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, and crème caramel, as well as in poaching liquids.
When cooks flavour 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 flavour will knock you over.
Most commercial operators and an overwhelming majority of home cooks use vanilla extract for convenience and cost, but the flavour of the extract has little semblance to the subtlety of the true vanilla bean.
Vanilla pods are sold in specialty stores. Often labelled 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 favourably enhanced by vanilla. Of course rim and cognac producers have for centuries been using oak barrels that exude vanilla flavours making their products more appealing.
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 chilli peppers. Vanilla must be cooked slowly and over a long period. It loses its glorious subtleties in high heat.
Veal scalloppine with vanilla and Calvados
Yield: 4 portions
t tbsp butter, unsalted
4 tbsp Calvados
3 shallots, minced
Chopped parsley and thyme tt
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream
½ vanilla bean, split
Coat veal lightly with seasoned flour and brown in the butter. Cook meat until tender, approximately five minutes. Warm the Calvados separately, and add to the pan. Flambé. Shake pan until flames die.
Remove meat from pan and keep warm. Add shallots, parsley, thyme, wine, cream and vanilla. Blend well. Return meat to the pan, turn to coat. Remove vanilla bean and plate to serve.