Quince is one of the oldest fruits in the world—it's mentioned in Greek mythology and possibly the Bible (some scholars believe that Eve offered Adam a quince rather than an apple)—and grows well in a wide range of climates. When raw it's sour and astringent, but it's much more palatable when cooked, and its high pectin content made it popular at the beginning of the 20th century for making jams and jellies. When powdered pectin was introduced, however (and canning became less common in the U.S.), quince fell out of favor. David Karp, writing about quince for the LA Times in 2009, concluded that "in today's food world, it's so out it's in."
Patrick Fahy, pastry chef at Sixteen, challenged by Chris Teixeira (Homestead) to make a dish with quince, wasn't thrown by the ingredient in the slightest—he's worked with it many times before, he said. "I got lucky, I suppose. I'm very glad I didn't have a fish eyeball."
He compared the flavor of quince to that of apple and pear—they're in the same family—and said that you can treat it the same way you would the other two fruits. "With the exception of cider," he added. "I've never heard of quince cider, although that sounds pretty cool."
Fahy stuck with what he knew, though, preparing the quince the way that had worked best for him in the past: cooking it slowly in red wine and sugar. "If you cook the quince for a long time at a low temperature, it maintains its structure. Cooking it too fast, it gets really mushy," he said.
Poaching was one of Fahy's favorite cooking methods before he was ever introduced to quince. He hated pears growing up, and never understood why they were so popular—"until the day I first discovered how to poach pears," he said. "It's just ten times better than eating a raw pear." The same principle applies to quince: "Take that quince, slowly poach it, and it's just like butter when you get it out. It melts in your mouth."
Fahy considered making a sauce or sorbet with the quince, but wanted to incorporate the texture of the fresh fruit. So he poached quince slices and served them atop a creme fraiche panna cotta with a gelee made from the syrup he'd poached the quince in. (To poach the quince, he vacuum-sealed it with red wine and sugar and cooked it sous vide for 24 hours at 70 degrees Celsius. "You want it to be tender but not mushy, kind of like an al dente pasta," he said.) Purple viola blossoms and microcelery garnished the dish.
The flavor of quince in the gelee was subtle, Fahy said. "But subtle's good, because you don't want to overpower the creme fraiche. The creme fraiche is a little acidic, so it pairs well with the note that the quince brings and the sweetness from the sauce."
Fahy thought the dish was too simple to go on the menu at Sixteen—if he were going to do that he'd have quince five or six ways to reinforce the same flavor through different textures—but he said he might use it for Rebar, the bar and lounge downstairs, where it would be a better fit.
Bobby Schaffer, pastry chef at Grace, challenged by Fahy to make a dish with cupuacu, a fruit that grows in South America. "I learned it on accident, like I learn everything," Fahy said. He was making a recipe years ago that called for cupuacu, so he looked it up and learned that it was related to chocolate, in the same family as the cacao bean. "The flavor is very interesting. Fresh cupuacu is better, but you can't really get fresh here in the States, so it's more commonly a freeze-dried powder."
Creme fraiche panna cotta with poached quince
Peel and quarter quince; remove the center core. Place in vacuum bag with equal parts red wine and sugar and seal. Cook sous vide in 70 degree Celsius water for 24 hours. Remove from bag, slice and serve.
If you don't own a circulator or a vacuum-pack machine, place the quince quarters in a pot with the poaching liquid. Bring liquid to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Using a towel or parchment paper, cover the top of the quince so that no air is touching the quince. Simmer for three hours. Rotate quince and simmer another three hours.
Quince should be tender and soft. Store in an airtight container with the poaching liquid until ready to serve.
Creme fraiche panna cotta
930 grams cream
710 grams creme fraiche
190 grams sugar
13 grams silver leaf gelatin
Set up small rings on silpat, and cut cake circles to fit in the bottom of each. Put in freezer. Place cream, sugar, and gelatin in a pan and heat just enough to melt gelatin. Pour over crème fraiche and blend. Pour about 75 grams into each ring mold and place in cooler until set.
Poaching liquid gel
450 grams poaching liquid (the liquid that has already been used to poach the quince)
4 sheets silver leaf
Warm the liquid. Bloom the gelatin in ice water until it softens. Remove gelatin and squeeze out excess water. Add gelatin to warm liquid so it dissolves. Now remove the panna cotta rings from cooler, and pour a small amount of the liquid on top. Store in cooler until set.
Remove rings from cooler, and garnish with sliced poached quince. Drizzle with the reduced poaching liquid, and garnish with microcelery and purple viola blossoms.