, cooking on high heat to evaporate the juices quickly so that the cherries cook as briefly as possible. After scraping the glazed cherries back into the bowl, add the reserved cherry juice to the skillet and simmer for a minute or two until the juice is reduced and thickened; the bubbles will be large and foamy. Scrape the syrup into the bowl with cherries. Taste and correct the flavor with drops or pinches of extra flavoring from the recipe.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).