Bright red berries bursting with sweet flavor and a heady fragrance, strawberries are available year-round, although they are best in the spring and early summer.
Shop for strawberries at farmers' markets, looking for smaller berries, preferably organic ones, with a rich, glossy red color and shiny green leaves. Avoid berries with white or green shoulders and brown or limp leaves. Tiny strawberries called wild or wood strawberries, or fraises des bois, are especially sweet.
Select berries with care. Never buy them if they are moist, overly soft or show signs of mold. Do not buy berries if their cartons are leaking and wet, a sure sign that unseen fruits will be moldy.
Fresh strawberries are fragile so handle them with care. Don’t wash the berries until just before you are ready to eat them, as the moisture will encourage mold. To store strawberries, line a glass or plastic container with paper towels, carefully arrange the berries inside and cover with the lid. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Although fresh strawberries should be rinsed, do not soak them for any length of time since they will absorb the water and turn mushy. For eating on their own, strawberries, even very large ones, should be left whole.
Hull strawberries before freezing them or using them for most preparations. Use a small paring knife or a strawberry huller to carve out the white center core from the stem end of each berry.
To improve the flavor of lackluster strawberries, hull and slice them, place in a bowl and sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of sugar for every pint. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. The sugar draws moisture from the berries to make a sweet natural syrup.
Fresh strawberries freeze well. Rinse and dry the berries completely, then hull them. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Transfer the berries to rigid plastic containers or sealable plastic freezer bags and place in the freezer. Frozen berries will keep for 8 to 10 months.
There is no need to thaw frozen strawberries for many recipes, including most sauces or ice creams. If a recipe calls for thawed berries, let them stand at room temperature for about an hour. If necessary, transfer them to a colander to drain.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion (Time-Life Books, 2000).