When strawberries arrive at markets in spring, brightening folding tables like rescue flares, they affirm the mantra of the seasonal eater: good things come to those who wait. But some chefs have intercepted the fruits before peak ripeness, and now green strawberries, more tart and acidic than their red elders, are showing up on menus at the Beard House and at high-end restaurants around the country.
Whether it signals a new, more subtle shading on the palate of seasonality, or a more elastic idea of what's edible, the trend itself has been developing for a while: in the first season of The Mind of a Chef, aired in 2012, René Redzepi improvised a dish of raw scallops, pea juice, and raw green strawberry slices for David Chang.
The immature fruits are natural candidates for pickling. For his recent Beard House dinner, Miles Thompson of Allumette* in Los Angeles cold-pickled green strawberries in a solution of rice vinegar, simple syrup, lime, and ponzu. Pencil-eraser pink in their centers, the fruits taste like ripe strawberries enrobed in melon. Thompson overlaid them with slices of hamachi.
In New York, pastry chef Erica Ohrling, who recently finished a two-year stint at Brooklyn's Vinegar Hill House and now oversees the dessert program at the Waverly Inn, has spun green strawberry sorbet for her desserts, such as a sesame–almond cake with green strawberry sorbet, buttermilk, and sesame brittle. "Just raw green strawberries, puréed with a tiny bit of sugar and little water. It tasted like an awakening to spring," she says.
A decidedly niche item, green strawberries can be tough to come by for the average shopper. (And now that strawberry crops are ripe, many vendors might not bother trying to sell them.) If they are available, what's the optimal ripeness for an unripe strawberry? Redzepi insisted that a completely green berry, with no hints of white, is "perfectly unripe." For his pickles, Thompson looks for green outsides and pink insides. Ohrling likes fruit with "little kisses of red or light pink."
Chefs can't always be so picky: a green strawberry won't stay green for long. At the Restaurant at Meadowood, where Beard Award winner Christopher Kostow recently featured a dish of coal-seared squab with a salad of raw and charred green strawberries, the team harvests the berries as soon as they spot them. "In this Napa sun, they get red fast," says the restaurant's Heidi Brown. When it comes to certain good things, it's best not to wait.
(The Allumette team recently announced that the restaurant will close at the end of June.)