The ancient fruit of quince, known as membrillo in Spain, is thought by many to be the apple from the Garden of Eden. It is a fall favorite of mine and brings me back to the eastern Mediterranean or North Africa, where sour fruit is paired with grilled meats. Quince is a cross between an apple and a pear with an astringent tart flavor and honeysuckle perfume on the nose. In its raw state, the fruit is unpalatable. When cooked the white flesh turns a rosy pink. There are several varieties of quince: from the golden skin variety cultivated in California to the green apple colored, fuzzy skin variety I am most familiar with from the east coast. Either will do for this recipe. Before I grill veal chops, I like to brine them for succulence and flavor.
Four veal chops, approx. 12 oz. each
1 gallon water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Kosher salt
2 carrots sliced 1/8″ thick
1 medium onion sliced
10 juniper berries
3 fresh bay leaves
4 quinces peeled and cored, cut into 1/4″ thick pieces (save all peels and cores)
4 cups Zinfandel red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups peeled cipollini onions (you may substitute shallots)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chestnut honey (you may substitute another type of honey)
Bring half the water to a boil with all the ingredients for the brine. Cook until salt and sugar dissolve. Transfer to another container and add back the other half gallon of water. Cool to room temperature and add chops to the brine; let it soak for two hours refrigerated. Pat dry and set on a rack to continue air-drying while you prepare the grill and the compote.
Brush with olive oil and dust with a little black pepper and place on hot grill over a wood fire. An alternative to a wood fire grill is using mesquite charcoal or soaked wood chips on the gas grill to provide a smoky flavor.
Making the Compote:
Bring to a boil all the cores and peels in a saucepot with cold water by two times the amount of particulate. Simmer until half the water is gone. Strain the liquid and place into a new clean pot.
Add wine and peeled, sliced quince to the pot. Make sure the fruit is completely covered with liquid; if not add some more water. Simmer until the fruit is tender, approximately 15 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a knife: it should easily slide in without resistance. Make sure the fruit does not fall apart. The quince will have turned pink. Separate the fruit and the liquid; reduce the liquid to a syrup consistency. The syrup will reduce to a quarter of its original volume and should coat the back of a spoon.
In a sauté pan, heat oil and add the peeled cipollini onions, cooking and constantly mixing until caramelized and supple. At this stage, add vinegar and honey. Cook until the onions are glazed with honey vinegar for approximately eight minutes more over a medium flame.
Combine the glazed cipollini onions, reduced wine syrup and the quince. Adjust the seasoning with sea salt, black pepper and red wine vinegar.
Spoon some compote on the plate and prop up the chop for vertical height. Drape some more of this savory compote over the veal chop but not hiding the entire chop. Serve with roasted baby mixed color carrots and a few cipollini onions that have been sliced in half made into rings, tossed with matza meal and fried. Makes four servings.