Apricots get tossed into excellent sauce, or get eaten whole

HAPPY EATER

June 20, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The best way to enjoy an apricot is to eat it whole. It is sweet without being extravagantly juicy. Its flesh is peachlike, but its skin doesn't have annoying fuzz. Moreover, an apricot is an ideal size to pop in your mouth.

That is what I did with most of the apricots I bought at the market recently, I popped them in my mouth.

I could eat apricots by the bushel. One summer day when I was a kid, no more than 5 years old, a bushelbasket of apricots arrived in our home in Dodge City, Kan. I can't remember whether my family picked them, or whether we bought them from a trucker who had fetched them from the trees of Colorado. All I remember is seeing that bushelbasket filled to the rim with ripe apricots, and feeling rich.

Each time I visited that basket, pulling the wire handles back over the basket's wooden lid, I felt like I was raiding the treasury. I ate and ate and ate. This was one of those rare occasions when a kid could gorge himself and and not get in trouble with his parents. To this day, the aroma of a fresh apricot fills me with a sense of well-being, and gives me flashbacks to dusty afternoon feasts in Dodge City.

I still gorge on apricots, even when I only have a pound and half of them, as I did the other day. But I had to hold my appetite in check because I wanted a few apricots for a sauce.

I had made a version of this sauce a few days earlier. The original recipe in "The Thrill of the Grill" (William Morrow $25) called for mixing tangerine juice with vinegar, sugar, rosemary and melted butter. I didn't have any tangerines, so I had substituted orange juice. The resulting sauce was OK; it was nothing to shout about. It needed a stronger flavor.

So the next time I made the sauce, I tossed two apricots in with the orange juice. I was going to throw in only the apricot flesh, not the skin. But the skin smelled so appealing, I tossed it in.

Next I poured in the 1/2 cup of plain white vinegar in a saucepan, got it boiling and stirred in the 1/4 cup of sugar. When the sugar dissolved, I added the cup of apricot-orange juice mixture and let the mixture simmer. The lid was off the pan, and the idea was to let liquid bubble away until it was reduced by about one-third.

For years I had heard chefs talk about "reducing the sauce." And here I was, standing over the stove, actually doing it. But this reducing of the sauce was not as exciting as it sounds. It was a lot like stirring the pudding until it thickened. You had to wait for the boil to do its business. It was boring.

To keep myself amused, I went out in the back yard and lighted the coals for the barbecue grill. I planned to cook the pork quickly on the grill, then cover it with apricot sauce.

"The Thrill of the Grill" recipe called for boneless loins of pork, which, according to co-author Chris Schlesinger, were called "pork birdies" by an aunt.

I didn't have any pork birdies, but I did have some plain ole pork chops.

When the coals got ashy gray, I plopped the chops on the grill and cooked them for a few minutes on each side. I believe that more of the pig flavor comes through when the center of the pork chops is left slightly pink. However, pink pig parts make a few members of my family squeamish, so for them I cooked a few of the chops until the meat was white all the way through.

While the chops were sizzling, I went back to the stove and checked on my sauce. When about one-third of the sauce had boiled away, I took the pan off the heat.

I added a heaping teaspoon of fresh rosemary needles and a tablespoon of lime juice. I mixed this, then added 2 tablespoons of melted butter.

I stirred it together, then let it sit a minute or two. When the pork chops were ready, I poured the sauce over them.

The apricot sauce got rave reviews from the family. It had a good fruit flavor but, thanks to the vinegar, was not that sweet. I thought it needed some salt, but I liked it.

Some sauce was left over. And the next night I poured the leftover sauce over a hunk of grilled salmon.

The sauce was good on the salmon as well, but again I thought it could be improved. Maybe more apricots and a bit more rosemary.

The rosemary grows in our back yard. I'm glad that we have it. Fresh herbs have a much different flavor from their dried-out, bottled cousins.

Having a rosemary plant growing in your backyard is nice. But if I had my druthers, I would rather have an apricot tree.

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