If you’ve followed recent posts, you may have noticed that there’s been a bit of a ghost chili streak going on here on johanjohansen.dk over this past week. I’ve had a ton of fun using ghost chili into all sorts of imaginable (and some quite unimaginable) applications and it’s made for a couple of apparently very interesting and popular posts.
We’ll probably give it a rest for now, but not without one last thing… As I’ve hinted in earlier posts, I’ve been dying to find out if the fruity and devilish punch of the ghost chili would play well with the sweet flavors of the dessert kitchen.
Yes, that’s right, we’re talking ghost chili desserts! Stop the presses!
I knew from the beginning that using ghost chilies in a dessert wasn’t going to be the easiest thing in the world. There’s a certain, uh, lack of compromise in the heat of the Bhut Jolokia, that makes it a little tough to play with. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a try, and knowing already that ghost chilies go well in hand with tropical fruits, I thought “Hey, why not start out by trying to marry one of my favorite chilies with one of my all time favorite desserts: grilled pineapple! What’s the WORST thing that could possibly happen? I mean, other than blowing a few people’s heads clean off!”
I miss @johanjohansen… Hes forever making Chili sweets and stuff. Trying to burn peoples mouths off… With SWEETS. Sneaky sneaky!
— Fateeqah Manan (@Fateeqah) November 2, 2013
Grilled pineapple is pretty much just what it sounds like: fresh, ripe pineapple subjected to high heat on a grill. Simple as that may sound, the recipe has always been a crowd-pleaser: there’s something about the combination of the juicy, tangy tropical flavors of pineapple and the burnt, caramelized flavors from a quick sear over high heat that just play so well together. And you want to know what the best thing about grilled pineapple is? It’s easy as hell to make! As long as you pay attention to what you’re doing and don’t burn things (too much) it’s straight sailing and almost impossible to mess up.
I’ve gone through the trouble of attaching my modified recipe at the bottom of this post, but roughly speaking, making grilled pineapple involves three easy steps:
- Peel and core a fresh, ripe pineapple
- Grill briefly over high heat
- Serve to salivating diners
Of course, you can dress it up and make it fancy and/or complicated, or you could try completely outrageous things such as mixing it with one of the world’s hottest chilies. Or you could do all of the above. Hey, I quite like the sound of all of the above! Let’s do all of the above!
Grilled pineapple: But… Why?
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may be getting the idea that I oft-times dress things up just for the sake of dressing things up, and frankly I’m strangely okay with that. It’s just not true. While I do enjoy cooking extraordinary or curious things, I very rarely do so without a special occasion. There, now let’s leave the fact that I have a pretty easy time coming up with a special occasion out of the equation for now, and just state that this weekend’s special occasion of choice was that I had a select few friends over for dinner.
Among these friends were Tina who, many years ago now, was my original guinea pig for my grilled pineapple recipe and who, upon having her very first taste, uttered the immortal words: “I’ll be with you in a few second, I’m having a major foodgasm over here!”
Since then, Tina and I have shared many a good food memory and since then, like so many food addicts before us, we’ve spent many a year chasing that original high from that particular pineapple dessert. I figured that this evening with friends would be a great opportunity to try to recreate some of that initial magic and I figured that if I had to do so, then I had to dig deep and shake things up a bit. So, for the sake of not keeping it simple, I started out my experiments on the night before our little dinner with friends by tossing up a little marinade for my grilled pineapples to be.
Complicating things, step one: Making a marinade
Why would one even marinate a pineapple? Well, a grilled pineapple is a pretty juicy and tasty thing on it’s own, but that doesn’t mean we can’t invite a little more flavor and bite to the party. I’ve found that marinating the pineapple pieces in a syrupy/boozy concoction overnight adds even more sweetness, bite and juiciness to the finished dish. Consequently, whenever I make grilled pineapple, I usually start by peeling, coring and disassembling a pineapple or two, then giving them a drench in flavored syrup and a bit of good Caribbean rum for a good twelve hours.
This actually being an outrageous ghost chili experiment sort of thing, I decided to soak my pineapple in a fair bit of my homemade Ghost Chili Spiced Rum syrup as well as a healthy shot of Pyrat XO Reserve, a nice orangey/citrusy rum with a fair bit of age to it. I then threw everything in a plastic bag and left it in the fridge overnight, remembering to turn the bag over every now and then to let it marinate evenly.
A note on liquid: Adding sugar (or syrup) to pineapple (or other fruit) will draw out a lot of flavorful juice which is a terrible thing to waste and a mess to clean up. I always do my marinating in a sealed plastic bag and leave it at the bottom of the fridge, in a pot or bowl to prevent spillage. A spillage here would not only mean loss of good flavor, it would also mean a major clean-up job!
Complicating things, step two: Grilling the pineapple
Alright, I’m lying in the heading of this step, okay? This step is actually not complicated at all. You break your pineapple pieces out of the fridge a few hours prior to dinnertime, you drain them and you grill them on all sides. Then return them to the marinate and the fridge to cool. Done!
What I did in this particular case was to break out a cast iron grill pan, brought it up to medium high heat and then I carefully seared the pineapple chunks on all sides. Technically speaking, this could also be done on a standard heavy-duty cast iron pan, but I really prefer a grill pan Not only does it make for some pretty sexy grill marks, it also makes for a subtler caramelization, more sweetness and a subtle smokiness as the juices drip down in the crevasses of the pan and create a sizzling smokiness.
And yes, if your watch is set to summer, you really could (and should) be doing this outside over a hot charcoal grill.
Grill marks are sexy, even on pieces of pineapple!
Once properly grilled on all sides, I evacuated the pineapple chunks from the pan, cut them into irregular bite-sized pieces and returned them to the reserved marinade. To add even more flavor, I added the juice of one lime, a bit more Pyrat XO Reserve rum (for good health) and a little more ghost chili syrup for that extra little bite. I then set the whole mess aside to soak in the fridge for another few hours, allowing all the more or less subtle flavors to mingle and build even more.
Complicating things, step three: Topping it off
So there I was with a grilled pineapple chilling in the fridge, decadently drenched in a mix of juices, rare and expensive rum and one of the world’s hottest chilies. “What now?” I thought. “Well, why not kick it up a notch?” I thought. “Why not top it off with even more good and slightly outrageous stuff?”
Years ago, I rather accidentally and for God knows what reason discovered pineapple and licorice to be a winning combination. Consequently, I’ve had rather a successful run pairing my grilled pineapple with a vanilla and Pastis custard. The rich, creamy custard adds a nice contrast to the tropical bite of the pineapple, and the anise/licorice flavors add a nice spicy depth to things. It’s a combination that has served me well, but has also grown a bit old and used, so for the purpose of this experiment, it was time to try something new.
Pas-what? Pastis is a French anise/licorice root based liqueur sort of similar to absinthe. It lacks the distinct wormwood bite of absinthe, but has many of the same qualities. As a matter of fact, it was actually created by Paul Ricard some 17 years after the ban on absinthe as a means of replacement. Ricard remains one of the most popular brands of Pastis, but you may well be more familiar with another brand, namely, Pernod. Actually, come to think of it, you may only know Pastis as Pernod.
I wasn’t quite ready to drop the custard from my dish, though, so rather than drop it all together, I decided to make it as a pretty simple vanilla custard using egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and heavy cream. Neither was I ready to drop the anise/licorice twist, but I wanted something new. Various ideas involving raw licorice, licorice sprinkles, licorice powder and bonbons were examined and eventually rejected. For once I found myself at a loss. Luckily, though, I happened to stumble upon my jar of sweet licorice syrup from Danish licorice wizard Johan Bülow during my brainstorming session. This stuff not only tasted awesome but also, I deducted, would look awesome if drizzled on top of the pineapple and custard. So, that’s what I went with!
And there you have it, then… Ghost chili, citrus and rum marinated, grilled pineapple with vanilla custard and sweet licorice syrup.
Quite simple when you look at it, quite elaborate and complicated when you try to do a write-up about it. In this case, a picture really is worth 1570+ words.
Grilled pineapple with ghost chili and aged rum: A picture really is worth 1570+ words!
Complicating things, part four: plating it up!
Of course, you really couldn’t just serve up a heaping mess of pineapple, custard and licorice. Well, come to think of it, you probably could and that would be a pretty fine thing. But I had people over. Nice people. Pretty people. Some of them with long hair and soft features. So, I wanted to at least try to make my food match my gorgeous company.
So, I actually made an effort of dressing up my food. In my gorgeous little Royal Copenhagen serving bowls, I laid out a heaping pile of pineapple, topping carefully yet generously with a few tablespoons of the syrup/marinade. I then added a healthy dollop of vanilla custard and carefully added a controlled drizzle of sweet licorice syrup, taking about every precaution in the world to make the finished result look entirely random and effortless.
Unlike step two above, I’m not lying in the heading of this section. Plating really is a complicated step for me. Considering that I’ve been cooking on a somewhat serious level for going on 15 years and have managed to create some supposedly pretty tasty results, it’s a little ironic that it was only a short while ago I realized that a big part of the enjoyment of food actually revolves around how it looks. Consequently, I’ve been fumbling around aimlessly ever since trying to make my food look nice and presentable. I’d like to think that on this particular day, I did pretty well.
Hot desserts: Grilled pineapple, ghost chili and aged rum
For grilled pineapples:
- Two pineapples
- 50 ml of ghost chili and spiced rum syrup
- 50 ml of reduced pineapple syrup see note
- 50 ml of aged rum
- Juice of one lime
For vanilla custard:
- Two egg yolks fresh from trusted source or pasteurized
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 150 ml of heavy cream
- Seeds of one vanilla pod
- One dash of ghost chili and spiced rum syrup
- Sweet licorice syrup to taste Johan Bülow brand works really well!
Peel pineapple, remove core and cut into long strips lengthwise. Place in plastic bag.
Mix syrup, pineapple juice and rum. Pour over pineapple and place securely in fridge. Marinate overnight, turning the bag every now and then.
Heat grill pan to medium high.
Remove pineapple strips from marinate, reserve marinade.
Grill pineapple strips a few minutes on each side. Work in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan.
Cut grilled pineapple strips into irregular bite-sized chunks and return to marinade.
Squeeze over juice of one lime, toss, taste and add more syrup, or rum if needed. Return to fridge.
In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar till light and airy. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix vanilla with heavy cream and whip till soft peaks.
Gently fold egg mixture into whipped cream.
Put pineapple chunks in individual bowls, top with some of the marinade.
Pour a nice dollop of custard on top of every bowl.
Add an attractive drizzle of sweet licorice syrup on top of custard.
For reduced pineapple syrup: Add a cup or so of liquid from a quality can of pineapple slices to a heavy bottom pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil till thickened and syrupy. Allow to cool.
Moment of truth: tasting the grilled pineapple dessert
Now, I bet none of you ever thought so much could be written about the relatively simple subject of grilled pineapple. But when you’re making grilled pineapple both in an effort to test new ways of using ghost chili and to please your foodie friends, well, things tend to get a little out of hand. But that’s okay, I like it that way, and if nothing else, it taught me a few important lessons:
- Yes, you CAN cook dessert dishes with the addition of ghost chilies!
- Yes, you SHOULD cook dessert dishes with the addition of ghost chilies!
As long as you use only very little chili and add a (un)healthy amount of sugar to counteract the hotness of the chilies, the dreaded burn turns into a pleasant back of the throat kind of heat that just backs every other component of this dish absolutely perfectly. With most of the burn gone, the tropical fruitiness of the ghost chili is also really allowed to shine through and adds a nice backbone and extra dimension to the general tropical fruitiness of the dessert.
On top of this perfect, tingling, exotic combination you’ve got the rich, decadent custard to add richness and body, topped with the sticky, sweet, lip-smackingly good spicy licorice syrup.
Odd as it all may sound, I really invite you to play around with this combination of flavors. You’ll be surprised at how perfectly they work together and once you’ve dug in, I’m fairly sure you’ll have trouble stopping yourself. As Tina put it after her third serving: “I can’t stop, I.. this may seriously be your best dessert ever. This may even rival your Mojito sorbet”
Which is a pretty BIG thing coming from her, a well spoiled foodie and self-proclaimed expert on desserts and all things good. It’s a pretty controversial statement as well, that spawned some debate amongst co-diners, but that’s another post…
For now, enjoy this ghost chili, aged rum and grilled pineapple dessert recipe. I’m pretty sure it’s a world’s first!