To some it is about getting away from it all. Others, it is just being on a beautiful beach somewhere that is out of the way. Of course there are others that seek out the aqua waters for play and some for relaxation. For me, it was the exotic foods that I have been using in a two decade long cookery quest.
Ever since I can remember, I have been cooking. The culinary style in which I settled into as a young chef was “Caribb-ican”. This was my culinary style of choice because of the exciting exotic-ness of the food. I was introduced to the exotics of the Caribbean through some friends living in the Redlands. The Redlands is an area of South Florida that grows all the exotic fruit used by chefs in South Florida.
Just imagine a postcard perfect beach setting – with vibrant shades of pink, yellow, purple, blue and green lining a shoreline just a few feet from away from an aqua sea flaunting so many shades of blue that you can not count them all. That was my day, everyday, for four years. In 2005, I moved my family to the British Virgin Islands, 1600 miles away from our home in South Florida. It was decide to follow my need to go to the place where I envisioned myself working with the tropical exotics that were too uncommonly found in South Florida.
Being on the island for a few years, I learned many things. The exotic tropical foods inwhich we had in our own South Florida backyard was just the tips of a very large iceberg. Traveling around the equatorial regions of the Caribbean I found that every Island Nation had it’s own unique “exotic” tropical food. Each Island had mangos, papayas, bananas, pineapple and coconuts commonly but, the others that had unique selections were the ones that got my heart racing.
Mangos are so common, that they made driving on the mountainous roads dangerous. The trees heavy with mango would drop over-ripe fruit in the roads. As these fallen mango rotted on the road, if you hit them with your tire and your car would slide as you try to break. When your are on these mountainous roads, this makes for some strenuous driving near a four or five hundred foot drop off a steep mountainside slope.
Papayas and pineapples were just as plentiful – on every island yet not a danger because the plants didn’t hang over the roadways. I always had many pineapple bushes growing around my home in Tortola. Papaya, a member of the grass family, grows everywhere well. Papaya is almost as popular as mango on most restaurant menus.
Tamarind, a beautiful tree reaching heights of 60 feet are scattered about on many islands. They produce a brown pod that when peeled, the pulp is used to flavor stocks, make Italian-style ices, candy and other food condiments. Found bottled in many variations but most well known as Worcestershire sauce. I love to use tamarind in Demi-glace for steaks but, I use it most often for marinades. It has a slight acidic flavor with hints of prune. The combination makes for a great marinade for anything cooked on the grill. Most Caribbean people either slow-cook (in large pots) tougher cuts of meat – all day long or, grill over an open flame. Tamarind is perfect for grilling as it enhances tastes of all grilled foods.
Almost all Caribbean islands have their own unique “tuber” which they use in those large stew pots. Some islands have Name’. Which is a true yam. Name’ sometimes weighs more than 10 pounds is usually found in the markets cut into 2 lb. chunks. The chunks are cut into more manageable pieces for consumption and stewed along with potted meats. Name’ gives a slightly sweet boiled potato ambiance to any dish. Used the same way we would a boiled potato remembering it’s texture is a little grainer.
Malanga, another unique tuber that people love or hate. Shaggy and ugly looking tuber, it has a likability unlike most other tubers. Smooth almost pasty when boiled and mashed. Kinda soupy-gummy when prepared like mashed Idaho Russets. Use this in boiled stews in large chunks.
The Caribbean is as varied as it is tropical. If you tour the Caribbean, look around you will find something unique no matter where you go.