Tag Archives: Plum

Chicken and plum stir-fry

The day I raided the plum tree, I asked a few kitchen-inclined friends for suggestions on what to do with them. There were the usual recommendations–freeze them, jam them, bake them in pie–but then my friend Sandy threw me a curveball. “Stir-fry,” he said.

So I stir-fried. And I’m very glad I did.

It might sound odd to put stone fruit in a stir-fry. But it really works. Think of it as a fresh summer spin on the sweet-and-sour thing. Toss a few wedges of plum into a hot pan at the last minute, and they slump and half-melt into the sauce, adding pockets of jammy sweetness to an otherwise savory jumble. Some of the skins come loose, draping chicken and vegetables with a thin tart bite. The juices filter into every crevice, coating the vegetables and pooling thickly in the bottom of the pan. (More on that later.) It’s not quite like any other stir-fry I’ve ever made, and not coincidentally, I think it’s the best one I’ve ever made.

Part of the reason this stir-fry is so good is the plums; part of it is the chicken. There’s a trick to this, which Chinese restaurants use to keep meat–especially lean, easily-overcooked meat like chicken breast–juicy and tender. It’s called velveting, and it’s the only way I’ll stir-fry meat from now on. First, the sliced meat is marinated in a foamy slurry of egg white, cornstarch, and rice wine. Then it’s par-cooked in boiling water, drained, and finished off in the stir-fry pan. I don’t know what kind of sorcery takes place between the marinating bowl and the water pot; all I know is that it produced the plumpest, softest, most luxurious chicken breast meat that’s ever come out of my kitchen. The meat fairly glistened in the pan–you can see it in the photo below. This is one of those instances where taking the extra step is extraordinarily worth it, even if it means dirtying an extra bowl and pot.

I’m normally too lazy to cook rice for stir-fries, but I’ll make an exception here: you must serve this with rice. The reason for this is the plum juices, which filter to the bottom of the pan and thicken over the heat. Then there’s a simple hoisin sauce mixture, which mingles with the plum juices to form a soft purple sauce, rich and oozing, but without the gumminess of starch. The flavor is deeply plummy, a little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy. You’ll want to mop up every last purple streak of it. Trust me.

chicken plum stir-fry

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Spiced plum butter

I have been swimming in plums recently. My friend Sarah’s tree started dropping ripe plums right before she went on vacation, so Sam and I went over and helped her clear out the branches. We were allowed to keep whatever we picked; within a few minutes we’d collected a paper grocery bag full of tiny red-fleshed fruit. The past couple weeks have been all about putting them to use.

A fair number of the plums got eaten straight from the bag, standing over the sink to catch the juices. I set a few aside for a cooking experiment I’ll write about later; a few more went into a riff on my favorite nectarine tart (verdict: plums need way more sugar than nectarines). That left me with about two pounds of quickly softening plums, a small canning pot, and–thanks to the BART shutdown–a lazy work-from-home afternoon. So I ignored the heat outside, turned on the oven, and made plum butter.

Fruit butters are a slightly different animal than jam–pureed smooth, softer and less jelly-like than jam, made for spreading rather than dolloping. Think applesauce, but richer, darker, thicker, in every way more so. The recipe I found calls for roasting, rather than boiling, the fruit; after an overnight soak in sugar and spices, the plums went into a heavy pot and then into the oven, where they slumped and wrinkled and filled my little apartment with hot syrupy perfume. From there, it was just a matter of pureeing the fruit to baby-food smoothness, and ladling it into hot prepared jars for the water bath.

In the jars, the plum butter is inky purple-black, the color of the blended-in skins; when I scraped up the dregs from the pot onto a spoon, it glowed translucent red. The flavor is concentrated plum, sweet from the flesh and tart from the skins, brightened with orange zest and prickly with cinnamon and cloves. I will be spreading it on popovers the first chance I get; I could easily imagine filling a cake or topping a scone with it, and even possibly using it as a sweet plum sauce on poultry. Well done, little plums. Well done.

spiced plum butter

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