Apples for dinner? Get 2 savory recipes that incorporate the fall-favorite fruit.
Apples are the perfect on-the-go snack and great for executing sweet dessert recipes like apple pie and caramel apples. Yet, the humble apple is overlooked in savory dishes. Chef Steve Parker of Black Tap Craft Burgers and Beer says that's a mistake, due to how versatile the fall-favorite fruit truly is.
Parker grew up picking apples every September. Although his family would make sweet dishes, like German apple cake, with the apples they picked, his mom and aunt used the apples to make savory dishes. One of his favorites was sautéed apples with salt, pepper, fennel, carrots and a little bit of orange juice.
When designing Black Tap Craft Burger and Beer's fall menu, Parker says he wanted to incorporate new ideas. Having grown up with savory apple dishes, creating a new one immediately came to mind. The result is the mouth-watering ABJ Burger, topped with an apple jam Parker describes as "bright and spicy."
Chef Sydney Willcox, who creates menus for Restaurant Associates, also creates savory dishes featuring apples. Her favorite is Apple, Shallot and Mustard Braised Chicken Thighs but she also enjoys adding apples to dishes like kale salads or wild rice. Because apples are a fruit, Willcox explains, most assume they should go into sweets like pies. But Willcox thinks it's important not to shy away from using apples in new and creative ways.
While apples are certainly sweet, Willcox incorporates them into many dishes because they contain sweet, sour and slightly bitter flavors at the same time. She says these tastes are three of the five flavors that should be a part of every meal, so any dish involving apples will already have some balance of flavors built-in. The other two flavors, salt and umami, are easy to add in. Salt can easily be incorporated into any apple dish by adding a dash of salt, butter or cheese. Umami can be added by using ingredients like caramelized onions or beef.
Chef Katsuya Fukushima, co-owner of the Daikaya Group, enjoys cooking savory dishes with apples at home. "My mom taught me to grate apples into my curry," he says. "It adds some sweetness, as Japanese curry is on the sweeter side. It adds acidity and freshness, too. It also helps thicken the curry. You don't taste the apples, but it enhances it and really makes a difference."
"It's just like adding a pinch of salt in baking cookies, Fukushima explains, adding that using apples in this way encompasses the meaning of "kakushiaji," a Japanese term that means "hidden flavor."
Which apples are best for savory cooking?
Choosing the right kind of apples for savory dishes is important. Willcox emphasizes that your favorite apple to eat raw or use for baking probably won't be the best choice for cooking savory dishes.
Parker's favorite type of apple to use is the Macoun apple, a mix of Macintosh and Jersey Black apples. However, the Macoun is only available during certain times of the year and even then is not widely-available. Willcox prefers cooking with Granny Smith apples because they hold their shape well, have great crunch and won't become mushy when cooking.
If you aren't lucky enough to find Macoun apples, Parker says the next best thing is a Honey Crisp, which has some tartness to balance out apples' natural sweetness. Willcox also likes Honey Crisp apples for savory cooking because they are incredibly crisp and don't have as much acidity as some other varieties. Another apple Parker recommends is Fuji because they hold their shape well making them ideal for use in meatballs or caramelized apples to put on top of sausages.
When looking for good apples to use for cooking, Willcox recommends looking for apples with a firm texture. "The best apples will be heavy for their size," she says.
Parker says he is "a purist when it comes to apples," noting that putting health issues aside, pesticides change the flavor of the fruit. For that reason, he insists that all Black Tap Burgers and Beer locations use unfiltered, organic apples — even for dishes where apple skins are discarded.
How to prepare apples for savory recipes
To prepare apples for savory cooking, Willcox starts by peeling her apples, because apple skin can become leathery and hard to chew after cooking. While there's nothing wrong with chopping apples, she shares one of her secrets with Yahoo Life: "Use a cheese grater," she says. "It's so much easier."
Willcox grates her apples over a bowl lined with a towel. Then, she gathers up the grated apples into the towel and squeezes out excess juice to make her apples a little drier, which makes them better for cooking. "You can mix the juice with some Prosecco to make grown-up apple juice," she suggests, "or you can drink the juice plain or save it for cooking."
More ways to use apples
Both Parker and Willcox use apples for savory cooking in a variety of ways.
Parker likes using them as part of a glaze for pork chops, as an emulsifier in dressings to replace oil and add flavor, as dried apple chips in salads to add flavor and texture and in meatballs to add crunch.
Apples can provide a great surprise in traditional dishes according to Willcox. She recommends replacing tomatoes with apples in grilled cheese sandwiches or on top of burgers, grilling apples if you can to add even more flavor. She also adds apples to her thanksgiving stuffing to add more crunch as well as additional sweet and savory flavors.
Willcox says, although apples are often paired with beef, the apple flavor may become overwhelmed by beef's stronger tastes. However, apples can still be a good choice for beef dishes because they add good crunch and texture as well as subtle balancing of flavors. To bring out the flavor of apples more, she recommends making meatballs with chicken, turkey, pork or veal. Turkey meatballs made with apples and the traditional Thanksgiving stuffing ingredients of fennel, celery, sage or rosemary make a fantastic alternative Thanksgiving dish, especially if served with a cranberry jam. She also enjoys pairing apples with almost any type of cheese, whole grain or Dijon mustard and horseradish.
What to serve with savory apple dishes
Parker recommends pairing most savory apple dishes with an IPA beer. "The nice, crisp, fresh flavor goes really well," he says.
If you don't like beer, Willcox recommends drinking anything with bubbles. She also thinks an aged bourbon or whiskey works well with savory apple dishes because it brings out the caramelized flavor in the apples.
As for side dishes, Willcox thinks sweet potato fries are the perfect accompaniment to savory apple dishes because they match apples' sweet flavor. And, Willcox grew up eating saffron rice, adding that she loves the way saffron's "warming flavor that's not sweet" brings out the flavor of apples.
Ready to get cooking with apples? Both Parker and Willcox share their favorite apple recipe with Yahoo Life.
Apple, Shallot and Mustard-Braised Chicken Thighs
Courtesy of chef Sydney Willcox, Restaurant Associates
2-3 tablespoons grapeseed, vegetable or sunflower oil
1 ½ pounds chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 heirloom apples, wedged
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or sage leaves, chopped
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
⅓ cup brandy or white wine
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoon honey
Handful chopped chives or parsley, for garnish
1. Place a large Dutch oven over high heat and add a thin layer of oil. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. When the pan in just beginning to smoke, carefully add the chicken, being sure not to overcrowd the pan (cook in batches if necessary). Brown until deeply golden, about 4-5 minutes, then flip to brown the other side. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside; carefully discard all but a thin layer of fat.
2. Reduce heat to medium-high and add shallots and parsnip; cook until lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Add apples and continue to cook until golden and caramelizing, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme or sage, caraway seeds (if using) and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Cook until aromatic, 1-2 minutes.
3. Deglaze the pan by adding the brandy or wine and scraping the bottom of the pan to lift up the browned bits. Add chicken stock, both mustards and honey; stir well to combine. Return the chicken to the pan and any juices from their resting plate. Bring to a low boil and immediately reduce to a gentle simmer. Place lid over pan slightly to the side to allow a small opening for steam to escape. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, reading at an internal temperature of 175 F, about 20-30 minutes (chicken thighs benefit from slight overcooking to encourage connective tissue to break down and become more tender).
4. Remove lid and transfer chicken to a deep platter. Bring sauce to a low boil and reduce until slightly thickened, about 4-6 minutes; taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt or pepper, mustard or honey, as desired. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with chives or parsley.
Apple Butter Jam Recipe
Courtesy of chef Steve Parker, Black Tap Craft Burger and Beer
This apple butter jam is used to top the ABJ Burger: A ground turkey burger patty with Gouda, chili apple butter jam, crispy shallots, watercress, and country mustard garlic aioli. Make your own for an apple-forward fall burger topping.
2 cups apple butter
3 ½ pounds apples, cored and diced
3 cups water
7 ½ cups white sugar
½ teaspoon butter
1 (2 ounce) package powdered fruit pectin
2 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Place apples in a large pot; cover with water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until apples are slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Crush cooked apples and simmer for 5 more minutes.
2. Transfer crushed apples to a sieve or cheesecloth. Let drip into a bowl until all liquid has drained, pressing gently to release all the juice. Measure 5 cups apple juice, adding water if necessary to have exact amount. Stir sugar into juice; add butter to reduce foaming. Add 2 cups apple butter and chili powder
3. Bring juice mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. (mix pectin with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a mixing bowl) Stir in pectin/lemon juice mixture boil for exactly 1 minute to dissolve pectin, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off excess foam with a metal spoon.
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