Recipe: Bean & Thyme’s Cherry Barbecue Sauce

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Paul Osher is the chef/owner of Bean & Thyme, which sells farmers market dishes at the Sunday Main Street Market (in Santa Monica).  He makes a cherry barbecue sauce using Murray Family Farms’ Brooks cherries.  The sauce is served with Jimenez pork (loin or shoulder).

Paul admits that he doesn’t have a formal recipe, as he usually makes a huge vat.  So, he jotted down an impromptu-recipe (keep reading).  Hear him explain the recipe this Saturday on Good Food’s Market Report.
Cherry Barbecue Sauce, Approximately

Note: this is more a method than an actual recipe, since I haven’t yet been able to keep track of the quantities that go into the pot. Also, it changes every time depending on the spice of the chiles, how sweet or sour I’m feeling, or what it is being used for. The sauce also works with just about any kind of stone fruit imaginable. This makes a good amount, but leftovers freeze very well.

You’ll need about:

4-6 yellow onions
2 heads of garlic, peeled but left whole
1/4- 1/2 cup pickling spice
10-15 dried guajillo chiles
15-20 dried pasilla chiles
1/4 cup aleppo pepper
2 32 oz cans of tomatoes, preferably whole or crushed (diced don’t breakdown as well)
1/4 cup of tomato paste
Lots of brown sugar
Tons of apple cider vinegar
Two pints (more or less, to taste) of cherries, pitted

1. Cut up the onions into big chunks and cook in a stockpot slowly over low heat. Use as large a pot as you can because everything is going into it, and also because the sauce will splatter like crazy later. You want the onions to brown evenly; they add body to the sauce. After the onions start to soften, throw in the garlic cloves.

2. As they cook, toast the pickling spice in a pan for a few seconds until fragrant. Cover with water and simmer for a half hour or so. This “tea” will also add depth of flavor and help keep the sauce from tasting like sugary tomatoes.

3. Prepare the chilies by cutting off the stem and tossing out the seeds. If you have the patience and want the extra flavor, toast the chilies very, very quickly in a dry skillet. Toasting the aleppo pepper is easy because it comes ground.

4. When the onions and garlic are nicely browned, add the tomato paste and cook until it turns brick red. Then add the tomatoes and cook down over medium heat until they break up and the mess gets darker, about 15-30 minutes or so. The more the tomatoes reduce, the more umami. Stir frequently because they might stick or scorch.

5. Strain the pickling spice tea and add it to the tomatoes, along with the chilies.

6. This is where things get tricky and unspecified. Start adding the brown sugar and vinegar in small amounts. At this point it is hard to judge because it looks more like a tomato sauce than a condiment. I always seriously underestimate how much sugar and vinegar it takes. Luckily it is easy to add more later.

7. Cook for an hour or so until everything is extremely soft. Mushy even.

8. In small batches, throw everything into the blender. If it is too thick to blend, add some water. You can reduce it later. You could even strain it, but I’ve found that it mysteriously tastes better unstrained.

9. Put the mess back in the pot and cook over medium low to the desired thickness. You’ll probably need a lot more vinegar and sugar. Without that careful balance of nearly excessive sweet and sour, the sauce won’t taste right. And be forewarned: as the sauce thickens, it splatters everywhere.

10. Add the fruit when you have the consistency and flavor that you like. I like to chop some of the cherries up finely and leave some others halved. The ground ones give the sauce a light cherry flavor, and the chunks keep the cherries from getting lost. Cook for another 15 minutes or so, until the fruit is soft, but not mushy.

11. Let sit overnight. It might taste weird now, but the flavor will be much improved as it sits. Cooking is magic.

12. To use, warm it up and slather over grilled or roasted meat about 10 minutes before it is finished. You want it to lightly caramelize, but not burn.

If that sounds like too much work, too haphazard, or if you just don’t like the results, you could also add some chopped fruit to your favorite barbecue sauce and cook for 15 minutes.

Add salt to taste.