A tree-ripened peach needs nothing but a place for the juice to drip after you begin to devour it. It’s like no other fruit, with a complex bouquet of flavors that changes from peach to peach, fine-tuned by subtle weather patterns that are different each summer. When allowed to properly mature on a tree, the flavor of a ripe peach is joyfully explosive, which is why the orchard that grows the world’s best peaches is often the one closest to your house.
Once you’ve gotten used to properly ripened peaches, store-bought alternatives quickly lose their appeal. That disappointment is what inspired Tom and Lynn McCamant, peach growers here in Montana, to start Forbidden Fruit Orchard, which might literally grow the best peaches in the world.
I buy the couple’s peaches by the boxload at both Tuesday and Saturday markets. Whether I’m enjoying them fresh or preserving them at the peak of freshness for later use, there are few local foods as shockingly special and decidedly superior to the imported version as peaches, and now is the time to buy.
I spend the majority of my peach-eating time leaning over the sink, plunging my face repeatedly into the fruit’s juicy, messy flesh. But when peaches are in season, we can afford to mess around. Tom’s McCamant’s favorite way to eat them is diced with heavy cream.
I used to be on an intense hunt for new ways to preserve my peaches, so as to enjoy their sweet glory through winter. I’d can them in quart jars, spending hours in the steamy kitchen blanching, peeling and sealing bright orange peach halves in syrup, or put away pints of jam, sometimes with blueberries or huckleberries. I finally settled on peach slices in the dehydrator as my go-to peach storage technique. Each slice is like a drop of sunshine, and they are among the most treasured items in my freezer.
During the deliciously long evenings of summer, when the coals are still warm, I’ve been laying peach halves on the grill, fuzzy sides down. Sometimes I’ll add pieces of chopped ham and pickled peppers to the spot where the pit used to be and top it with cheese. When the cheese melts, I’ll sometimes drizzle balsamic vinegar or reduction. The blend of fatty, fruity and savory flavors has the wide-ranging complexity of bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed figs.
I asked Tom McCamant if he’d ever tried grilling peaches, and he admitted he had not. But he told me about a dish called peach sambal. By the time his wife sent me the recipe, I’d already gotten involved with another sambal recipe I’d found online. It calls for a spicy Indonesian red-pepper-and-garlic paste called sambal oelek, which is available in most Asian grocery aisles. It also has lots of turmeric.
I’ve been making my peach sambal with chicken, marinating whole quarters in fresh garlic, lemon, turmeric and other flavorings, along with crushed peaches. The balance between the turmeric, peach and chili paste is otherworldly.
Peach sambal with chicken
Lots of people want to eat turmeric these days since it’s thought to reduce inflammation. It’s the main component of curry powder and accordingly makes this dish taste curry-like. You can substitute the curry powder of your choice for turmeric.
Add lemon juice, sambal oelek, oyster sauce and sesame oil to a small mixing bowl and whisk together. Rub the chicken with olive oil and add the rest of the oil to the sauce. Rub the chicken pieces with turmeric, then pour the marinade over the chicken in a large mixing bowl.
Squeeze the peaches and add them to the bowl. Mix everything together with your hands, squeezing the rest of the juice from the peaches as you go. Let it sit for at least three hours in the fridge, covered.
Grill the chicken — or broil if you don’t have a grill available. Let it cook until the skin blackens and blisters.
While the chicken cooks, add the remaining sauce to a pan along with the heavy cream or coconut milk and bring it to a simmer. Season with soy sauce and black pepper.
When the chicken is done, pour the sauce over the chicken and serve. Enjoy the glorious combination of blackened, blistered skin and sweet, tangy, decidedly peachy sauce.
And, if you have room for more, throw a few peach halves on the embers of summer.
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