Like Wall Street bankers and Chinese Internet censors, currants have an image problem. Are they berries? Are they raisins? Are they red or black? Are they edible fresh? Consider this their public-relations overhaul. Here’s the spin:
Yes, they are berries, grown on a shrub, and closely related to gooseberries. No, they are not raisins. Those dried fruits labeled “currants” lining grocery shelves are actually Zante raisins, from Greece. The relation is in name only: currant, the story goes, is actually a corruption of the city of Corinth. And yes, they are red and black, even white. The black version is commonly used for pies, preserves, and that Burgundian elixir, cassis. The red and white berries can be eaten out of hand. Currants, initially cultivated in northern Europe and Asia, were introduced here by English settlers in the late 17th century, and now thrive in the cool, humid coastal regions of Oregon and Northern California. When choosing them, look for specimens that are firm and plump, like Hollywood lips, though currants will deflate faster. Figure they will last three days max, kept tightly covered in the fridge.
Currants make their annual entrance in June, and at F.A.B. (222 E Main St, Mount Kisco 914-864-1661; fabbistro.com), Chef Felipe Milanes’s meats and desserts are ready to party. Red berries, his currant of choice, will dazzle foie gras in a gastrique scented with cinnamon, star anise, and a kiss of honey. “Currants are the perfect complement to the richness and fattiness of foie gras,” he says. “Their acidity cooks down to a sweetness that other fruits, like orange or pomegranate, lack.” For a special, he crowns a grilled rib eye with a gloss of currant jelly as both “a great foil for the fat, and a palate refresher.”
If you can rouse yourself from your fatty stupor, order one of Milanes’s Key lime lollipop desserts, a shimmering currant-syrup-glazed bauble encasing a cache of the fresh berries themselves. It even comes perched on a sugar-stick holder. No image problem there.
Red Currant Jam
Courtesy of Felipe Milanes
(Yields 1 pint)
8 cups fresh red currants
¼ cup water
¼ cup Absolut Kurant Vodka
4¼ cups sugar
In a large pot, combine currants, water, and Absolut. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer until currants are softened, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in sugar and simmer, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and skim off foam. Cool to room temperature, then pour into glass Mason jars and close lids tightly. Place filled jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove from water, cool, and store in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.