Aigre-doux is a French term and translates to sweet and sour. In Italian cuisine you will see it called by term agrodolce, translated as “agro” (sour) and “dolce” (sweet). In any language the term refers to a delicious sweet and sour sauce or relish. The sweet is usually provided by sugar or honey, and the sour by vinegar and wine.
Mandarins are in season and I’ve been curious to try Mandarin aigre-doux from the book “The Preservation Kitchen” by Paul Virant. The book has more than a half dozen recipes for aigre-doux based on a wide variety of ingredients. Blueberries, pears, butternut squash, grapes, Meyer lemons, mulberries, and even cranberries are included. I’ve made the recipes for grape, Meyer lemon, and cranberry aigre-doux; I recommend them all to you. Grape aigre-doux is fantastic as a Waldorf salad ingredient, I use the Meyer lemon aigre-doux as a sauce for asparagus or in a salad dressing, and cranberries…well what can I say? Thanksgiving is coming.
I do have a complaint about the Mandarin recipe though, the picture in the book shows the Mandarins sliced into rounds which include the peel; however, the recipe calls for peeled, segmented Mandarins. On the other hand, the Meyer lemon aigre-doux uses lemon wedges with the peel, so perhaps you could successfully do the same with the Mandarins. The editors should have caught this before it was published and asked for clarification.
Red wine goes very well with the orange flavor. A sauce made from the Mandarins would be wonderful with duck. Use white wine if you would like to use it with seafood or a milder chicken dish. That’s next on my list.
This is a very simple recipe, the most tedious part is peeling the Mandarins. It’s helpful if you have a chatty person to help, or a backlog of episodes of Castle to watch while you peel and segment.
Mandarin Orange Aigre-Doux (makes 5 pints)
- 5 teaspoons of black peppercorns
- 9 cups of peeled and sectioned Mandarins
- 1 750 mL bottle of red table wine
- 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
- Sterilize five pint canning jars, lids, and rings in a large pot of boiling water.
- Peel and section the Mandarin oranges.
- Combine red wine, red wine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Remove jars from boiling water. Place right side up on a folded dish towel.
- Put a teaspoon of black peppercorns in each jar and fill with Mandarin orange segments.
- Cover the Mandarin oranges with hot aigre-doux, leaving ½ inch of space at the top of the jar. Wipe the edge of the each jar with a clean towel.
- Remove lids and rings from the boiling water.
- Place the lids on top of the jars; screw the rings into place—but not too tight.
- Add jars to a boiling water canner; they should be covered by 1 inch of water. Process for 15 minutes.
- With tongs, remove jars from the water bath and place on a heat proof surface covered with a dish towel. Jars will be very hot.
- Check to make sure the lids are sealed (the top should have a small indention after 10 minutes or so).
Let the Mandarins cure for at least one week, up to one year.
To make a sauce, drain one pint of the aigre-doux liquid into a small pot and simmer until reduced by half. In a blender puree the reduced liquid with the Mandarins until smooth. Fold the puree into about 1/2 cup of creme fraiche and add 1/2 cup of sliced chives. The book uses it with a simple cream of parsnip soup.