Chocolate. Coffee. Vanilla. And tropical fruit. In the eyes of the uber-conscious consumer, these are my ultimate vices. Food stuffs that I consistently yearn for, drool over and the food stuffs that in the grand scheme of things may make the world less hospitable to someone's standard of living and the overall levels of carbon emissions. More sensitive folk might even resort to hiding such locavore contraband the way one does the circa 1980s workout videos featuring anorexic women in neon-colored leotards and pantyhose. Or Tae-Bo. But I'm flagrant about my transgressions.
But God help me, I do love me a good fresh pineapple. I'd happily wear a big scarlet "P" on my bodice (signifying for "Pineapple Lover"). I grab for one whenever I see decent ones in the market. A rare occurrence, for sure, and no doubt accelerated by the fact people don't know how to fish out the perfect golden armor and aroma from the loads of crap that line up most market shelves. Then comes the mystery of cracking into the thing and re-creating the slices you last saw on an office party fruit tray.
So welcome to Pineapple Carving 101. If you're gonna get one, might as well know what to do with it versus mangling it into inedible logs. That would just be a waste of time for all involved -- you, the person who stocked it on the shelf, the people who shipped it and the folks who grew it.
First things first. Go get yourself a whole fruit. None of this pre-prepped Dole crap that sells for double or triple the price of the actual fruit itself. Look for more gold than green in the scales. Between the scales there shouldn't be a trace of white mold. Turn it over and take a look at the cut stem end. Unless you live down the street from a pineapple plantation, it'll most likely look a bit dried and shriveled like early November leaves. It's okay, so long as you can smell the promise of fresh pineapple emanating from its humble face.
Of course, there are many ways to go about it. But this is my preferred method. It relies on a good sharp knife. Use it to cut off the cap, the bit where the leaves sprout from the top. Cut the bottom stem end off so that you have a flat surface. Stand the fruit up. If you feel compelled to use the discarded crown as a plate garnish, go ahead. Just don't tell me about it.
Next, a bit of what I call "vertical sawing." This is where the good sharp knife comes in. Starting from the top, take you blade and rather than hacking with one clean cut, focus on sawing the knife back and forth, working your way down one side of the fruit. It won't be perfectly round, but close enough for what most folks will need. Rotate to the next portion of the fruit that needs to be peeled.
The point is to get rid of the peel. It's rather thick so don't be appalled by the waste involved. There's still PLENTY of fruit to go around. Also, be sure to trim up any leftover scales or little prickly eyes that tend to go deeper into the pineapple flesh.
Now, you have a naked, trimmed pineapple.
Next, cut the pineapple in half as it's standing end on end. Rotate the cut fruit a quarter turn (45 degrees) and make another cut down length-wise. You should have four wedges of fresh pineapple.
At the heart of each pineapple is a hard core that isn't conducive to chewing or any manner of expensive dental work. You can feel it with your knife, where the hard core meets the soft flesh. Cut down each pineapple wedge to remove the hard bit. Inevitably, there will be some soft fruit around the cut core. I consider this a cook's treat -- I eat it as voraciously as I would summer corn. Messily, noisily with some of it caught in my teeth.
You can stop here. With these peeled and trimmed logs, you can poach, roast or pulverize depending on your need. To serve as a fresh fruit, one more step is involved -- simply cut each into smaller bite size pieces. These too are great to use in a recipe.
One of my favorites is a simple one that brings two flavors that were meant for one another, though we don't often put them together -- pineapple and fresh basil.
Thai basil, Genovese, lemon -- any variety works for this recipe. Serve in larger pieces as a simple dessert with some macadamia cookies or dice into smaller chunks to serve with honey or caramel ice cream or semi-freddo or dice even finer to pair with panna cotta or morning yogurt. If there's poaching liquid left, save it for another batch of pineapple, pears or whatever you plan on poaching. Or if you have an ice cream maker or space in your freezer for a shallow pan of flavored simple syrup, make a batch of refreshing pineapple-basil sorbet.
1 pineapple, trimmed and cut into logs * 1/2 teaspoon total of your choice of peppercorns (black, white and pink work well) * 1 cup granulated sugar * 1 teaspoon salt * 2 cups water * a large handful of fresh basil leaves and stems (there's lots of flavor in the stems)
Place the pineapple, peppercorns, sugar salt and water into a medium sauce pan. The pineapple won't be completely submerged, as it floats, but don't worry. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat to a soft simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan and let cook until pineapple is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. When it's tender, remove the fruit and place in a bowl. Increase the heat under the pan of sugar, water and aromatics (a fancy simple syrup) and bring to a boil. Let cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Pour this reduced mixture over the cooked pineapple while it's still hot. Add the fresh basil to the bowl and push them into the hot liquid. Let cool completely and chill until ready to serve. If keeping for a few days (it keeps up to a week for me, covered in the fridge), remove the now browned basil after a couple of hours.
Honey Roasted Pineapple
The pineapple juices, honey and cream combine into a de facto caramel. The cream is aboslutely necessary. For additional flavor, feel free to add basil leaves or 1 whole star anise pod to the roasting pan before you place it in the oven.
1 pineapple, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces (as seen in last photo above) * 1/2 cup runny honey (clover is fine, but other blossoms are better -- orange, lavendar, etc.) * 1/2 cup dark rum * 1/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position an oven rack to be in the center of the oven space. Place the sliced pineapple in a single layer in a roasting or casserole pan. Drizzle over the honey (add aromatics if using here) and place into the oven. Let roast and sizzle for about 10 minutes until they become a translucent shade of deep yellow. Remove from the oven and add the rum to sizzling honey and pineapple juices. Place back into the oven and turn on the broiler. Let it bubble away for about 5 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven and add the cream. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix properly. Serve warm over caramel or vanilla ice cream. Sorbet is excellent, too.