Strawberries are a colorful sign of spring. At their seasonal peak, from late March through June, they are totally red (no light color at the top), juicy and perfectly sweetened. They typically have the best flavor when they are small to medium size; large strawberries tend to be slightly watery.
Choose plump, brightly colored berries that still have their green hulls attached and are uniform in size. Avoid soft, shriveled or moldy berries, easily detectable through the basket.
Refrigerate strawberries in a plastic container in a single layer on a paper towel up to three days. Do not wash them until ready to use or they’ll turn soggy. Leave the hulls on while washing to reduce water absorption and let them air-dry on the counter in a single layer on paper towels.
It’s easy to cut a strawberry so that it fans out attractively on the plate as a garnish. Here’s how: With a paring knife, make three to six equally spaced lengthwise cuts starting from just below the hull (so the hull end is intact) through the tip. Gently press on the strawberry so the slices fan out, making a decorative garnish.
Mandel is a cookbook author.