13 years ago by
When Spanish conquistadors came calling, Aztecs were already enjoying vanilla mixed into chocolate.
Grown only in Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti, vanilla pods are versatile and can be used to flavour chocolates, fruit salads, pumpkin soup. Lobster bisque, veal scallopine, ice cream, creme caramel, as well as in poaching liquids. When cooks flavor ice cream with a split vanilla pod infused in the custard, the creamy scoops alongside a plum torte or poached pear won?t exactly be dark and dusky, but the flavor will knock you over.
Most commercial operators and an overwhelming majority of home cooks use vanilla extract for convenience and cost, but the flavor of the extract has little semblance to the subtlety of the true vanilla bean.
Vanilla pods are sold in specialty stores. Often labeled Bourbon in an allusion to the French heritage of the islands such as Madagascar that produce most of the vanilla, but the Mexican beans also come from the same plant. The more flowery, less rich Tahitian beans come from a slightly different species of orchid.
The gnarly and ugly looking vanilla bean usually sold in a glass tube may look unpalatable, but once you take it out, split it open and scrape the tiny pods, the exotic aroma will knock you over. You will never want to use the artificial substitute if you can afford true vanilla.
The classic application for vanilla is in cookies, creams, pastry sauces, custards and puddings, but tropical fruits like bananas and pineapple benefit greatly from vanilla.
Hazelnuts, almonds, oats, maple syrup, and cornmeal can be favorably enhanced by vanilla. Of course rum and cognac producers have for centuries been using oak barrels that exude vanilla flavors making their products more appealing.
Vanilla has almost always been seen as a sweet spice, even more than cinnamon and nutmeg. It can be used to good effect in lobster and mango salad with a vanilla-and-pepper sabayon.
Mexican recipes use vanilla as a counterpoint to tomatoes and hot chili peppers. Vanilla must be cooked slowly and over a long period. It loses its glorious subtleties in high heat. (Source: Food Reference)
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