A major force in Pacific Northwest cooking and a James Beard award winner, chef Vitaly Paley owns several restaurants in Portland, Oregon, including Paley's Place, which he opened in 1985. As a boy growing up in Soviet Belarus, he lived with a doting grandma who, he remembers, "cooked from her soul, from her heart." One of her specialties was wild-plum preserve--and when Paley moved to Portland, he found wild plums growing everywhere. The first time he made this wild-plum sauce (for his pop-up restaurant, DaNet, to go with spiced lamb skewers), he had a flashback to his boyhood. "All of a sudden I was standing next to my grandmother by that stove in the one-room house in Belarus, and she was feeding me."
This recipe goes with: Grilled Spiced Lamb Skewers (Shashlik)
1 pound wild* or domestic red- or yellow-fleshed plums, or a combination
1/2 star anise pod
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon roughly chopped mint leaves
1 tablespoon roughly chopped cilantro leaves
2 large garlic cloves, minced
About 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, or more if mild
How to Make It
Wash and stem plums, put in a small pot, and add enough water to just cover plums. Bring to a boil. If plums are softened, remove from heat; if not, cover and simmer until soft, 10 to 15 minutes.
Grind star anise with fennel seeds in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder.
Strain plums into a bowl; reserve liquid. Set strainer of plums over pot. With a wooden spoon or gloved hand, firmly press plums through strainer into pot (discard pits). The strained plums should have the texture of thin tomato soup; stir in some plum-cooking water if needed.*
Add remaining ingredients (except sugar) and simmer over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until flavors have melded and sauce is as thick as ketchup, about 30 minutes. Season with more salt to taste, along with a spoonful of sugar if you like.
*Wild plums have a higher pectin content, so they will need more cooking water.
Make ahead: Sauce, up to 2 days, chilled; frozen, up to 4 months.
Paley's Place, Portland, Oregon
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