You know it’s spring when the strawberries start peeking out like they’re the prize in an elaborate scavenger hunt to find rubies in the green fields.
Usually, that scavenger hunt starts in mid-March, but this year chefs started their strawberry dishes early.
“It’s extremely early this year for folks,” says Sara Clow, general manager of GrowFood Carolina, a local food hub founded by the Coastal Conservation League in 2011. “For the majority who have strawberries in the ground, it’s about three weeks early.”
Cautionary warnings aside, Chef Stephen Harman of Five Loaves Café, Summerville, gets his strawberries from GrowFood and says that the arrival of strawberries “generally means spring and summer is really here.”
Harman takes his children to pick strawberries on Johns Island, but he recalls with fondness strawberry-picking as a child with his brothers in Michigan.
“My grandparents used to take us out to strawberry farms. It was so much fun,” he recalls. “We did eat a lot (in the field). We were pretty bad hellions, we’d bite off the ends and throw strawberries at each other. My poor grandpa! That’s just the way we were.”
At Five Loaves Café, Harman’s customers look forward to gazpachos that reflect the season on the specials board, and he chooses flavors that his customers are familiar with, “like strawberry-basil with champagne, or white balsamic to add acidity. Once strawberry season is here, to me it’s kind of like the azaleas. It’s the changing of the season.”
He says the biggest challenge that strawberries present as an ingredient is the seeds.
“If you’re using them in a soup like a gazpacho, you don’t want to be eating small seeds, so you have to use a chinois to strain them out, or puree them super-fine with a high-end mixer like a Vitamix, where it will pulverize the seeds. You want to make sure your guys are properly washing them, trimming them properly and using the right product,” Harman says.
At EVO in North Charleston, there are different specials every day. The restaurant has an attached bakery in the back and, of course, strawberries are used to good effect there, but EVO’s Blake McCormick says the restaurant chefs like to try different savory dishes with strawberries as well.
She and sous chef Matt Connelly recently paired strawberries with a crispy pork belly confit
We cooked it in bacon fat for like eight hours, then we put it in a cast iron oven, did a kale-strawberry slaw which was amazing, then we had a house-made chow-chow with a poppyseed-blood orange dressing. We used Fresno chilies and strawberries and we did a marmalade," she described. Add in a blood orange zest with whipped ricotta, a topping of blood orange segments and strawberries, and a glaze of beer, orange peel and honey for the perfect spring dinner.
While at home chefs might not be up for re-creating so many layers of flavor, Connelly’s slaw recipe is a quicker way to capture the fresh tastes of spring.
Strawberry Basil Gazpacho
Courtesy of Five Loaves Café Chef Stephen Harman
Serves 5-6 people
6 quarts hulled strawberries
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 lime, both juice and zest
1 cup dry sparkling wine
Salt and pepper
1 red bell pepper
3 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons garlic
1 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup packed basil
chiffonade basil for garnish
Puree half of the strawberries and push through a fine mesh sieve. Combine the rest of the ingredients, in small batches, in a food processor and pulse until you have the desired consistency. Fold in strawberry puree. Let chill for at least two hours before serving. You can also substitute cilantro or mint for basil in this recipe.
Local Strawberry & Tuscan Kale Slaw
Countesy of EVO Sous Chef Matt Connelly
1 large bunch of Tuscan/lacinato Kale – chopped into thin strips
1 cup strained chow chow, liquid reserved
1 quart fresh local strawberries, ripe and sliced thinly
2 cups slaw dressing (recipe to follow)
1 blood orange (zest and juice)
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon Sriracha
3 tablespoon chow chow brine
1 tablespoon salt
1. Combine all slaw dressing ingredients into large bowl, whisk until completely combined. Let dressing sit for at least 20 minutes, or make day ahead.
2. Chop washed kale into thin horizontal strips across rib.
3. Rinse strawberries, trim tops, slice thinly.
4. Zest orange using microplane. Juice orange.
5. In large bowl combine kale, strawberries, chow chow, orange zest and juice. Gently mix using hands to completely combine.
6. Incorporate dressing, coat slaw evenly.
7. Chill for at least two hours before serving, strain excess liquid before serving.
8. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Notes: Tuscan/lacinato kale preferably for best results, curly kale may be substituted. Blood orange is preferred, can be substituted with a traditional orange. Chow chow can be purchased or made from scratch -- Mrs. Campbell's Chow Chow is a quality option.