By Nigel Spence
As a chef and restauranteur, I am constantly on the lookout for new trends in food, sampling exotic and rare dishes and “boldly going where no chef has gone before.” Sometimes I can’t wait to get rid of the bite I just had, but more often I am pleasantly surprised and glad that I took the plunge and tried the unfamiliar. Oftentimes we limit ourselves to eating only the foods to which we are accustomed and cutting ourselves off from new and terrific foodie experiences. There are so many interesting preparations around the world that can tickle our taste buds by the simple differences in cooking methods.
Sometimes with just slight modification, an old dish can come alive with new flavor and texture. Grilling fish or breadfruit or ripe plantains instead of frying is a great example. The point is you don’t have to go far off the beaten track to discover new experiences. On your next visit to the supermarket, spend a little extra time as you go down the aisles. I guarantee you will discover many varieties of spices you have never used, vegetables you have never eaten and even fruits you have never seen before. Resist the temptation to only pick up the usual. Start by adding at least one new item to your cart and go from there. Once you open up your curiosity, there is no going back. With the popularity of food tv and food porn on Instagram, the doors have opened and the crowds have rushed in ready to satisfy their cravings for the unusual. Who would ever believe goat meat could become a top food trend? Or sardines for that matter?
While preaching all this, I must warn you though, that there are some extremes to which not even I would be going. Speaking of tickling the taste buds, this is one bud that would not be tickled pink by this particular trend. I woulda haffi “red” (Jamaican term for drunk) to swallow this one. Recently, I came across a documentary featured on CNN about a young farmer whose crop rearing was becoming a booming business in his country. In fact, his crop was being sought out by pharmaceutical companies for his stock, to be used in the preparation of medicines and creams and by certain restaurateurs whose clientele enjoy extreme delicacies. Now, I am not totally knocking this, as my motto is “never say never” but I feel that this would probably not make my bucket list any time soon. If, on the other hand, the pharmaceutical companies came out with a cream that shows evidence of making me look like 18yrs old again, then chances are I would be all in – LOL.
I am speaking about cockroaches. Yes, the same ones Jamaican DJ Errol Scorcher sang about: “…shhhhh bim kill ‘im!” – Ha!
Scorcher seh “If you use RealKill yu ah go see dem still, use Baygon dem a run ration…”
For this one folks, you are on your own with the decision to sample. Having crushed and killed a few in my time, I cannot say that the odor is in any way enticing to me – maybe grilled? Baked? – LOL. Smoking a “roach” (the remains of a joint) – yeah! or wearing “roach killers” (extremely pointy shoes) maybe, but eating an insect roach ( a fresh and brackish water fish of the Cyprinidae family, according to Wikipedia) – ah, not so much!
Anyway, moving on, (quickly I might add ) there are other exotics that I have come across that are more palate pleasing to me.
One such ingredient which actually may not be considered exotic to most islanders, is jackfruit.
But it becomes exotic in its method of preparation.
I absolutely detest the taste and smell of jackfruit in its fresh cut form. However, Jackfruit is trending in vegan circles right now, and is considered the latest miracle food, which is why I decided to re-visit it in the hopes of understanding what all the fuss is about. I must say that after playing around with it at the bar in various cocktails, and also as an ingredient in some kitchen trials, I have a new-found respect and affinity for this stinky fruit.
It turns out that by simple boiling the fruit (using the canned variety) completely changes the flavor and texture, and it actually begins to take on the mouthfeel of meat. That’s where the vegan interest lies, and that my friends is what has catapulted the lowly jackfruit from the “get that smelly fruit out of my house” to becoming a top ingredient on vegan menus for its meat replacement capabilities. Unlike soy or wheat gluten-based meat substitutes that are highly processed, jackfruit does the same job or better in its natural form. This new-found vegan meat has even caused carnivores to increasingly order vegan menu items, which in itself is a brand new trend to watch!
Hah-who woulda thunk it?
In the end it’s a win-win as carnivores are getting a boost in nutrition from the jackfruit’s extensive nutritional profile, and the vegans can now rest easier as their eating habits that was once considered “quirky” is now being embraced by traditional diners as they begin to realize that eating vegan does not mean eating bland food and is also much heathier for you to boot!
In the spirit of embracing new trends, I will share my jackfruit creation. The taste is explosive and I assure you will not need any Baygon or RealKill – only a side of your favorite hot sauce and your full attention. Enjoy!
2 cans young Jackfruit in brine, drained and shredded to look like pulled pork
1 medium yellow Onion, sliced thin
2 cups shredded raw Cabbage
1 ½ cups Barbeque sauce
¼ cup apple Cider Vinegar
3 tablespoons Olive oil
1 teaspoon Pepper sauce
½ teaspoon Liquid smoke
10 six-inch flour Tortillas
2 cups raw Cabbage, shredded
¼ cup fresh Cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 medium red Onion, thinly sliced
1 large Carrot, thinly sliced (for topping)
1 cup white Vinegar
METHOD FOR TACO:
In a large saucepan over low heat, add olive oil and onions and slowly cook until the onions are lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add jackfruit and stir, coating it with the oil and onions in the pan. Add the barbeque sauce and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, Add vinegar and pepper sauce and simmer for 5 more minutes, adding water if mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool for at least 20 minutes.
Heat the tortillas in a hot saute pan (preferably cast iron), and fill with shredded cabbage, then jackfruit mixture and finish with the topping.
METHOD FOR TOPPING:
In a small sauce pan add vinegar, sliced red onion and carrots. Simmer for 6 minutes and remove from heat. Cool for 20 minutes. Add cilantro
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.