The pomegranate is a seductive natural wonder. The leather-like skin, which can range from soft rose to deep crimson, conceals literally hundreds of jewel-like “berries” called arils. Imagine eating one of these fruits for the first time, experiencing the luscious pop of the aril with its sweet-tart juice followed by the unexpected crunch of the edible seed. It is not surprising that the pomegranate has been considered an aphrodisiac throughout history. Nor that it has myriad uses in cuisines worldwide. Nor that it brings out the child in us all with its whimsical, almost alien appearance and fruit-delivery system (what other fruit conceals so many treasures inside?)
Discovery, seduction, fun. These were the themes that inspired us at 12 Bottle Bar as we set out to plan our POM Wonderful Dinner Party. We wanted to take our guests on a journey that explored the pomegranate from its rawest state to its most transformed, while touching on the fruit’s historical role in the kitchen. Each course on the menu (see below) was introduced with a title that set the mood and gave a sort of sensorial structure to the evening, creating a “relationship” between the pomegranate and the person eating it.
The evening began with POM-Pomme Punch (POM Wonderful juice, lemon, sugar, Redbreast Irish Whiskey, and hard cider). As Punch is the historical forebearer of the “mixed drink”, we complemented it with appetizers inspired by one of the earliest examples of the pomegranate in cuisine — Ash-e Anar, a traditional Persian soup of yellow split peas, lamb meatballs, and rice, accented by pomegranate molasses.
To give the recipe a modern twist, we deconstructed it into three parts. The soup incorporated raw arils and pomegranate molasses – a syrupy reduction of pomegranate juice with sugar, and lemon juice. Because pomegranate molasses has such an amazing depth of flavor, we wanted to showcase it as the unifying flavor for the other two dishes – as a “pool” beneath Lamb Meatballs and as a dipping sauce for Basmati Rice Croquettes.
It was time to get down to business — the business of opening pomegranates. One of our friends aptly summed up the daunting power of the pomegranate – she had tried to open one a few days before and simply gave up, throwing it away. Initially, everyone groaned at this tale of woe, but then we stepped in with our POM Wonderful 101 “class”. Well, not quite. Two of our more theatrical friends decided to don chef’s coats and demonstrate some more creative ways how NOT to open the fruit. When they wielded a mallet and microplane, we called a halt to the hi-jinks and offered up our own version of POM’s simple process.
After demonstrating our personal Five S’s – Slice, Section, Shake Loose, Submerge and Separate, Strain and Savor (okay, seven) – our friends jumped in to dissect their own fruit amazed at just how easy and clean it was.
Our video of “How to Open a Pomegranate” is up on Youtube.
To finish things off and give everyone their antioxidant boost for the evening, we immediately juiced the pomegranates that everyone cut open and served them as shooters to let the gang taste the pure flavor of the fruit.
Real hunger was setting in by this time, so we moved to the dining room for the first course.
We wanted something a bit old-fashioned and a bit Old World, so we made Stilton and Pear Strudel complemented with Pomegranate Molasses and a salad of Field Greens with Lardons and a Pomegranate Champagne Vinaigrette. We passed a jar of arils with instructions to sprinkle them on with abandon.
Now things started to get fun and funky. When we cook, we like to riff on all sorts of ideas and we take our inspiration from lots of places. Two of our major influences have been Catalonian chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli and American chef Grant Achatz of Alinea. Both of them are known for pushing the boundaries of food, flavor, and presentation; they often shock, they always amaze. While we certainly can’t replicate their levels of skill, we have learned that sometimes the most exciting food experiences are the ones that use the least likely ingredients or treatments. You’ll see Adria’s influence in the desserts in particular, but it’s Achatz to whom we pay homage with “Fire and Water”.
Key to our main course was the use of dehydrated pomegranate rinds to smoke the pork loin. We came upon this idea when we dried some skins for decorations, then wondered how they would smell if set afire (our smoke alarm goes off a lot). The scent that the dried skin gave off was delicate and perfumed. We knew we had to share it with our guests, so, using an Achatz-inspired technique, we lit the skin on fire, extinguished it, and put the ember under a glass, capturing the smoke. When the person lifted the glass, the smoke scent wafted out. Since no one in our group had ever experienced a pomegranate in this fashion, it proved to be a whole new sensory experience of the fruit.
The “fire” also set the stage for the second half of the course – homemade Pork Crackling and Pomegranate Gastrique and the Monticello Cocktail, of which we’ll learn more in the next post – as well as the main course.
Time for some real comfort food. Still riffing a bit on the German theme started with the Strudel, we decided to make a Pork Roast.
Because you can never have too much pig, we added Pork Confit and finished both pork treatments with a Pomegranate-Port Reduction. Pomegranate-braised Cabbage with apples and onions layered flavor on flavor – we quickly discovered that pomegranate juice beautifully complements and can substitute for red wine in cooking because of its acidity and tannins. Finally, a Potato Galette served to soak up the juices.
Another cocktail would follow later (we are a cocktail blog, after all), but for the main course, we wanted red, red wine. Red wine flavors fall into various categories, among them deep, dark fruits and red berry fruits. Pomegranate juice is definitely in the red fruit camp with bright, acidic notes and an almost tannic (dry) finish, much like many red wines. We found our match in Flowers Pinot Noir, which has a soft, tart pomegranate finish.
As a cocktail blog, we’ve always made our own homemade grenadine, the key ingredient of which is pomegranate juice – and we’ve always used POM. So when it came to this course, we wanted to salute this cornerstone of our bar in the most interesting way possible. Our answer was to take the flavor components of grenadine – pomegranate, orange flower water, and rose water – and use them outside the confines of the bar.
The Pistachio-Olive Oil Cake became the conduit for all the other elements, which included a Pomegranate-Rose Ice Cream and an Orange Flower Panna Cotta topped with Pomegranate “Caviar” (ala Ferran Adria and our good friend Christophe Émé). The caviar is actually little balls of POM juice solidified via the food science chemistry set.
This course was perhaps the most fun to make not only because of the grenadine theme, but because it placed the old school (cake and ice cream) side by side with the new school of molecular gastronomy, which reinvents how we look at ingredients and their uses. Many thanks to Lars for taking up the squeeze bottle and helping us make enough caviar to go around (apparently, if you’re part of the 12 BB team, you’re expected to work).
For the final course, we decided to transform the pomegranate in as many ways as possible. We used our POM in five sugary treatments, including POM Marshmallows, Pomegranate Pates de Fruit, and Lemon Lollipops with Pomegranate Arils. We wanted to make pomegranate cotton candy, but several test runs yielded poor results. Our cotton candy maker just didn’t like the pomegranate sugar, which we made by mixing POM juice and white sugar, then dehydrating slowly in the oven over several days. Not content to waste this yummy stuff, we opted for traditional Chocolate Truffles with Pomegranate-Raspberry Ganache and dusted with Pomegranate Sugar.
Over the week of recipe testing we did, we removed countless handfuls of aril seeds from our juicer, and at some point, we wondered how they might taste on their own. After several rinses (to wash away any lingering pulp), we oven dried and toasted them for a taste test. While they don’t have a lot of flavor, they do have great crunch, which makes for a good brittle; it was lots of fun to see the reaction when we told our friends they were eating aril seeds.
Of course, being 12 Bottle Bar, we had to finish the evening with a final cocktail. A cocktail isn’t exactly a typical way to end a meal, but this was no typical meal. To complement the sweets, we used grenadine and POM juice to make a POM Gin Fizz, our take on the classic Ramos Gin Fizz (more on that come Friday).
As the night wound down, we sent our friends home delighted and satisfied, their POM totes filled with bottles of POM juice, POM pomegranates, POM recipe cards, and other assorted POM goodies. It had been an evening of discovery for everyone, not least of all us.
We challenged ourselves to use every part of the fruit – from the aril to the albedo (the bitter pith) – and we did. We played with the pomegranate in ways savory and sweet, simple and complex. In the end, we were downright amazed at just how versatile this fruit is and how it works so beautifully in both food and drink.
And, despite the seeming complexity of the fruit itself, we didn’t need any wacky tools – our fanciest pieces of equipment were an oven that dehydrates, a home smoker, and a centrifugal juicer. In the end, the POM pomegranates took us all on a journey and left us transformed.