The Midwestern permafrost isn’t thick enough to stunt Chef Paul Virant’s canning operation. The 2005 Chicago Rising Star and owner of Vie is hunkered down for the winter in the idyllic, snow-blanketed (read frigid) Chicago suburb of Western Springs, Illinois. And though he has a canning room stocked to the brim with preserved and pickled summer produce—habañeros, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, herbs, cauliflower, and more—right now, he’s capturing and canning winter’s only ray of sunshine: citrus.
Virant sources Mandarin oranges from Paternoster Family Farms in Terra Bella, California, and preserves their segments in aigre-doux—a French version of sweet-and-sour sauce. In this case, the sour (aigre) comes from red wine and red wine vinegar; and the sweet (doux), good ‘ole granulated sugar. His Mandarins are the easy-access, low-maintenance satsuma variety—a nearly seedless cousin of the clementine.
Virant packs satsumas into one-pint canning jars and tops them off with black peppercorns and steaming aigre-doux. He then processes and seals the jars in boiling water. And then he waits. About a week after pickling in aigre-doux, the satsuma segments are ready to mix with the likes of crème fraîche for a beet salad, or butter sauce to pair with citrus-kissed scallops. “The Mandarins taste like orange vinaigrette—without the oil—and really help cut through the richness of cream and butter,” says Virant, who has been canning at Vie since it opened more than six years ago and is currently co-writing a book on canning, due out in summer 2012.
Using the same method, Virant also uses a pickling liquid of white wine, champagne vinegar, and sugar; and he says you can substitute Meyer lemons or kumquats for satsumas.
Step 1: Sterilize five jars, lids, and rings in a large pot of boiling water. Step 2: Peel and section Mandarin oranges. Step 3: Combine red wine, red wine vinegar, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil. Step 4: Remove jars from boiling water. Step 5: Fill each jar with Mandarin orange segments and black peppercorns. Step 6: Cover Mandarin oranges with hot aigre-doux, leaving ½ inch of space at the top of the jar. Step 7: Remove lids and rings from the boiling water. Step 8: Place the lids on top of the jars; screw the rings into place—but not too tight. Step 9: Add jars to a boiling water canner; they should be covered by 1 inch of water. Process for 15 minutes. Step 10: With tongs, remove jars from the water bath. Step 11: Check to make sure the lids are sealed (the top should have a small indention). Step 12: Let the Mandarins cure for at least one week, up to one year.