Ask Peter: Pomegranate fruit and molasses
Can you give me some help on pomegranates? They are in a lot of recipes and restaurant dishes. How do I choose a ripe one when buying them? I buy ones that look rosy and beautiful but there is no way I can get the seeds out easily — having to scrape the seeds out and separate them from the hard pithy bits. I have also recently bought a bottle of pomegranate molasses and add it to dressings for salads and into sauces but would love some other ways to use it.I know you will have some wonderful ideas.
Ah, this lovely gorgeous red pearl of a fruit originating in Persia. Amazingly they are almost always in the shops in London. Older friends have said they remember them as exotic fruit that were always around at Christmas, although they didn’t always know what to do with them back in the 60s. What I really enjoy doing with them is juicing them — just as they do on the streets in Istanbul.
Usually a stall will sell pomegranate and orange juice, both freshly squeezed in one of those presses where the fruit aren’t spun around, but pressed on a “cone” that squeezes the juice out. I’ve done this myself many times. I have on occasion mixed the fresh juice with sugar, cooked it over a rapid simmer to a light syrup, then mixed in grappa and left it in the fridge for a day. It’s great spooned over a panna cotta, along with some freshly released seeds, or topped up with soda water and a dash of vodka for a summer punch.
To remove the seeds you have several options
Personally, I prefer to run a knife around the outside, without cutting through the fruit (the white pith is bitter and this avoids spreading the bitterness into the seeds, and also stops you having a handful of halved seeds) then twisting the fruit open. Then I rip each half into half again, to give me 4 pieces, and then I invert them, pushing the skin into the centre. Pull the seeds away from the skin, removing any pith and Bob’s your uncle.
My good mate Yotam Ottolenghi, who knows a thing or two about pomegranates, prefers to simply cut the fruit in half, like an orange, and then (ideally over a sink, and wearing an apron) he bashes the base of the fruit with a rolling pin over a tray. This forces the seeds to shoot out of the skin, but it can also spray some of the red juice as well. You’ll always need to remove the pith. Whatever way you use, the results will be spectacular.
How to tell if they're ripe
As to when are they ripe — they can be deceptive. This, I believe, has more to do with the variety than the fruit themselves. There are varieties that are almost black, and some that are orange, although in New Zealand they tend to be in the red spectrum.
Usually a dark red fruit will render dark red seeds, but sometimes the paler ones, with paler seeds, are equally as sweet n’ sour. So in some ways if they’re being sold, you have to assume your vege person is making sure they’re ripe. Once open they won’t ripen any more so I’m afraid you’ll have to make the best of them. There are also huge ones and small ones. The Istanbul ones for juicing tend to be huge (like a really large orange) and dark crimson in colour, with seeds the colour of a deep-red rose.
I simply adore pomegranate molasses and use it in place of balsamic vinegar in anything that calls for balsamic. It’s also great drizzled over vanilla ice cream, mixed with berries and icing sugar to spoon over creamy meringues, swirled into a vodka tonic with a dash of rosewater or stirred through a lamb stew just before serving.
And can you imagine a salad of baby cos leaves tossed with feta, blanched baby green beans, toasted chopped hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds, pomegranate molasses, EV olive oil and plenty of black pepper? Divine!
This week’s photo is from my visit to the Topkapi Palace in early 2012 — see how “everyday’’ these wonderful fruit are.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.