Pineapple perfection: Sweet or savory

This versatile fruit is a welcome addition to savory entrees and innovative desserts.

Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

pineapple quinoa

Gabriel Gomez, the executive chef at Los Angeles’ Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, loves cooking with pineapple for two reasons: “I love the taste,” Gomez says. “And I think pineapple is one of the most reliable fruits to work with in the kitchen.”

For his Hawaiian curry, Gomez makes a paste by sautéing garlic, onion, coriander, curry powder, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper and lemongrass together. He then adds raisins, peanuts, drained kidney beans and chunks of pineapple and lets it simmer on the stovetop. Finally, he adds coconut milk and seasons it with a little salt and pepper. “It makes for a great vegetarian option for our customers,” Gomez says.

To make his tofu stir-fry, Gomez marinates tofu for two hours in a mixture of soy sauce, pineapple juice, chili sauce and sesame oil. Once it’s marinated, he then roasts the tofu in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes to firm it up.

Next, he’ll cook canned pineapple chunks, onions, chopped garlic, bok choy, water chestnuts, carrots, broccoli florets, eggplant, green peppers, red bell peppers and bamboo shoots in a sauté pan for a few minutes and then adds his stir-fry sauce—a blend of pineapple juice, light soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic—to finish the dish.

For a crusted salmon with a pineapple vinaigrette, Gomez makes his own breadcrumbs with white bread, fresh herbs, salt and grated orange peel. He then smears a base of Dijon mustard on the salmon so the breadcrumbs will stick to it, and then bakes the salmon-and-breadcrumb mixture in the oven for 15 minutes in a 325-degree oven.

While the dish is baking, Gomez makes a pineapple vinaigrette with a mix of fresh pineapple, pineapple juice, olive oil, soy sauce, shallots, Dijon mustard, black pepper and rice wine vinegar. When the fish is done baking, he pours two ounces of the dressing over the fish and garnishes it with a slice of grilled pineapple.

Keeping it vegetarian

As more people focus on a plant-based diet, pineapple has become an important player in many of the recipes at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island in Providence, R.I., says Mike Mooney, the manager for Epicurean Feast, BCBS’s foodservice provider.

One of his customers’ favorite salads is a red quinoa salad with grilled pineapple. “We’ll cook the red quinoa in our homemade veggie stock and cool it down,” Mooney says.

Next, they’ll grill a pineapple or two, cut it up and mix it in with quinoa and a puree of avocado, honey, mustard, ginger and rice wine vinegar. “Then we’ll throw in some fresh red peppers, shredded carrot and cilantro,” Mooney says. “A lot of times, we’ll also just add-in any veggies we have in the walk-in. We put the salad in little cups and the customers love it.”

In the summertime, they’ll stuff a tomato with that same mixture or serve the salad alone as a side dish. “Even though it’s plant-based, it’s still hearty,” Mooney says. During warmer months, he also makes a cumin-and-lime grilled chicken breast topped with a pineapple and black bean salsa.

For a simple dessert, Mooney’s team slices up a pineapple and tops it with a sauce made from fresh honey, lime juice and rum. “What’s nice about pineapple is it’s pretty much available year-round,” Mooney says. “Even when pineapple comes in a little green, a couple days later it will be perfect.”

Sweet or savory

Pineapple can elevate a sweet or savory dish, adding depth and flavor. 

At the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, executive chef Eric Ernest uses pineapple in in a variety of palate-pleasing dishes, from panna cotta with pineapple granita to pairing it with squash and curry.

To make pineapple truffles, Ernest purees pineapple to make a thick curd—similar to lemon curd—and rolls it in coconut flakes and dried pineapple. His team also does a more traditional truffle with a mixture of dark chocolate, coconut milk, coconut flakes and pineapple puree that is then rolled in dried pineapple. 

Other favorites include mojito pineapple push-ups made with pineapple puree, mint, sugar, rum, lime juice and a little cream, and classics such as pineapple upside-down cake and candied baby pineapple.

When it comes to savory dishes, Ernest likes to add pineapple to any kind of roasted squash, sometimes pairing it with short ribs. “It’s sweet and bitter with balanced acidity, which lightens the roasted flavor of the squash,” he says.

Ernest also likes to make curry with pineapple. In his traditional preparation, Ernest roasts lobster and finishes it with a red Thai curry sauce and lightly cooked pineapple. “I top that with some crispy garlic chilies and ginger,” he says. “The sweetness and the texture of the pineapple goes really great with the lobster.”

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