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Chefs around the globe prepare compotes to complement a range of dishes, both savory and sweet. A popular style is fig compote, which can turn an often-maligned fruit into a luxuriously tender accompaniment to an entree, side dish or dessert. All that is needed to soften the profile of this alien-looking fruit are basic pantry ingredients like butter, sugar, honey and perhaps a pinch of salt.
Fig compote is made like any other compote, by forming a sugary liquid base of equal parts brown sugar, honey and butter in a hot pan. Many also add a little salt to the mix — especially if an unsalted butter was used — and even some lemon juice and vanilla. Then, while stirring, the liquid is sauteed until bubbles start to form.
Sections of quartered figs are thrown into the bubbling compote base, and the whole mixture is fully stirred. Some add raisins to the mix as well. A broiler then is used to soften the figs and impart them with even more sugary flavor. Instead of the broiler, chefs can increase the heat on the stove to medium-high and constantly stir the mixture to ensure it does not burn from so much direct heat. With either method, the fig compote should be caramelized no more than five minutes, exhibiting a golden hue, a tender texture, and a complex syrupy flavor.
Oatmeal is a frequent partner with fig compote, which is customarily served while still warm. Others use fig compote to accompany ice cream, waffles, toast, bagels or English muffins. Anything that would taste good with jam works well with the compote.
A savory version of fig compote is also available, with a decidedly different flavor. While soaking the figs in brandy, olive oil is heated in a saucepan over low heat with chopped onions and some salt, until the onions are slightly caramelized. Then the figs and brandy are added, and the compote continues to cook until the liquid is gone. With a little water and spice like thyme, the savory compote continues to cook until it takes on a thickened jam-like consistency.
Though the sweet compote can successfully be paired with some savory dishes — particularly shellfish — the savory fig compote is particularly suited for such a meal. Many pair it with beef or pork tenderloin, but any type of protein is suitable. Even snacks like crackers and a salty cheese benefit from a compote, either sweet or savory.
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