Stone Fruits

 

Many sweet, and a wide range of savoury, dishes owe their distinctive flavour and appearance to luscious, colourful and aromatic stone fruits. Before using them, they need to have their stones removed; this technique is simple but must be done correctly if the fruit is to retain its shape. The thin skin can be left on the fruit or removed before use.

STONING

When stoning apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines, some of the flesh may cling to the stone, even when the fruits are ripe. The technique shown here helps to combat this problem. If the skin is left on until after stoning this will help you get a good grip on the fruit.

1. Cut around the fruit with a small knife, following the seam and cutting right down to the stone.

2. Holding the cut fruit, twist each half quite sharply in opposite directions to expose the stone.

3. Prise the stone out of the fruit with the tip of the knife, then lift it out with your fingers.

SKINNING

The skin of stone fruits is notoriously difficult to remove. By far the easiest way is to blanch the fruits first in boiling water, but care must be taken not to cook the fruits, especially if they are really ripe. First score a cross shape in the bottom end of each fruit. Bring a pan of water to the boil and immerse each fruit on a slotted spoon. Count 10 seconds for very ripe fruit, up to 20 seconds for less ripe, just until the skin begins to curl.

1. After immersing the fruit in boiling water, transfer it to a bowl of iced water with a slotted spoon. This stops the heat penetrating the flesh.

2. Carefully loosen the skin at the stalk end of the fruit with the point of a small knife, then use the knife to help peel the skin away.

EXTRACTING THE ALMOND FLAVOUR

The small kernel found inside an apricot stone has a distinctive almond flavour. Apricots and almonds make good partners, so add the kernel to apricot jams and jellies, or use to flavour apricot liqueurs.

Place a cutting board on a cloth to steady it. Put the stone on the board and crack it with a small hammer to release the kernel. Blanch the kernel for 1 minute, then refresh in cold water. Pat dry. Cut into slivers or chop finely.

SAFETY FIRST

Do not use the kernels of stone fruits other than apricots. They contain a poisonous acid and should be discarded as soon as they are removed from the fruit.

PITTING CHERRIES

A mechanical stoner makes pitting cherries easy. The blunt spike pushes the stone through the flesh, ensuring the fruit retains its shape and precious juices are retained. Alternatively, you can use the point of a vegetable peeler - insert it in the stalk end, rotate it around the stone, then scoop it out.

Pull out the stalk and discard. Place the cherry, stalk-end up, in the cupped side of the stoner. Hold the fruit firmly and squeeze both handles of the stoner tightly together until the stone is pushed out. This pitting technique can also be used for olives - the hole that is left after pitting can be stuffed.

DICING A MANGO

Fibrous mango flesh sticks to the central stone, making it difficult to remove. The technique shown here, commonly known as the hedgehog method, removes most of the flesh by slicing either side of the stone; the sections that remain are then diced separately.

1. Slice the fruit lengthwise on either side of the flat stone, cutting as close to the stone as possible.

2. Slice the flesh of the two stoneless sections in a lattice pattern, cutting down to the peel but not piercing it.

3. Push the peel inside out with your thumbs. Cut away cubes with a small knife. Repeat with the other section.

SLICING A MANGO

The easiest way to slice a mango is to peel it first, using a paring knife. This works best with fruit that is only just ripe; if the fruit is over­ ripe, it will be slippery and may pulp in your hand, making it difficult to grip. You can simply cut the flesh from the mango and then slice it or cut it into chunks. Alternatively, use the technique shown here for neatly shaped wedges.

1. Cup mango in your hand and peel skin, lengthwise, as thinly as possible with a paring knife. Work around the fruit, to keep a neat shape.

2. Cut a V -shaped wedge down to the stone. Slice from the V, working around the fruit.

USES FOR MANGOES

Eat mango just as it is or add it to sweet or savoury dishes. Its flavour goes particularly well with smoked and salty foods, and it has a cooling effect on spicy ingredients.

• For a refreshing first course, serve sliced mango with smoked meats or fish drizzled with a herb dressing.

• Use puréed ripe mango as a base for mousses, sorbets or ice cream, or mix with some raspberry liqueur and use as a dessert sauce.

• Add to a tropical fruit salad and serve with crème fraîche flavoured with a little coconut.

• Add to a red pepper or chilli sauce to temper the heat.

• For a tangy salsa, mix diced mango with diced red onion and avocado and lime juice. Serve with baked fish or fajitas.

• Unripe mango is an excellent addition to pickles and chutneys.