Friday, November 11, 2011

Pan Roasted Pineapple in Prosciutto with Li Hing and Umeboshi

My li hing mui obsession continues to find opportunities to express itself. Here's the next shot.

The celeriac skordalia was a big hit with H-Bomb. I call Heather H-Bomb sometimes. She hates it*. The last time I made celeriac I ended up with a little left over, so I needed something to serve on it as a main course. One of my favorite Hawaiian li hing items is fresh pineapple with li hing sprinkled on it. It's totally delicious, spicy and weird. At one of the PRF barbecues I was treated to some grilled pineapple rings wrapped in bacon, served with a spicy barbecue sauce. They were savory, hot and sweet and I thought I could make a version of them spiced up with li hing that would go well with the celeriac.

I'm a fan of bacon as an ingredient in its own right, but not so much of using it to dress up other things. It's such a strong flavor it tends to become the focal point of whatever it's used on, and that aspect has become quite a gimmick problem solver in professional kitchens. Dull menu item? Slap bacon on it, especially if it's incongruous, and tell the wait staff to crow about it and pull a face when they say the word "bacon."  Baconizing the mundane is now a first option, and has already worn out its welcome on me. I've seen bacon-slapped doughnuts, chocolate bars, brownies and baked items, bacon fat-infused coffee, ice cream and jelly. The baconification of restaurant food has even made me tired of the more traditional -- now ubiquitous -- bacon-topped sea food and poultry. My bacon nerves are pretty well shot at the moment, but at the point I was served the bacon-wrapped pineapple mentioned above I was still vulnerable to its charms, and I wanted to do justice to that younger, less jaded response.

Wherever bacon would be rude, I've had some joy substituting prosciutto, which seems to deliver a satisfying savory richness without being an obstacle to what lies beneath it. Lardo does just as well, but tends to read as butter rather than meat, and the celeriac needs a substantial entree to compete with its savory personality, not buttered fruit.

I cut a pineapple ring approximately 1.5" thick, then into six segments, making roughly pyramidal chunks, then dusted them all over with li hing powder, which instantly stained them a brilliant crimson. The color of li hing is probably largely synthetic, since the powder is made from a pickled plum, similar to the light pink umeboshi common to Japanese rice balls. I was intrigued by this difference, so I took out a jar of umeboshi to compare the two. As soon as I opened the jar, it occurred to me to include a piece of umeboshi in the parcel to provide a sour counterpoint to the sweet pineapple. I wrapped a pitted umeboshi plum with each piece of pineapple in the prosciutto, overlapping to bind it to itself closed. Since the pieces would cook quickly, I collected them on a plate to cook simultaneously. I presumed the prosciutto and li hing would be salty enough that I wouldn't need to season the hunks separately.

I pan-roasted the pineapple chunks in a skillet just barely wiped with olive oil. I didn't want to risk trapping any frying oils in the folds of the prosciutto or the crevices of the pineapple underneath. The prosciutto both rendered and crisped nicely, the fat becoming instantly transparent and the meat becoming red and supple before browning and shrinking to enrobe the pineapple. The little things looked cool as hell, and I couldn't resist eating one piping hot. It was delicious and reasonably balanced, though mild, so I made a quick vinaigrette to spice up the plate out of an egg yolk, some Sriracha, mustard, lime juice, soy sauce and garlic. I plated the celeriac skordalia first, then plunked the pineapple chunks on top, doused the plate with the vinaigrette and garnished with some alley mint leaves.

Heather was less taken with the pineapple than I was. "I'm not so into fruit for dinner," she said. I wish I could say I was unhappy she had eaten all the celeriac and left most of the pineapple chunks, but whatever emotional pain I felt was soothed by wolfing the things down like a snuffling pig.

Really, she hates it.

1 comment:

  1. It's a bit of an obvious one, but grilled prosciutto-wrapped asparagus is an easy and delicious thing to eat (and also does the cool pee-smell thing). I tend to roll the asparagus lightly in olive oil, salt and pepper them (mostly pepper them, as the prosciutto is pretty salty), and then throw them on the grill until the prosciutto looks crispy and the asparagus turns bright green. I've never met anyone who doesn't like to eat this - they go quick like potato chips to a stoner, and they avoid the ubiquitous "just add bacon!" thing you discussed. (While I myself like a bacon-encrusted doughnut just fine, that trend is annoying; a friend - Dave Prince, actually pointed out that it is recession-based - pork is cheap, so it now is the new chicken on menus). Another interesting use of prosciutto - to me, anyway - is as a flavoring agent. You can either bake it (or microwave it for a couple minutes if you're feeling particularly lazy) until it is hard and crispy; then you can either crush it into little flakes or pulverize it into dust, and then use it as a kind of pork-flavored salt. This is good for salads that need a little saline/protein kick, for example; throwing this prosciutto dust on eggs with a little basil nicely Italians things up, too (wow, what a lame Fieri-esque expression!). It has a simultaneous smokiness, porkiness, and saltiness that is awesome; just plain uncrushed baked prosciutto also makes for an impressive sandwich filling as well...

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