A mysterious fruit and a bunch of food memories
Hey everyone, hope all is well with you. It’s been too long since my last post. But summer is here and it has brought the heat! So that means everyone is cooking light healthy food, right? Well today’s dish is simple is influenced from a chef who I admire and a few memories from my early culinary days.
Now the highlight of this dish is the prickly pear, I have never used it and it’s something that grows in the Caribbean but doesn’t get used in our cuisine. It’s popular in Mexico and some other southern countries in the Americas. I looked up recipes and ideas on how to use this bad boy and could only find juices and sweet sauces for desserts. So I brainstormed and read and looked for some sort of influence and guidance. It was when I was reading chef Jeremy Fox’s book “On vegetables” at the bookstore, I remembered he had made a Sofrito from strawberries. Ping! Light bulb! First and most influential memory for the recipe - I’ll make a Sofrito with the prickly pear, along with a crispy Polenta and duck Rillette.
Now prickly pear has a funny green tomato taste to it while having a subtle sweet after taste. It was the strangest thing I have had in a while. Also, be careful of the seeds, for some reason they are very tiny and extremely hard. Watch those teeth!!
This brings me to my next food memory, Polenta. Back in Antigua, polenta is also known as fungi (pronounced foon-gi) it is labour intensive. In Antigua, it is cooked to a heavy dense thick mixture and then added to a bowl lined with a little butter and shaped into the bowl, and then served as a ball on a plate. I am convinced it has been this way since the days of Columbus. Every time I mention or talk about fungi my mother says my grandfather “makes a mean fungi”, which I will not deny, there are very few things that my grandpa can’t make. Jump over to my Trinidadian family, my aunt (my dad’s sister) also makes an awesome Pastelle, which is cornmeal that has been stuffed with raisins, ground meat and capers then cooked in banana leaf, it’s amazing.
During my time working at Sheer Rocks, I was the designated polenta maker, and let me tell you, if you didn’t go to the gym and worked out your shoulders, you better believe it was when you were making polenta that those muscles started developing.
Rillette, the first time I came across this term was during my time at Carlisle Bay in Antigua, working under Alex Grimley (my now very good friend, mentor and owner of Sheer Rocks). One night I was flaking about 50 lbs of curry goat and I asked him how he wanted it done exactly and he said “like a Rillette”. Poor me, not knowing exactly what he meant, just said “yes chef” like I understood and flaked it and mushed it to almost a paste consistency. I was still early in culinary school so I was a bit on the naïve side with the culinary knowledge and experience.
Now that we have gone down memory lane about the duck I want to talk about the flavour. I ended up using three spices: - Celery seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Last week I had seen that a chef on greatbritishchefs.com had used them in a baked corn muffin recipe. So, I decided to try the measurements in a corn sauce. I liked the taste but I think I should have cut down on the celery seeds. This time I did the same thing but didn’t bother with changing the measurements because I figured the gaminess of the duck would provide a balance. If anything, I probably could have increased the cumin by ½. Over all it came out nice and now I have a lot of pulled duck in my fridge.
Having been to Trinidad and Tobago a few times and always eating duck, I am sure my love for duck will never die. If it was more affordable I would have it often. I believe it should be cheaper because it’s fatty (that sounds fair, right?)
Check the site thursday for the new recipe!