As I stood at the cutting board slicing slabs of thick skin off a fresh pineapple, a thought occurred to me — the strips of skin were an awful lot like the cedar planks some people use to add flavour to food on the grill. Perhaps they could be used the same way.
Cedar plank grilling is pretty basic. You soak a cedar wood plank (be certain they are meant for cooking and have not been treated with anything) in water for a bit, then set your food (salmon and chicken are nice) on it. Place the whole thing on the grill and let it cook. The plank gets charred and infuses the food with an earthy, savory, smoky flavour.
I wondered what would happen if I used pineapple skin (or what I like to think of as pineapple bark). And I wouldn't even need to soak it because the skin contains its own juices.
I tried it both on the grill and in the oven and it worked great. The pineapple infused the meat with a delicate sweetness, and kept it moist and juicy. The enzymes in the pineapple also helped tenderize the meat (I sandwiched chicken breast cutlets between two strips of pineapple bark and let them "marinate" for a bit).
The same technique also worked on fish. I tried it with hake with delicious results, though any firm white fish would be appropriate. Just don't prep the fish or meat with the pineapple skin too far ahead of time, as the acidity of the juice will make the flesh mushy.
To use the rest of the pineapple, I decided to accompany the chicken with grilled pineapple and guacamole.
PINEAPPLE BARK CHICKEN WITH GRILLED PINEAPPLE GUACAMOLE
Start to finish: 2 hours 45 minutes (45 minutes active)
1 large whole pineapple
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and ground black pepper
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, diced
2 avocados, pitted and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Carefully cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple. These can be discarded. Stand the pineapple upright. Cut the skin off the pineapple, removing it in 6 long strips. To do this, begin cutting at the top of the fruit and slice downward, letting the knife follow the curve of the fruit. Leave about 1/2 inch of flesh on each strip of skin. Rotate the fruit and repeat. Set aside.
Place each chicken breast between sheets of plastic wrap and use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Season each on both sides with salt, pepper, cumin and cayenne. Lay each piece of chicken over the cut side of one of the slices of pineapple skin. Set a second strip of pineapple skin, cut side down, on top. Use kitchen twine to tie the bundles to hold them together. Refrigerate the chicken bundles for about 30 minutes.
When ready to cook, heat one side of the grill to high, the other side to low.
Meanwhile, cut the skinned pineapple (the flesh) into thick rounds. Use a small round cookie or biscuit cutter (or a paring knife) to cut out and discard the core from each round.
When the grill is hot, arrange the chicken bundles on the cooler side of the grill. Cook for 15 minutes per side, or until the chicken reaches 165 F at the centre. During the final 10 minutes, add the pineapple rings and cook for 5 minutes per side.
While the chicken cooks, prepare the guacamole. In a small bowl combine the red onion, jalapeno, avocados, lime juice and cilantro. Gently mix, then season with salt and pepper.
To serve, place one chicken bundle on each plate. Set a grilled pineapple ring next to it, then spoon some of the guacamole into the centre of and over the pineapple ring.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 430 calories; 190 calories from fat (44 per cent of total calories); 21 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 70 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 12 g fiber; 280 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.