Thursday, March 6, 2008

"Pineapple Chop" -- Oven-Roasted Maui Pineapple with Fried Pastry Cream and Whipped Crème Fraîche

One of the things I feel so lucky about thus far in my lifetime is that I've traveled a lot, especially in the past 10 or 15 years. I've had some amazing jobs (and some equally as grueling) that took me to all points on the globe and back again; and the one thing I can say about this cool planet of ours is that in addition to the plethora of foods, personalities, and cultural quirks, every place I've gone also has its own distinct smell. Marrakech. Essaouira. Cairo. Paris. London. New Orleans. Boise. Rotterdam. Los Angeles. Singapore. Hong Kong. Tokyo. Pennsylvania. Montreal. Portland. Stone Harbor. If you blindfolded me, put me on a plane and knocked me out so I had no sense of how long I'd traveled, I could probably identify where we'd landed by smell alone. One of the most distinct scent-travel memories I have is Maui.

The year: 1996. I was poor, poor, poor. Freshly divorced with an enormous amount of credit card debt, $50 to my name, and ten days of vacation time to use or lose. Luckily, I had a healthy stash of frequent flier miles that my employer at the time allowed for personal travel. I also had (and still have) a wonderful friend with enough hotel points for our little foursome to stay on the beach in Maui for 10 days. Ten glorious days in sunshiney paradise, having to pay only for our food. And, being the masters of finding free food at happy hour and other assorted events (no, we did not crash any weddings or private parties), we knew we could make it work.

So, off to Maui we went, and as soon as I got off the plane, I knew the smell of the island would stay with me forever. Salt and sweet mingled together in the night air like nothing I'd ever experienced. It's almost like you could smell the moon when it rose at night, the air was so fresh and clean after every day's late afternoon, five-minute thunderstorm. Home of the Maui onion, sugar cane fields, coffee beans, and other glorious foods, this little island was exactly what I needed at that time. And I ate so much pineapple that vacation I'm surprised I didn't burn the enamel off my teeth with all that acid. It was so sweet, and when I tried roasted, fresh pineapple for the first time, I wanted to call someone back home, tell them to sell all my stuff because I wanted to stay in Hawaii and never leave.

It made me sad when I read a few years ago that pineapple growers are leaving Hawaii for other, less expensive locales. So, I'm happy to have roasted this gorgeous, gorgeous, Hawaiian-grown fruit for what might be the last time. Sorry for the unintentional fakeout on the last post -- saying I was going to do the Pear Strudel. That's coming up next. Once I saw the beautiful pineapples at the market and remembered that they were probably among the last of their crop in Hawaii, I just had to do it. I know you understand.

The first thing I did was make the pastry cream. Here's the mise en place:

I whisked the milk, sugar, flour, egg yolks and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, then brought it to a boil. I kept whisking until it had thickened and the flour was sufficiently cooked, then removed it from the heat. The French Laundry Cookbook says to put the pastry cream into a 6x3" loaf pan, which I did not have and forgot to buy. So, I plonked it in a plastic wrap-lined Gladware container and pressed some plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. I put it in the fridge for a few hours to set.

After it had set, I began work on the pineapple. I cut off the top and bottom:

Next, I cut it lengthwise in half and cored each half:

At this point, I tried really hard to understand the next step in the directions, but just couldn't get it to click. So, I looked at the pretty pictures in the book and did my best to emulate those cuts. I didn't figure out until later that I wasn't supposed to have cut it the whole way until the very end, but I really don't care.

Now that the pineapples were cut and ready to go, I melted some butter in a large skillet and added the pineapple chops, fruit side down:

I cooked the fruit over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the pieces started to brown. Then, I turned each chop onto its skin side, added a scraped out vanilla pod (saving the seeds for a sauce later), and put the skillet into a 400-degree oven. I let it cook this way for about ten minutes, then I flipped the fruit again to put the flesh side down -- cooking it this way for about 30 minutes -- all the while basting with the vanilla-y butter every 10 or 15 minutes. I turned the fruit once again to put the skin side down, and baked it for a final 15 minutes:

When they were done and out of the oven, I put the pineapple chops on a plate and reduced the oven temp to 350. While I waited for the oven to cool a bit, I made some vanilla butter:

I also cut the circles out of the chilled and set pastry cream, realizing too late that they needed to be shorter (or more shallow) than they were, but c'est la vie, I suppose. It wouldn't be a FLAH dessert if I didn't screw something up.

I eventually floured, milk-bathed, and pankoed those little cream cylinders, then deep-fried them. You'll see the final version of them in the plating photo at the end. They're the thing on the plate that looks pretty much like a hush puppy.

Last, but not least, was finishing the pineapple. I melted some sugar in a skillet, letting it caramelize, then adding the vanilla butter:

I added the pineapple to the pan (flesh side down) and let them roast for another 10 minutes while I deep fried the pastry cream you saw above, and whipped the crème fraîche. To plate, I spooned some of the caramely, buttery, vanilla-y sauce onto the plate, then added a pineapple chop. I placed a pastry cream nugget next to it, then topped it with some of the whipped crème fraîche. As a lovely little garnish, I added a tip from the top of the pineapple. Here's the final dish (note how the crème fraîche is luxuriously melting all over the hot, fruity goodness):

People... this rivaled the Cream of Walnut Soup. It was absolutely delicious, and so fragrant and lovely. My word. It was one of those dishes that we didn't want to end. Everyone took teeny-tiny bites so we could savor it and make it last. I only had six pastry cream servings, so I had some extra roasted pineapple left over, which we ate after we swirled it around in the melted crème fraîche and sauce. If you're considering trying one of the dishes in The French Laundry Cookbook, I highly suggest this one. Even if you just roasted the pineapple this way and served it with some crème fraîche, you'd be good to go. It's not hard at all to do, and the outcome is so freakin' fantastic. And, to boot -- your house will smell like paradise.

It was almost distracting, this smell. And, like an interesting glass of wine that changes its scent and taste as its temperature changes, just as I expected, the pineapple's smell changed so dramatically over the course of me cooking it. Sweeter, richer, more fragrant, more buttery, and just fantastic. It made me want to go on vacation and forget about the rest of the world for a week or two. Even as I type this, hours after we've eaten, my house smells sweet and divine. And, it just started raining, which means that a little bit of earthiness will sneak in the open windows and do a little dance with the sweet already in the air, which means I'll sleep well tonight. Guess I'll have to be content with an 8-hour, shuteye vacation. Good enough for now.

Up Next: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips


Pineapple from Whole Foods
Milk from Organic Valley
Eggs from Smith Meadows Farms
Domino sugar
Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract
Edward & Sons panko
Vanilla bean from TPSS Co-op
365 canola oil and butter
Vermont Butter and Cheese Company crème fraîche

Music to Cook By: Janet Jackson; Control. Because thinking about Hawaii made me think about the people I went to Hawaii with, and one of those people is one of my best friends, with whom I also went to college, and we bonded freshman year over many things, one of which was singing along to this album, start-to-finish, and dancing like giant dorks at The Black Rooster, which by the way did not really have a dance floor, but they had a DJ who played anything we asked him to, including this album, and I love run-on sentences! But really, this album remains in my top 20 of all time because it's vintage Janet -- just before the Jackson family flew their freak flag for everyone to see. Oh, and guilty confession #947 -- I listened to Thriller to clean up and do dishes.

Read my previous post: "Tongue in Cheek"


amber said...

the very first vacation i ever took with my now husband was to hawaii. he'd been many times with his family, but it was my first trip there. he had just completed a summer associate position at a law firm and before he went back to the east coast for school, we went to maui for 7 days. and you're right, the smell is unlike anything else. just beautiful really.

we've been back several times since and i can say that we never tire of the island for so many reasons.

my mouth is completely watering at this -- can't wait to give it a try :)

michael, claudia and sierra said...

fried pastry cream
oh. my. god.
thank you and goodnight


This post was painful to read. I should never read these food blogs when I'm hungry.

I think I might try it Friday night. Heck, maybe I'll just make a huge batch and we'll skip dinner and just eat pineapple chops with crème fraîche and fried pastry cream.

Anonymous said...

Now this is just not fair. Now I'm drooling and I don't have any pineaple in the house. Do you want me to have to make a midnight grocery run just so I can have some of this?! Plus...vanilla butter... *whimper*

Anonymous said...


I love love love your blog. Last year was a very challenging year for me (my son was born with a rare disease and needed surgery). I did not have time to cook a single thing and relied on the kindness of my family for cooked food. But in between taking care of my baby and my stressful job, I would take a few minutes a week to read about what you cooked from the French Laundry Cookbook and "cooked" vicariously (although I will never be as good or even half as funny).

Thank you.

Unknown said...

I am inspired to make this for dessert this Sunday. Fried. Pastry. Cream. :drool:

Anonymous said...

It's funny. Last weekend as we were going to the gym, the boyfriend ducked into the korean bodega to grab a banana. I stood outside admiring the fruit when I noticed that the pineapples each had a tag attached to their leaves. Hmmmm... curious I thought... Why do pineapples need tags? So I took a look and they tags read "The Ultimate Joint Food!" I have a hunch what they want you to interpret that as meaning elbows and shoulders and knees, but pineapple would make a nice munchie. Especially cooked all FLAH stylee. Not that I've touched the stuff since the 90s. But, you know, it was just a thought ;-)

Mary Coleman said...

Wow. How totally amazing.
Now this one, I will try.

Anonymous said...

This looks really good. I defintiley will try it.

Roughly, how long was the prep + cook time? And, what did you think of the fried pastry cream?

Anonymous said...

Mmmm. I can imagine the taste, and the smell. Thank you. Your travel/smell story reminded me of when I was living in NYC a few years back. On the corner where I lived in Bklyn was a sewer drain opening that had a distinct sewer smell on certain days. But when I got a whiff, it sparked some happy thought in my head. It took a while, but I realized that it smelled just like the polluted canals of Venice. Sometimes even smells that aren't sweet spark sweet memories.

You went to Cork! I've only had wine there so far. Does the food live up to the crowds and the good reviews?

Anonymous said...

fried pastry cream? are you shitting me? i need to be eating this, now.

Bel Air said...

Never feel guilty about listening to Thriller! That album is pure genius.

Mike of Mike's Table said...

This looks heart stoppingly delicious. That is an amazing looking dessert!

Anonymous said...

Dear FLAH-Lady,

My culinary instructor, Hank Aznufi, prepared a very similar dish on time at his restaurant, Monsieur Henri's. It was to die for! Instead of the fried pastry cream, he served a "Crepe Complait" which was a traditional french crepe with a less than traditional infused fruit flavoring which I could never identify. While I've never been to Hawaii, after reading this entry, I'm feeling the urge to hula the night away to the sweet sounds of my favorite singer - Mr. Tony Bennett.

Anonymous said...

You gon make me lose my mind...up in here! UP IN HERE!!!!

Wow, this post is rigotdamndiculous. I am going to sit and look at The Cookbook tonight, pretend I'm going to make it, then put it back. LOL

Casey said...

My older daughter loves Hawaii; I'm going to make this for her birthday.
and I loved your musings on place smells--I spent all my childhood summers in Ocean City--not far from stone harbor and the smell of creosote and salt air is still elixir to me.

krysta said...

I swear I can smell the pineapple wafting through the computer screen. Somewhere in your post shouldn't say Ms. Blymire if you're nasty?

Jessica said...

Carol, this post has inspired me beyond any other! I have a copy of the FL cookbook out from my library and this is going to be the first recipe I attempt. I can't wait to try it!

Anonymous said...

Right? Obama/Blymire '08!! hahaha

I think I *will* try this one after or with the walnut soup next time I go to visit my family.

Anonymous said...

That looks beautiful. So much better than the tongue.

freshfoodfarmerNC said...

I am so inspired by your blog. Thanks so much Carol. I am a real estate broker/amateur chef/organic farmer and I had just picked up my own copy of The French Laundry Cookbook. It literally called to me from across the room and I knew I had to have it. Thanks for showing me the recipes with photos and each of the steps clearly played out. It has given me the extra boost to try Thomas Keller's recipes at home. I will be checking in constantly. I'm going to try the Walnut soup first then the pineapple.

Vince said...

Wow... wiping keyboard... of drool... damn... looks so delicious. I think i'll try this one very soon. If I can find a decent pineapple at the store today perhaps. :)

One comment on pineapples in hawai'i - I went on a Maui bike tour and one of the things my guide talked about were the pineapple fields, which these days, pretty much exist just for tourist purposes. They long ago stopped being profitable, because they are so labor intensive. And not only is it labor intensive, but it's backbreaking work (take 18 months to grow, have to be hand harvested with machetes, harbors tons of scorpions, and leaves so sharp they can cut flesh to the bone without proper protection, in 85 degree maui heat, all day long). Long ago, laborers in Maui stopped wanting to do this at rates that could deliver a pineapple to your kitchen for less than $10 a pop, hence, the pineapple industry no longer exists in Hawai'i.

Anonymous said...

What does Montreal smell like?

Linda said...

My husband doesn't like pineapple, darn it, or any tropical fruit really. I guess I could make it and then eat it all myself. Thriller-I remember when the video came out and we all stayed up late to see it and it scared me to death. My, but MJ can dance. You are right-too bad about the freak flag.

bygnerd said...

I think this may be my favorite post so far. I really enjoyed the story of your ghetto vacation to Hawaii :) And the dish sounds amazing. I might have to give this one a whirl!

pdxblogmommy said...

Well, I DID write a whole other comment that was lost. So the Cliff Notes version goes like this:

Pineapple Dish = Amazing
Maui Trip = Amazing
Smell of pit pork in the morning = Amazing
Maui with money this time = (would be)Priceless

Dance floor at the Rooster = Sad
Dancing to Janet Jackson at the Rooster = Sad (but WAY fun)
Flirting with Jimmy the DJ = SO sad
Remembering SO much about those years = Priceless

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. You're my new hero. I'm soooo making this!

Unknown said...

First time "commenter" here. This was mouthwatering and beautiful. And yes it brought back memories of my honeymoon in Maui. Keep up the good work...and sit down and watch "The Departed" again. It is a fantastic film :). Sorry I had to stick that one in.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Well, well, well - I'm not much of a fan of pineapple, but given how you rave about the end dish here, I might just have to rethink... It certainly sounds good, and I like the idea of the 'chop'.

Carol Blymire said...

Anonymous: Here's a hug from me. :) You made my day.

JoP: I spread out some of the steps, but if they were to be compressed, you could do this dish in under 2 hours, methinks.

RT: Cork is okay. Overpriced for that part of 14th Street. But not terrible.

Matthew: Yes, but I want to know if The Heat Is On.

Casey: Me too! I miss Mack and Manco pizza! That's a smell I will never forget!

Marianne: Montreal smells like wet leaves after a summer rain, exhaust, and cloves.

Unknown said...

This reminds me of an incredible pineapple recipe from the Patricia Wells / Joel Robuchon book Simply French. The pineapple isn't roasted but rather slowcooked in butter and vanilla. The smell drives you insane and the taste is other worldly. You serve it with coconut ice cream. I now will have to roast a pineapple.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the pineapple industry - yes, in terms of canning and export, it's over. However, smaller local farms are still growing pineapple, including some low-acid varieties that are incredibly sweet. You might not be able to easily find a Hawai'i-grown pineapple in your local Whole Foods, but if you come back to visit, you should be able to find (depending on the season) locally grown pineapple of very high quality.