A matter of taste

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am

Out-of-season strawberries are the fruit world's stereotypical blonde (not that I have anything against blondes). They're beautiful, bright and cheerful-looking but that's about all they have to offer.

If you've trawled the supermarkets and wet markets lately, you'll have noticed an abundance of strawberries: local berries from the New Territories and imported fruit from Korea, Japan and the United States. The ones available now taste almost as good as they look. They're large, glossy and bright red and the scent - usually a pretty reliable indicator of flavour - is strong and enticing.

Strawberries are also available frozen, which aren't much use other than for making into jam, and dried, in which case they're shrivelled, chewy and not too attract-ive. Freeze-dried strawberries, however, can be delicious and unusually crunchy.

The ultimate strawberries have to be the wild and alpine varieties, usually labelled fraises des bois. Although small, the flavour is so intense it almost tastes artificial. They're very fragile, though, disintegrating almost as soon as they're picked, so these gems are rarely exported.

Strawberries and cream is a classic, although don't use UHT cream, the most readily available in Hong Kong, as it has an odd taste. To avoid this issue, I make strawberries and cream ice cream. Remove and discard the cores of ripe strawberries. Quarter the berries and mix them with sugar, fresh lemon juice, a pinch of salt and some good-quality balsamic vinegar, then macerate overnight in the fridge. Add a large spoonful of top-quality strawberry jam (this boosts the 'strawberryness') then whisk in some double cream (UHT is fine) and a shot of vodka (it smooths out the texture). Process in an ice cream freezer, pack into a container then freeze for a few hours to allow the flavours to blend.

Some people like to pop a strawberry into a glass of champagne, although if both are good, they're better enjoyed separately.