"It's a pretty terrible ingredient," Parachute's Johnny Clark says of canned fruit cocktail, with which Lula Cafe's Sarah Rinkavage challenged him to create a dish. "It's like school cafeteria [or] nursing-home food. There's not much I can do with it."
The chef remembers being served fruit cocktail on his lunch tray in elementary school. "It was one of those things—you just eat the cherry out of it and throw the rest of it away," Clark says. And most likely, there would have been just one cherry. The USDA stipulates a certain ratio of pears, grapes, cherries, peaches, and pineapples for a product to be called fruit cocktail: mostly peaches and pears, less pineapple and grapes, and a maximum of 6 percent cherry halves (the minimum is 2 percent). Also noted in the USDA's detailed grading manual for canned fruit cocktail is the fact that the lunchroom staple originated in the Food Products Laboratory at the University of California in the 1920s as a way to use up imperfect peaches and pears and surplus seedless grapes.
Clark considered putting the fruit into a granita with umeboshi (a salty, sour Japanese pickled fruit), noting that any application "pretty much has to mask that stuff if you want it to taste good." Instead, he ended up braising the fruit cocktail with cabbage in red wine and then pureeing it to create a sauce; he says he's had cabbage with currants or apples before, so fruit cocktail seemed like a natural pairing. Balsamic vinegar, Chinese mustard, and caraway seeds added complexity to the sauce, while xanthan gum created a smoother texture.
Clark served the sauce with secreto—a little-known cut of pork that comes from the belly—seared to medium rare. Other components of the dish included ham broth (country ham, onion, and bay leaf simmered in water), lightly pickled cabbage, and freeze-dried raspberries.
He could taste the fruit cocktail in the finished product, he said, but it wasn't bad. "It's balanced, sweet and sour and salty." If he made the dish again, he says, he'd use fresh fruit.
Clark has challenged Mike Simmons of Rootstock to create a dish with braunschweiger. Clark grew up eating the liverwurst because his grandmother was Ukrainian. While he describes it as "a little bit strange," he says at least "it's something real, not like fruit cocktail."
Pork secreto and braised cabbage with fruit cocktail
4-5 oz piece of Iberico pork secreto
Sear pork with a small amount of oil in a pan until medium rare or medium and let rest for five to ten minutes.
450 g red cabbage
200 g fruit cocktail
90 g red wine
50 g white balsamic vinegar
30 g Chinese mustard
10 g sea salt
.5 g ground black pepper
.5 g caraway seed
1 g xanthan gum
Place all ingredients in a vacuum bag and seal. Cook at 190 degrees Celsius for one hour in a water bath. Remove the ingredients and puree in a blender until smooth.
100 g sea salt
8 oz water
6 oz white balsamic
7-8 red cabbage leaves
Dissolve first three ingredients together, then place all ingredients in a vacuum bag and seal on moderate pressure.
4 oz country ham
16 oz water
1 medium onion
1 bay leaf
Simmer all ingredients for 20 minutes, then strain out the solids.
For the plate:
1 T brown butter
4-5 freeze-dried raspberries
Smear some cabbage puree on the bottom of the plate. Slice pork and place on top of cabbage puree. Warm pickled cabbage leaves in small amounts of brown butter and salt until lightly wilted but still crunchy, then place two or three leaves on top of the pork. Sauce the pork and cabbage with ham jus. Crush some freeze-dried raspberries in your hand and scatter all over the plate.