From duck glazed with pomegranate molasses in Texas to guacamole studded with purple arils in Los Angeles, chefs are once again making an unfamiliar fruit approachable for curious consumers.
Jon Bonnell, executive chef and owner of Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine in Fort Worth, Texas, said today’s adventurous consumers have been exposed to so many different flavors, they welcome the pomegranate’s sweet-tart taste.
“It works well with almost anything, from salads and barbecue sauce to desserts, even ice cream,” Bonnell said. “And it’s sensational with wild game.”
When he runs a special, he’ll go through a 20-pound case of pomegranates in less than a week.
Like many chefs who prepare all their food from scratch, Bonnell extracts his own arils, usually by scoring the skin and opening the fruit under ice water.
“If I need some in a hurry, I cut the fruit straight in half along the equator, turn it upside down in my hand and beat on the back of it with a big spoon,” he said.
“The seeds come flying through your fingertips and land in the cold water.”
The main challenge to putting fresh pomegranates on the menu is that they’re not available year-round at the same quality and consistency, he said.
It’s also difficult to tell what’s inside.
“I can grab an avocado and feel when it’s ripe,” he said.
“It’s harder with a pomegranate. Though it’s rare, every so often you break one open and it’s not ripe.”
Andy Wild, who teaches people to cook with healthy ingredients as executive chef at St. Helena Hospital, St. Helena, Calif., said nutritious pomegranates complement his menus.
Wild uses the juice for fruit smoothies at breakfast, and reduces the juice to molasses at dinner to glaze duck breasts or pork. He finishes the dish with fresh arils.
He said he goes through a case of the fresh fruit a week in season, and uses gallons of juice.
Christmas brings back memories of growing up in upstate New York, when he’d always find a whole pomegranate in his stocking.
“I get people from all over the world in my programs,” Wild said.
“For some, it’s very familiar and they love pomegranates. Others, especially those from middle America, have never seen it before.”
Peter Rukule, executive chef and general manager for The Orchard, Los Angeles, the corporate restaurant of Pom Wonderful’s parent company Roll Global, said pomegranates are starting to generate some momentum among chefs, but most haven’t gone beyond sprinkling arils on salad.
“A lot of chefs still find them a challenge to clean,” he said.
Rukule is currently pairing pomegranates with Asian flavors.
His newest dish features barbecued flank steak marinated in pomegranate juice, topped with spicy Korean-style pomegranate-cucumber kimchi and served in a warm tortilla.
For a more “food truck casual” slider, Pom Wonderful chef Brian Edwards tops ground turkey patties with coleslaw and a crunchy pomegranate relish.
“Pomegranates are fun, versatile and add value to the plate,” Rukule said.