An apple in disguise
Exotic paradise and tropical Summers have appealing factors in common: sandy white beaches, turquoise crystal waters and lush palm trees. Close your eyes and you feel like you are right there, basking in the sun. Picture Perfect! Wait…one thing is missing: the tropical cocktail with the maraschino cherry, small pineapple fans and the unmissable tiny paper umbrella! Without this detail, our dream vision of a vacation immediately vanishes.
Juicy, sweet, crunchy and soft at the same time, pineapple is very loved by chefs and bar tenders alike. Grilled and served as a side dish or topped with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, sauteed with chicken and bell peppers, chopped up in a multicolored salad or pureed in a smoothie, pineapple is the tropical flavor you want to taste when you are in any tropical areas of the globe. It just matches with everything else. Regardless the type! Yes, because there are about 40 different varietals, which grow in different parts of the world including Hawaii, Brazil, Thailand, Phillipines, Costa Rica. The fruits all look slightly different in size, have different shades of yellow flesh, intense or weak fragrance, high or low level of sweetness and/or acidity*. A member of the Bromeliaceae family, known for its anti-inflammatory properties and abundance of antioxidants, pineapple is very versatile. It pairs great with pork, chicken, fish, and is a great addition to rice and grain recipes, adding its unique sweet and slightly tangy flavor. It is what I call the tropical factor. Some people even love to add pineapple to their pizza. As a traditional Italian pizza enthusiast myself, I cringe at the idea of that combination, but that is just me being me. The ability to add something exotic to a dish and with the blink of an eye, feel like being propelled to a tropical paradise without having to leave your home is almost magical. Try, it works.
Native to South and Tropical America, it was first introduced to Europe from Guadeloupe by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Pineapple had to pass a few bureaucratical tests before reaching the palate of rich Europeans. In fact, exotic fruits native to the Americas, including the Ananas Comosus had to have a proper new name if they wanted to show up in European markets. What you probably ignore, is that centuries ago, it was common practice for botanists to tie the familiar noun “apple” to any exotic produce in order to make it look harmless or more friendly. Sellable, in a few words. Persian apple (peach) Golden apple (tomato) Custard apple (pawpaw fruit) Cashew apples (cashew nut) Star apple ( caimito fruit) Velvet apples (a type of nectarine) Mad apple (eggplant) Earth apple ( potato and sunchoke) the list is long. Pineapple owes its name to its pine cone like shape and the name apple was added to make it appear somehow edible. When I do my food researches, I often find myself thinking that we are really no different in the way we try to make food look more appealing and marketable in 2023. When we get to taste something new to our palate, how many times do we hear: “Oh come on, eat it! It tastes like chicken”. But let’s take a step back. Pineapple was not loved for its flavor, ( actually many people still do not like it) but for what it represented, a fruit of the New World and as such, even for just the fact that it was sitting in a fruit bowl, it meant luxury.
Pineapple is an iconic crop in Puerto Rico, traditionally grown by Taino Indians since pre-Columbian time.
I love Puerto Rico, and whenever I have the chance, I am there. One of my favorite eating spots (of the many favorite spots there) is La Barrachina. I fell in love with this place many years ago and it all happened in the most casual way. I got attracted by the deep voice of a 95 yrs old macaw. Dolores. At first I hadn’t realized that that was the place where the first pina colada had been invented (despite the owners of the place have it chiseled on a very visible marble plaque at the entrance, duh!) Being the parrot lover I am, I went inside to just meet and chat with Dolores… and surprise, I got offered their famous strained pineapple, la Pina Colada. They must have thought I was crazy. The second round was on me and while talking with the bartender, he swore they make the best as they invented it in 1963. I have to admit it, it was out of this world. Although there are so many theories, and a controversy still pending on who first invented it, the Caribe Hilton or the Barrachina ( they both have it chiseled on marble plaques) I like the idea that it was a pirate who first introduced it to the island. Rum, Coconut cream, Pineapple and a parrot, watching the concoction being prepared. Whether it be true of false, Barrachina has my heart. Years later, exactly 25, a golden and blue macaw became a new member of my family. Guess her name?
SAUTEED CHICKEN AND PINEAPPLE
In Hawaii Hala Kahiki, foreign fruit, is considered a symbol of welcome and hospitality since its first appearance in 1700 and when I am there, this is a dish I love eating.
2 pineapples, cut in half, stem removed, pulp carved out with a spoon and diced
4 cups cooked jasmine rice
8 slices thick-cut bacon, ( about 1 lb)diced
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
1 1/4 pound chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 ½ cups fresh ripe pineapple, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
The juice of 2 limes
Toasted sesame seeds
Sauté the diced bacon in a large skillet over medium high heat and cook it until golden. Add the onions and scallions, sautéeing for 1 minute, then stir in the chicken pieces. Increase the heat and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, mixing very often. Move the chicken to the sides of the pan and add the bell pepper.
Cook the pepper for 2 minutes, then add in the pineapple chunks, ginger, Teriyaki sauce and soy sauce. Stir well to coat and cook for 5 -6 minutes. Drizzle with lime juice and combine. Place the cooked rice in the hollowed out pineapple, making sure it gets spread evenly covering the whole carved surface and the sides. Top with the sauteed chicken mixture and serve, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.