Apples shine in stew with intoxicating aroma

September 26, 2001|By Rob Kasper

HAVING EATEN apples in myriad forms - from apple pies to apple fritters to good ole applesauce - I thought there were few new ways to enjoy their crisp company.

Then I tried apple stew. I combined sliced apples and sliced onions, which seemed like a violation of some rule, either of economics or common sense. I also tossed some raisins in the pot along with some sugar, a little salt and pepper, some butter and a shot of cider vinegar.

I cooked this fragrant mixture about 15 minutes and served it as a side dish for a family supper. Not only did the stew fill the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma - somewhere between sauerkraut and apple pie - it also had a wealth of pleasing tastes and textures.

The onions were tangy, the apples firm and faintly vinegary; the raisins were morsels of sweet surprise. My wife and I loved the apple stew. Our 16-year-old, who is averse to onions - visible ones anyway - wouldn't touch it.

I found the recipe for this stew in Jacques Pepin's latest cookbook, Jacques Pepin Celebrates (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, $40). Although my wife later pointed out that other cookbooks on our kitchen shelf, including Cooking With Lydie Marshall, have dishes pairing apples with onions, I attempted this union in large part because Jacques said it would work.

There are many chefs who "perform." Jacques Pepin is one who can flat-out cook. Several years ago during a lecture at what is now the Baltimore International College, I watched him bake a perfect souffle in an oven with a broken thermostat. He kept an eye on the soufflM-i as he spoke to his audience, and when the oven got too hot, he simply propped open the door.

I have also enjoyed much success cooking recipes from his other cookbooks. The creamy chicken potpie, for instance, that he and Julia Child described in their joint cookbook, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999, $40), has earned a place of honor in our home. Last winter, it was the dish we served to celebrate the Baltimore Ravens' victory in the Super Bowl. Now when the good times roll, there is a chicken potpie in our oven.

I had a little trouble getting my hands on the type of apples that Jacques recommended. He called for "white-fleshed acidic apples such as Cortland, McIntosh, Stayman or Opalescent." I didn't have any of those on hand. The Jonathan apples I had bought earlier in the week at a farmers' market were long gone.

So I hopped in the car and drove to Vince's Produce, a popular outdoor market, off Beltway Exit 5 in Linthicum, hoping to find them. I got there late in the day, and the only apples remaining were a handful of Galas, a sweet eating apple. I bought some Galas to sustain me as I continued my hunt.

Later, at a supermarket in Roland Park, I found some Braeburn apples, which I decided were acidic enough to try in the recipe.

It was a golden autumn day, and when I got home, I sat out in the back yard, ready to enjoy the evening and peel the apples. Then I read that Jacques did not approve of such behavior. "Do not peel the apples," he wrote, adding that "the skin will give some chewiness and texture to the stew."

So I simply cored and sliced the apples, then sliced the onions. Then I went inside, melted some butter in a shallow pot, added some oil, and sauteed the onions over high heat. I threw in the apples and the remaining ingredients, and enjoyed the mixture's sweet perfume. I put a lid on the pot, and let the mixture cook for another 10 minutes or so.

Apple and onion stew turned out to be a good, autumnal side dish. Its vinegar flavor, however, did overpower our main dish, barbecued chicken wings. A better companion would have been a smoked pork shoulder, or some sizzling pork steaks. Fortunately, the apple harvest has just started, so I will have plenty of opportunities this fall to try that promising match of pork and apple stew.

Apple-and-Onion Stew

Serves 6

1 pound onions

2 1/2 pounds apples (about 5 large white-fleshed and acidic apples such as Cortland, McIntosh, Stayman or Opalescent)

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons sugar

Peel and slice the onions thin, about 1/8 inch. Do not peel the apples. The skin will give some chewiness and texture to the stew. Cut the apples in half, core them, then cut them into slices, 1/8 inch thick. Melt the butter in a large skillet or medium pot with oil. When hot, add the onions and sautM-i over high heat for 5 to 6 minutes until onions are lightly browned, wilted and almost cooked.

Add the apples, raisins, vinegar, pepper, salt and sugar. Cover and cook 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. If there is a lot of liquid left in the bottom of the pot, uncover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes over high heat, to reduce.-- From Jacques Pepin Celebrates by Jacques Pepin (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, $40)

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