Regardless of which persimmon you prefer or how you use them, persimmons make for a memorable edible chapter of the annual Bay Area food calendar.
Much like asparagus in the spring and tomatoes in the summer, persimmons have always seemed like one of those seasonal harbinger crops in the Bay Area.
Seemingly out of nowhere in mid-to-late September, the pretty autumn fruit suddenly appears on produce shelves and seasonal-minded restaurant menus everywhere around the Bay Area. And after heralding the start of fall and offering an early glimpse into the holiday season, persimmons slip out of view just as abruptly come November and December, not to be seen again until next year.
So, get into the seasonal spirit and embrace persimmons when you can, encourages Wood Tavern executive chef Esteban Escobar. At Wood Tavern, he uses the sweeter, softer fuyus — as opposed to the other main varietal, hachiyas — in a salad, sliced with butterleaf salad and toasted hazelnuts dressed in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. He keeps the ingredients simple and light to highlight the persimmon’s unique flavor.
“It’s slightly nutty, and when you’re using them at the right ripeness, they can be very sweet, almost candylike,” he said. “It’s kind of somewhere south of a carrot but north of an apple. There’s a hazelnut quality to it.”
In fact, Escobar struggles to pin down the taste exactly, which is one of the reasons he likes them so much when they come in season.
“I really enjoy the flavor, but it’s hard to describe,” he said. “You can usually equate ingredients to other ingredients, but with persimmons, you can’t really do that. Persimmons just taste like persimmons.”
Escobar also appreciates the fruit’s texture, which he compared to an apple (but less firm) and a pear (but less juicy), as well as the beautifully autumnal hue that ranges from yellow to orange to red — “I really like what they do color-wise to a dish.” While fuyus can be cooked, Escobar prefers to use them raw. Distinguished by their squat, flat-bottomed shape, they should be slightly firm to the touch if being used that day (they will continue to ripen off the tree).
On the other hand, the more elongated, oval hachiyas are firmer and tartly astringent unless perfectly ripe. When they do finally ripen, the interior flesh can quickly turn pulpy and mushy in texture. For that reason, the Hachiyas are more commonly used in baking, such as in a spiced persimmon tart, or preserved as is common in Japan where they are dried and eaten as a sweet treat called hoshigaki. Escobar used to let them overripen and mix the nearly liquified pulp into a batter to make persimmon cheesecake. (“It does wonderful things to batters,” he said.)
Regardless of which you prefer or how you use them, persimmons make for a memorable edible chapter of the annual Bay Area food calendar.
“Whenever I have the opportunity and they’re in season,” said Escobar, “I really jump on them.”
Butterleaf Salad With Persimmon, Hazelnuts, and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
From Executive Chef Esteban Escobar, Wood Tavern
1 egg yolk
1½ cup pure olive oil
½ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
½ cup meyer lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
In a food processor, blend the egg and slowly drizzle in the two oils to make an emulsion. Add the vinegar and lemon juice and season with salt. The vinaigrette will hold in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Prep just before serving:
1 small head of butterleaf lettuce, rinsed and dried, separated into leaves
1 fuyu persimmon, sliced, seeds removed
1 small watermelon radish, sliced very thinly.
½ cup of toasted and chopped hazelnuts
1 bunch chopped chervil
In a mixing bowl, dress the lettuce in the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Add the persimmon and, being careful not to bruise the lettuce, mix together. On four to six small salad plates, stack the lettuce with the larger leaves on the bottom and the smaller ones stacked on top, layering the radish and persimmon slices between leaves. Top with the hazelnuts and a sprinkling of the chopped chervil.