As an ingredient of the moment, they've been gathering speed for a while. First, René Redzepi of Copenhagen's much-renowned Noma pointed out the subtle difference in color and flavor between a very green-white "unripe unripe" and a desirably ivory-green "perfectly unripe" strawberry as he spoon-fed host David Chang from a plate of still-quivering sea scallops and sliced green strawberries puddled in emerald-green fresh pea juice on PBS's In the Mind of a Chef.
Earlier this month, Thomas Keller's minions were pickling them to add to butter-poached lobster with beet puree, curry, and pink peppercorn yogurt at The French Laundry, while at New York City's Per Se, they decorated a palate-whetter of Champagne granite, turnip panna cotta, hibiscus-rhubarb glaze, and lime ravigote.
A few weeks ago at Duende, Oakland's hot-ticket tapas and paella spot, the kitchen was curing lamb shoulder from Barinaga Ranch jamon-style, then slicing it thinly to serve with pickled green strawberries and tender green almonds. At Rich Table in Hayes Valley, green strawberries are paired with brandade and a scallop chip on the "Bites" menu, perfect with a glass of white sangria garnished with, you guessed it, pickled strawberries.
Even the mensches at Wise Sons Deli are getting in on the trend; on a recent visit, we spied one of the cooks pickling a tubful to add to the cucumbers, carrots, fennel and onions on their house-made pickle plate.
And leafing through my copy of Mourad: New Moroccan, from Aziza chef Mourad Lahlou, I found a simple recipe for quick-brined green strawberries, pickled in a basic brine of cider vinegar, sugar, and salt, plus a sprig of thyme. On the Fermenters Club blog, they're fermenting their berries, letting the berries soften in a week-long brine with just a hint of vinegar, with bay leaves, allspice berries, and orange peel for flavoring.
But what do they taste like? Acidic, of course, since even when perfectly unripe, they're still purposefully a week or two away from full-flavored, ruby-red sweetness. Think more kiwi than strawberry, with a texture like underripe honeydew melon and cucumber. So where can you find them? In your backyard, of course, if you've got a strawberry patch going, or at any u-pick farm. But if you're saving all your berries for shortcake, you can pick up pints of green berries from Yerena Farms. Owner Poli Yerena grows his organic berries down near Watsonville, and has recently started selling green berries by the box or flat to interested chefs and home cooks alike, alongside the farm's deliciously sweet and fragrant ripe berries. Yerena sells at many farmers' markets around the Bay Area; check their website to find the market nearest you.
Yerena's wife Sylvia, who sells the berries, suggests bringing out the cucumber-like quality of the green berries in a fresh salsa, using a mixture of sliced green berries and ripe mango, with red onion, cilantro, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper--delicious over grilled fish or as a base for ceviche.
Quick Pickled Green Strawberries
Play around with the flavorings as you wish. Lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves? Star anise and fresh ginger root? Just make sure to let the brine cool before you add it to the berries, as you want them to stay firm rather than mushy.
1 pint green strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
1 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, or unseasoned rice vinegar
3 TB granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 fresh tarragon sprig, 1 leafy fennel frond, or 1 fresh bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 long spiral of fresh lime, lemon, or orange peel
Combine water, vinegar, sugar, salt, tarragon, spices, and rind in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm.
Pour brine over strawberries. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving. Will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.
Green Strawberry and Mango Salsa
Serve over grilled fish, or increase the amounts of lemon juice and vinegar and use as a base for a seafood ceviche. If you want a milder onion flavor, soak the minced onion in ice water for 15 minutes first, then drain and proceed with recipe.
1/2 pint green strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 large ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1/2 small red or white onion, peeled and diced
Juice of 1 lemon or lime, or to taste
1 tablespoon cider vinegar, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Generous handful of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Toss strawberries and mango together with chopped red onion. Add lemon, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. If not using right away, cover and refrigerate.
Just before serving, mix in cilantro. Taste for seasoning.