The Perfect Prune
Last night I attended a Scotch-pairing dinner at David Bouley’s TriBeCa test kitchen/event space, where he created a menu around three of The Balvenie’s best single-malts: steamed eggs in truffled Parmesan broth with the oaky, vanilla-flavored 15-year-old; tea-smoked duck breast with the smooth, Port-barrel-finished 21-year-old; and a plate of chocolate and caramel concoctions with the fruity, sherry cask-aged 17-year-old. Most attempts to pair Scotch and food resemble a bad bar fight: Too many brute forces try to out-muscle each other and everyone loses (and stinks like smoke). But Bouley understands how to cook for Scotch (and with it), a skill he credits to a dinner he prepared a couple of decades ago around a whopping 18 different bottles (“smoke and sugar are key,” he said).
But the most remarkable thing I ate last night was served without a beverage. After dinner, Bouley grabbed a pan of Pruneaux d’Agen from a refrigerator and told me to eat one whole, while he told the story of the prune. It took him about 30 minutes to hit all the important details, so I’ll paraphrase: Pruneaux d’Agen are the highly revered, gently-dried plums grown in the Southwest of France around the town of Argen. They’re more plump and much more flavorful than the prunes we normally encounter, which makes them a favorite among chefs. Bouley’s pruneaux are supposedly (I’ll take his word) the best of all of these. Years ago he discovered a family who steam their pruneaux in the vapors released from Cognac stills, then poach them in more Cognac (I could have these details confused or shuffled or completely wrong; I was too lost in prune reverie to take notes). The results is a juicy orb of intensely plummy goodness. To try one for yourself, you’ll either have to find one of the few chefs who are lucky enough to get their hands on some (Ferran Adria is a huge fan; Bouley often pairs his with some kind of duck-based product) or fly Lufthansa, the airline for which Bouley serves as a consulting chef. “But there aren’t that many to go around,” he said, “so I think you have to fly first class.”
It’s probably worth it.