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One of Mexico City’s Top Chefs Finds Inspiration in Rotten Bananas

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Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol addresses the Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium.

When Enrique Olvera was a child, his grandmother would take rotten baby bananas and turn them into a dish that she would proudly serve to the entire family.

The chef, who heads Mexico City’s celebrated Pujol restaurant, hated the dish back then. “We weren’t rich, but we certainly weren’t poor,” he recalled Wednesday during the opening of the Culinary Institute of America’s annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the San Antonio campus.

But the image of rotten old bananas somehow seemed beneath his family, at least when filtered through his youthful perspective.

Now that he’s in charge of a world-renowned kitchen and the Mexican City guide, Chilango, has named him Chef of the Decade, Olvera has found inspiration in his memory of those black-brown baby bananas. They are a proud part of the menu he serves at his restaurant, which he says focuses on food that is closer to home cooking than to fine dining — though it is more likely a savory combination of both.

For  this dish, he sautés the overripe baby bananas in clarified butter before topping them with macadamia nuts, a vinegar-infused sour cream and mint leaves.

Just sear the banana, he said. That gives it a texture similar to foie gras. Also, be careful to baste the banana with as much of the butter as possible.

The end result is not as sweet as you might think , because the longer the bananas ripen, the less sweet they become. And that suits Olvera just fine. “I hate sweet things, for some reason,” he said.

If the thought of bananas aged beyond the point where you’d use them in banana bread turns you off, the way they did when Olvera was a child, then think of them in this light: “You guys in America like to age your beef,” the chef said. “Why can’t we age our fruit.”

Ripe Banana, Grated Macadamia Nuts, Mint and Sour Cream

You want very ripe bananas for this recipe.

6 tablespoons clarified butter
4 baby bananas, very ripe, sliced
8 macadamia nuts
1/8 cup sour cream
1/3 teaspoon banana vinegar (see note)
Spice blend, for garnish (see below)
8 leaves mint microgreens
Ground cocoa nibs, for garnish

Spice blend:
Chilhuacle negro chile, for garnish
Cardamom, for garnish
Black pepper
Clove

Preheat oven to 285 degrees.

Heat the butter in a sauté pan, and fry the sliced bananas until they are golden in color. Place in a asheet pan lined with parchment paper, reserve.

Roast the  macadamia nuts in the oven for 18 minutes.

Mix the cream with the banana vinegar, place in a pastry bag and reserve.

For the spice blend: Toast the chilhuacle negro chile, cardamom, black pepper and clove. Grind and mix.

On a large plate, place the fried bananas and, with a microplane, grate the macadamia nuts on top like a cloud. Pout a dollop of sour cream on each end of the banana, sprinkle with the spice blend, garnish with mint and scatter some cocoa powder over the top.

Note: You can order banana vinegar from Rancho Gordo. You can substitute another heavily fruit-flavored vinegar, though you may want to use a little less.

Makes 4 servings.

From Enrique Olvera/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

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