This summer I was deputized to take charge of my family’s Fourth of July dinner. As I am an obsessive and a planner, I decided what I would make weeks in advance: pork shoulder marinated in my homemade jerk sauce, then cooked in my dad’s smoker for eight or ten hours until it was meltingly tender. This is the kind of food project that appeals to me: slow cooking, with just enough wonky food science to cue in the never-distant internal third-person narrator. Also, in London, I don’t have a barbecue, so I have become increasingly fixated on the direct application of fire and smoke to food.
It is difficult, if not imprudent, to plan things too exactly when one is cooking a meal like this. One should always be prepared for serendipity and chance inspiration. On this occasion, that inspiration was peaches. Specifically, a bushel of peach seconds, bruised, slightly squashed, and unsightly, that we bought at a farm stand for $8. It was a Eureka moment. I would make a grilled peach chutney to accompany the smoked jerked pork shoulder.
This also was a highly scientific endeavour. I set up a little hibachi upwind from the smoker. The peaches were too mauled for me to halve them and grill them properly, so I grilled them whole, turning them until they were soft, slightly charred, and the skin peeled off easily. I realized too late that that hibachi was on a slope so the peaches kept rolling off briskly as their internal liquids heated and shifted mass.
But as they got softer and stickier grill they did. The resulting chutney was gorgeous, with a heavy fragrant summer peach flavour, a little kick of chilli pepper, and a light smokiness throughout. The pork was pretty fabulous too.
Eight very ripe whole peaches
½ cup cider vinegar
1 small sweet white onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 jalapeno or other spicy green chilli pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon powdered ginger or half a teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon coriander (optional)
A few healthy grinds of cracked black pepper
*** You will also need a charcoal grill. With a gas grill you won’t get the same degree of smokiness in the fruit, and roasting, while nice, will only caramelize.
Heat the coals in your grill until the flames have died down and they are glowing and finely coated with ash. Place the peaches on the grill and cook, turning frequently, until they are soft, lightly charred, and the skin has started to split and peel (about 20 minutes). Take the peaches off the grill and remove and discard their skins. Cut the flesh away from the pits into coarse one to two inch chunks, reserving the juices, and discarding the pits.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan combine the vinegar, onion, jalapeno and brown sugar and cook over medium low heat until the liquid has reduced by at least half, about 5-10 minutes. Add the peaches and their juice along with the remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until the peaches are soft but not completely disintegrated, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, then cook until flavors are incorporated.