Those savoury prunes
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
I promised to write a second post on prunes in savoury dishes, and then I thought I wouldn't because you'd probably had enough of prunes, but then - one of those coincidences - this recipe turned up in The Guardian newsletter - Prune, thyme and shallot tarte Tatin and so I changed my mind. I mean how much of a coincidence is that? Tartes Tatin everywhere and then yet another sumptuous looking version featuring those luscious dried fruits - prunes. So here I go with a bit of a list I suppose. I promise there are some very tempting looking things in there though.
The list I found split into two - a surprising number of classic dishes and a few outliers from inventive and enthusiastic cooks. And because some of the outliers were really extensions of the classics it's not really two lists at all.
So what are the classics. The one I knew about was Porc aux pruneaux. They always have a version of this on the menu at Paris Go when we go there and I often choose it. It's a classic dish from the area where those prunes d'Agen are grown - in south-western France. Incidentally I had not realised that the species of plum that is used for prunes is never eaten fresh - it's just grown to make prunes. Porc aux pruneaux deserves a post all to itself, so I'll just give you a couple of examples - the classic Noisettes de porc aux pruneaux from Elizabeth David - I mean who else? Well Robert Carrier perhaps and he does have a couple of versions.
Elizabeth David wrote a long piece about how she tried to track the definitive version down which ends with this lovely passage:
"It was a long time before I had the courage to set to work on that recipe. When I did, and saw once more the row of little pork noisettes, the bronze and copper lights of the shining sauce, the orderly row of black, rich, wine-soaked prunes on the long white dish, I though that indeed it had been worth the journey to make something as beautiful as that." Elizabeth David
Then there's a more modern version from Clare Thomson of The Guardian which she calls Pork cooked with prunes, quatre épices and bay leaves. Not beautifully arranged on a white platter as you can see, but tempting looking all the same.
In similar vein I found that David Lebovitz, an American who lives in Paris and who also loves prunes, had a recipe for Duck with prunes and red wine. Well duck is another rich meat and the trick seems to be to pair two rich ingredients together - boar, goose, lamb, rabbit are other meats that are often paired with prunes.
But chicken gets a look-in too. Well chicken absorbs just about any flavour there is going really. There are two classic Chicken and prune dishes that both deserve their own posts - maybe one day in the future. I'll add them to my list. The first of these is quite different - Cock-a-leekie which is a chicken soup from Scotland which I knew of but had never investigated. So I was actually somewhat surprised that there were prunes in it. I had no idea. One doesn't normally associate Scotland with prunes. Nigel Slater also has a version - Chicken, leek and prune broth - which he describes as being a slightly butch version because it includes bacon and pieces of chicken complete with bones. Must try one of them some time. Chicken soup is always a good thing.
Still on chicken the Americans (I think it's the Americans - this too deserves a post of its own) has Chicken Marbella which comes from a much revered American cookbook called The Silver Palate. You can find the original The Silver Palate's chicken Marbella on the New York Times website. It includes olives as well. Bon Appétit has a Pork Marbella which looks utterly delicious I have to say,
I then moved to the Middle-East and north Africa which of course have a multitude of dishes that mix prunes and meat. In Morocco there are tagines, the most notable of which is Mrouzia, although I have to wonder whether the more usual version uses raisins rather than prunes. This one from Taste of Maroc is definitely prune based though. You will find many more versions of tagines that include
prunes - mostly with lamb. The Persians like prunes too as I discovered with the 'special' dish I made for David and which started me on prunes. So I checked out Ottolenghi and found, of course, that he also went for prunes. The two most popular Ottolenghi prune recipes seemed to be his Chicken with potatoes, prunes and pomegranate molasses and a rather more weird sounding Roasted potatoes with caramel & Agen prunes although, of course he swears that it should be tried and is not as sweet as you might think. His photographer and food stylist certainly do a good job of making you want to give it a go.
I even found that the Malaysians and Indonesians seem to have classic dish, although truth to tell I suspect the recipe I found - Ayam prune pedas - from a site called Daily Cooking Quest, might be a twist to a classic. It certainly looked tempting - lots of soy sauce in this one apparently.
I'm not sure whether you would call the last 'classic' a classic or a retro dish - Devils on horseback. Remember them? They were very fashionable - apparently in the 80s - as a pre dinner nibble. And I do remember them as being quite delicious. The version I direct you to here is Nigel Slater's who says:
"The point of them is the clever contrast between the luscious, sweet, squidgy prune and the crispy(ish), salty bacon." Nigel Slater
He stuffs his prunes with chutney but I saw lots of other suggestions out there - nuts, cheese of various kinds - and oysters - but of course that is then Angels on horseback.
The Italians don't seem to do a lot on the prune front in savoury terms, but I did find one somewhat unusual dish from Trieste -
Maggie Beer also had a version of this dish which was slightly simpler. It's in her Maggie's Harvest book but I can't find a version of it online. And those gnocchi are not made with potatoes mixed with prunes. No the potato dough is flattened, a prune, or half prune is placed on top and the potato is then wrapped around it. So it's a sort of filled dumpling and apparently is usually rather larger than normal gnocchi.
You can, of course, use prunes to make chutney either as the star or as part of the spicy mix. Maggie Beer though goes one step further and makes Fig, prune and red wine mustard:
"I extended the idea and poached prunes and figs in red-wine vinegar, with Quatre-Épices, then folded through a good wholegrain mustard. I keep finding uses for this prune and fig mustard, as I call it, such as in a sandwich thick with crisp local double-smoked bacon and rocket."
- or maybe watercress?
I will come back to some of those dishes sometime but I'll leave them alone for a while. You've probably had enough of prunes for now. And anyway they are just lovely to eat on their own as a snack.