Posts Tagged ‘Grand Cayman’

A Cayman Islands version of a pepper pot

Chef Dean Max

As we were pondering how else to use our beautiful Cayman peppers, we were reminded that chef Dean Max is also a big fan. We met him last winter at an “Island Organic” presentation at the Cayman Cookout on Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman Island. When Max isn’t presiding over the kitchens of his Miami seafood empire, he’s often on Grand Cayman kicking back at the Brasserie, the restaurant he owns with King and Lisa Flowers.

For him, one of the pleasures of cooking in the Caribbean is drawing inspiration from local cooks. “I always take the traditional thinking,” he said. “We use their technique, but then we add things. Take chicken pepper pot soup. You’re making this beautiful chicken soup…and then you use the incredible peppers you get here.”

Like so many dishes, there are as many versions of chicken pepper pot soup as there are cooks. In most parts of the Caribbean, though, it can be a pretty spicy pot. We didn’t have chef Dean’s recipe, but we took his advice to adapt the dish to what we had. We played around with several chicken hot pots before we settled on this one. It has enough heat to earn its name, but not so much that it overwhelms the fruity taste of the Cayman peppers.

CHICKEN PEPPER POT SOUP

Ingredients

1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut in 1/2 inch dice
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large sweet potato, quartered lengthwise, half thin sliced, half diced
15 Cayman peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 small moderately hot peppers (Numex 6 or similar), seeded and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano or marjoram
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2-4 drops Scotch bonnet hot sauce
7 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
5 oz. fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups coconut milk

Directions

1. In large stock pot, fry bacon over medium heat. When browned, remove bacon to paper towels.

2. Add chicken pieces to fat and sauté until lightly browned. Add onions and continue cooking until onions begin to soften.

3. Return bacon to pot with sweet potato, Cayman peppers, red bell pepper, Numex chiles, garlic, spices and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

4. Add spinach and coconut milk. Simmer another 15 minutes.

19

09 2010

Cayman peppers come to Cambridge


Back in February I mentioned that our hankering for some of the flavors of the Cayman Islands had led me to introduce the amazing Cayman sweet pepper to the cooler climes of eastern Massachusetts, where I grow at Zone 6. (See Finding seeds for the taste of Cayman.) I started seed from Cayman and Florida sources on March 5 and transplanted seedlings to my community garden on May 5. Other than having richer (and more acidic) soil than they were used to, the plants did just fine. The honeybees loved them.

But it quickly became obvious that even with a heavy yield of a dozen or more peppers per plant, the crop would be too small to squander on experiments making Cayman pepper jelly. I will leave that to the pros.

Señor Negro, who tends an adjoining plot in the community garden, was amused when he saw the plants. He called them ajice, which is the Puerto Rican contraction for ají dulce, and proceeded to give me growing advice across the summer. Mainly he suggested giving them more space by ripping out the neighboring tomatillo plants, for which he sees no use. (You have to love a multi-ethnic community garden. Right now a Bengali woman’s plot that also adjoins mine is a riot of delicate and elegant okra flowers, yellow with red centers.)

As the harvest came in, Señor Negro was also generous with advice on cooking with my peppers. First and foremost, he said, they are essential to a good sofrito. And, he informed me with a smile, a good sofrito is essential for everything else.

03

09 2010

Rum cake finds a new incarnation

Hot Miami chef Dean James Max (who happens to be up for a James Beard restaurateur award this year) is also the talent behind one of our favorite Grand Cayman restaurants, The Brasserie. Part of what makes The Brasserie so terrific is that Max and his staff use local fish, local produce, and all kinds of goodies they grow in the restaurant garden. The menu is also inspired by Caribbean traditions. Of the restaurant’s complex chicken pepper-pot soup, he says, “The peppers you get here on Grand Cayman are just incredible.”

So leave it to Max to find a fun use for the ubiquitous island confection, Tortuga rum cake. (You might recall that we wrote about the cake in What to buy in a grocery store on Grand Cayman Island.)

Alas, we consumed the last of our rum cake stash in late January, so we’ll have to wait for a return visit to make this bread pudding, which we have slightly adapted from his recipe in the April issue of his newsletter. Max comments, “This has been such a cold winter, even for us in Florida, that we really need to coax in the warm summer with a great island style rum cake. I hope you enjoy this simple and tasty recipe! Bring on the heat.”

Tortuga Rum Bread Pudding

Serves 6

Ingredients

8 oz. Tortuga Rum Cake (diced)
2 cups cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 eggs
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup Tortuga rum
3 Tablespoons soft butter

Directions

1. Toast the diced cake pieces on a baking sheet in the oven until they dry slightly and become crisp. Let cool.

2. Mix cream, sugar, and vanilla bean in a saucepan and heat until hot. Remove from heat.

3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Stir a small amount of hot cream into the eggs to temper them, then blend eggs slowly into the cream.

4. In a separate small saucepan, heat the rum and cherries and let them soak until cooled. Add cherry-rum mix to the egg-cream mixture.

5. Generously butter a baking pan and scatter the cake pieces to completely cover. Pour the custard over the bread and let it soak at room temperature for 10 minutes.

6. Set the baking dish in a water bath in a preheated 325 degree oven. Cover top loosely with foil and bake for about 30 minutes or until the custard has set. Remove dish from oven; remove foil and let cool. Cut the pudding and serve warm or chilled.

15

04 2010

Finding seeds for the taste of Cayman

Even in Massachusetts the days are starting to get longer and we are suffering garden fever. In just a few weeks, we will be starting our spring sets indoors. It’s not that we expect Cayman peppers to grow entirely true to form in New England, but we have had some surprisingly good luck with various Central American and Caribbean peppers before. It’s worth a try.

We have some Caymanian seeds for the country’s traditional seasoning pepper (don’t ask), but we will hedge our bets with some commercial seed stock.

A little research identified the Cayman seasoning pepper (as shown in the bowl) as a local variant known elsewhere in the Caribbean basin as ají dulce. Puerto Ricans abbreviate the name to ajice and use them extensively in sofrito and recaíto (sofrito without the tomato). The low-heat pepper is a variety of Capsicum chinense, as are the hotter habañeros, Scotch bonnets, and Datil peppers. Looking around at sources, we settled on Tomato Growers Supply Company
in Florida, which grows seed originally from Cuba. We’ll see….

02

02 2010

Trying to make Cayman pepper jelly

When we visited the Cayman Islands earlier this month, we flew with carry-on baggage, which severely limited what we could bring home. We jettisoned some shampoo and toothpaste and slid some small jars of Cayman hot pepper jelly into our 1-quart ziploc bags, but it wasn’t enough to keep us in cracker spread for very long.

We thought we’d try to make our own version, almost using up our store of the original to analyze what was in it. (The recipe is a secret, but food labeling laws mean that the packaging discloses the ingredients, if not the proportions or the way they are handled.) Knowing that we didn’t have the “assorted West Indian peppers” listed as the principal ingredients, we improvised. Clearly we needed Scotch bonnets for the heat and fruit, but we also needed some other fruity peppers as filler or the result would be inedible. We finally settled on a mix of sweet bell peppers, long and conical Italian peppers, mildly hot Fresno chile peppers, and (of course) Scotch bonnets.

So with the outdoor thermometer here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reading 19 degrees F (the wind chill brings the effective temperature to-7F), we imagined being back in the warm sunshine of Grand Cayman as we cooked up some heat. As we worked through the recipe, we constantly tasted and adjusted the herbs and spices to parallel the Cayman product as closely as we could.

All jellies take a few days to fully set. We’ll get back to you with a side-by-side taste test.

Cayman style hot pepper jelly (version 1)

Ingredients

3 red bell peppers
3 ripe (orange or red) Italian frying peppers
3 red-ripe Fresno chile peppers
6 ripe Scotch bonnet chile peppers
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 1/2 cups white cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pouch Certo liquid pectin

Directions

Using a propane torch, char the skins on all the peppers, place in plastic bag to sweat for 5 minutes, then scrape away burnt skins. Cut up peppers, discarding stems, seeds, and white membranes. (Rubber gloves will help prevent chile burn.) Cut peppers into small dice. You should have about 3 cups.

Place diced peppers and vinegar in a blender or food processor and process until completely pureed.

Place pepper puree in 6 quart or larger non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enameled cast iron) and stir in sugar, butter, salt, garlic, thyme, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon. Bring slowly to a rolling boil, stirring all the while to thoroughly dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Skim off foam with a metal spoon. (The butter binds with the foam, making it easy to remove.)

Stir pectin into pepper mixture and raise heat to return to a rolling boil. Boil exactly 1 minute and remove from heat.

Ladle into jelly jars. Add lids and rings. Tighten rings. Process in boiling water bath (about two inches above tops of jars) for 5 minutes. Remove to cooling rack. Jelly may take a few days to set.

Makes 7 cups of jelly.

30

01 2010

What to buy in a grocery store on Grand Cayman Island

The explosive growth of top-flight restaurants on tiny Grand Cayman has jump-started local agriculture on this haven for snowbirds and international finance located west of Jamaica and south of Cuba. At the Brasserie, for example, much of the produce on the menu comes from the restaurant’s own gardens and much of the rest from tiny farm patches on the east side of the island.

We would love to bring home some of the local fruits and particularly the Cayman seasoning peppers, which have all the flavor of a Scotch Bonnet and only a fraction of the heat. But US Customs would frown. There are, however, a few preserved foods worth tucking into your suitcase. The Foster’s IGA grocery stores carry Caymanian products that are impossible to find off-island. They also cost far less at Foster’s than in souvenir shops or the hotels. The grocers also carry a nice selection of Jamaican and certain British goods.

Here’s our Grand Cayman shopping list:

Hot pepper jelly.
A tiny amount of Scotch Bonnet pepper supplies the heat to this jelly from Pepper Patch on Grand Cayman, but Caymanian seasoning peppers are responsible for the depth of the flavor. Some 16 ingredients in all go into the tangy jelly, including traces of sweet spices like allspice (called pimento in the Cayman Islands), nutmeg, and cloves. Local residents spread it on water crackers, but we find that a dab of the jelly is the perfect accompaniment to Manchego cheese from Spain.

Cayman sea salt.
Sea salt in most countries is an inexpensive commodity often produced by evaporation in heated pans. This delicate salt is made strictly through solar evaporation and is hand-harvested. It is too expensive to use in marinades, but makes a good finishing salt. The flakes provide delicious salinity and textural crunch. We sprinkle them judiciously on grilled fish and on salads with mangos and baby greens.

Tortuga Rum Cake.
Except for turtle-shaped key chains, rum cake is the #1 Cayman tourist souvenir. They are sweet, dense crumb cakes with a light rum flavor enhanced by the addition of key lime, coconut, or chocolate chips. We are not huge fans and consider them pricey (even at Foster’s). But some of our friends love Tortuga rum cakes, so we bring them home when we have space in the luggage.

Hot sauces.
Our appreciation of hot sauces is restrained, since every yahoo with a kettle seems to have started a hot sauce company. Even so, it’s worth cruising the aisles at Foster’s for either of the local companies. Hawley Haven Farm makes down-home farm products, including a hot pepper sauce, while Cayman Islands Sauce Company emphasizes firepower with the likes of Hotter N’ Hell Sauce. Both products are worth a try, though we are just as likely to resort to the Pickapeppa Hot Sauces from Jamaica, readily available at Grand Cayman markets. A few drops of the Spicy Mango or the Gingery Mango Pepper are especially good on grilled mahi.

20

01 2010