A Washington native, Dan Mallahan grew up fishing, foraging and harvesting the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, getting his feet wet for a career in the culinary arts. After culinary school, working a James Beard Award-winning chefs and cooking in Italy, Mallahan’s home came calling in 2017 and he returned to Washington to cook.
Now the executive chef for Rider in the Hotel Theodore in Downtown Seattle, he brings his roots to the kitchen in myriad of ways, including this recipe for a harvest-inspired, whiskey-drenched apple butter.
Mallahan credits his grandmother as the inspiration and creative force behind his love of apple butter, as she would make homemade apple butter and apple sauce from the trees on her Bellingham property each year.
“Apple butter is pretty much just apple sauce that has been reduced to remove the excess water and caramelized to concentrate the great apple flavor,” he explains. “My grandmother’s apple butter was definitely a favorite memory of mine growing up. We would gather the apples from the ground and help prep in the kitchen. I remember how the smell of caramelizing apples would permeate the whole house.”
The chef recommends finding Brestar or Star King apples, as they bring great sweetness but also tartness to the flavor profile.
“Often times stores and farmers markets have what are called ‘seconds’ produce — pieces of fruit that are blemished with a bruise or damaged in some way, often at a very discounted price,” he adds. “These are perfect for processing into sauces and fillings like apple butter. They are not always available, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Mallahan also recommends tasting the sugar level along the way as you process your “butter,” depending on the sweetness of the apple. “If they are sweet already, lots of sugar is not necessary,” he says. “I love Demerara as it rich and has a great caramel color.”
An update to his grandmother’s recipe, Mallahan adds whiskey or bourbon to his rendition. “I am a huge fan of Westland Distillery, their American Oak Single Malt Whiskey is always on my bar cart,” he says. “It’s very citrusy on the nose with subtle hints of vanilla. The flavor is very full with a finish of ripe cherry and even almond. It’s fantastic and complements the apple butter really well.”
Spread the whiskey-apple butter on a piece of rustic sourdough with lots of cultured butter, or with some granola and Greek yogurt. And maybe with a sip of that nice whiskey you just bought.
Yields roughly 1 1/2 quarts
5 pounds favorite apple, diced, unpeeled with stem and seeds left on
1-2 cups Demerara sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
2 cups water
1 ceylon cinnamon stick
1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 ounces whiskey or bourbon
Juice of 1 lemon, to taste
Combine the diced apples, sugar, lemon juice and water in a large heavy bottomed pan. Stirring often, cook down the apples on medium-high heat for about 30-40 minutes, until apples are very soft and begin to break down. They should take on the consistency of chunky applesauce.
Remove the pan from the heat and transfer in batches into a food mill. Pass the apple mix through food mill to remove all stems, seeds and excess skin. Be sure to do this while the mixture is hot as it will be easier.
Return the milled apple mix to the stove top. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean pod and salt. At a very low temp, while stirring often, continue to cook until mixture begins to caramelize, about 20-30 minutes. The mixture should look golden brown and thick.
Add the whiskey and cook for another 5 minutes until fully incorporated and homogeneous. Taste and add a touch more lemon juice to balance the sweetness if needed. Allow to fully cool.