I met with Cook’s Flavoring Company representative Walter Nicholls awhile back and we conversed about a very controversial topic: vanilla beans. Oh, I know what you’re going to say—vanilla beans aren’t a volatile topic. The rated-G beans are really great for crème brulee and getting creative with cupcakes, frostings or ambrosia. Bakeries and all the sweet dishes they yield have conditioned us to believe that vanilla only works with cheesecakes and petit fours. Well, with the help of a few brave beans, I’m going to free your mind of the stereotypical vanilla bean recipe.
However, before I unleash the power of the vanilla bean upon you, I should inform you that the vanilla beans Mr. Nicholls from Cook’s gave to me were colossal. They were plump and fragrant and beautiful. Nothing like what you may come across in your grocer’s aisle, a thin stalk folded into thirds and stuffed in a jar. Cook’s premium vanilla beans may be procured from Bayou Bakery, Cork Market, Palena Market, Black Salt Market, Butcher’s Block, Central Coffee Roasters (Sperryville, VA) and Home Farm Store (Middleburg, VA). Their website is located here.
For those of you who don’t know, vanilla beans are gleaned from vanilla orchids and the species originated in Mexico. These days the primary sources of beans are the Madagascar and Tahitian varieties of the same orchids. Each flower has to be hand pollinated, and once the pods are harvested, they must be dried and cured for around six months to fully develop the flavor. The process of producing vanilla beans remains very labor-intensive, keeping prices on the beans high. However, do not settle for imitation. Once you taste the complex flavor of a real vanilla bean, nothing else will do. Each recipe title is a clickable link, except the cocktails. And now, onto the recipes:
1. Vanilla Pork Chops – I never would have guessed that vanilla and pork chops would go together so well, but they do. If you’re a fan of pork chops or vanilla, this recipe (courtesy of the Washington Post) is a must-try. I did not use my grill, but the broiler does just fine during the winter.
2. Scallops with Champagne-Vanilla Butter Sauce – I love Emeril. His sauce is a bit of a challenge, but a little patience goes a long way. Again, I was surprised at how well the vanilla and scallops went with each other. I would suggest that a nice white fish fillet would do equally well in this sauce.
3. Salmon with Citrus Emulsion – This dish was incredibly flavorful. Once again, the sauce takes a little more effort than usual to complete, but it is worth the few extra minutes. I’d recommend serving this fish entrée with buttery mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans to wow your dining companions.
4. Vanilla Bean-Champagne Cocktail – This drink was one of Mr. Nicholls’ suggestions, and it’s impressive. Fill each of four flutes about three-quarters of the way with champagne and add ½ ounce of your favorite vanilla liqueur per glass. I split two vanilla beans lengthwise, and used one half in each flute as the garnish. It’s a great cocktail to serve when you want to have an elegant evening. One other cocktail Mr. Nicholls asked me to try was a Cuba Libre with the addition of the seeds from half a vanilla bean. It was very good, and the kind of drink you’d want to encounter at a local bar as one of the special house drinks.
5. Curried Duck with Vanilla – I ended up using chicken thighs instead of duck legs for this recipe, but I was seriously impressed by how deliciously the vanilla and curry went together. I ended up using different vegetables, but I kept the spices the same. Though I was slightly worried about the vanilla overwhelming the dish (it smelled amazing), the taste of the vanilla ended up more subtle and complimentary to the curry. For anyone who may be afraid to incorporate vanilla into savory entrees, try this dish first! You’ll be very glad you did.
Disclosure: From time to time, we are given free items (like vanilla beans), meals, or events.