Pastry chef Amit Sharma on how to increase the shelf life of strawberries
The rich, luscious comport - fruit that has been stewed in sugar syrup and other flavouring - would then be used in jams, cupcakes, tarts and waffles
Amit Sharma says the preserve can last upto three months. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Back in 2007, when Amit Sharma, patisserie owner and founder of Poetry by Love & Cheesecake, started his career as a chef, one of the first techniques he learnt was preserving fruit. "During the strawberry season, we used to make preserves so that it we could use them in summers too. It was essentially a way of extending the shelf life of the fruit," he says. The rich, luscious comport - fruit that has been stewed in sugar syrup and other flavouring - would then be used in jams, cupcakes, tarts and waffles. "The method is defined by versatility. It can be applied to any fruit," says Sharma, who has experimented with oranges, apples and even dried fig and apricot.
Pick the fresh ones
Before the strawberry season draws to a close, Sharma hopes to replenish his reserve, while sharing the know-how with us. It's important to pick the right strawberries, he instructs. "Wholesome strawberries will have green leaves and a slight shine. An old one will be shrunken and discoloured. If you pick a damaged fruit to preserve, you will preserve the bacteria too." Unlike pickling, which is meant to preserve vegetables and fruits in salt and spices, preservation is done with sugar and a dash of vinegar, if required. "Bacteria cannot sustain itself in an environment of high sugar or high salt because they suck out the moisture. While a pickle can last forever, the life of a preserve depends on the fruit and the ingredients that go into its making," he says. Ideally, a strawberry preserve lasts three months.
Once the strawberries are washed and the leaves are plucked out, they are cut into halves or quarters depending on size, and mascerated in sugar syrup for 15 minutes. "You then place the berries on a pan over fairly low heat and allow the sugar to dissolve slowly. Give the pan a shake from time to time," he says. Once the crystals dissolve, the mixture is ready for boiling. "When you reach this stage, turn the heat up and let it boil for 10 minutes. Then remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool." The cooling is important because it's here that the bacteria die, he says. However, it's important to not overcook the fruit else you'll have puree on hand. "The mixture needs to have chunky fruits that aren't entirely mashed." He recommends adding pectin, a water-soluble fiber which acts as a thickening agent. "Apples have a high percentage of natural pectin, but with strawberries, adding pectin helps." Once the mixture has cooled down, refrigerate it until the temperature of the mixture has reached five degrees Celsius. If you want the preserve to have more zing, add spices. "Oranges go very well with cinnamon, and strawberries with star anise. It's a classic combination."