Find warmth with island-inspired food

By Bill Colvard -
When warm weather is failing to materialize, try an island-inspired sandwich of pulled pork and red-cabbage slaw on banana bread. - Bill Colvard | The News

In a year when spring is exhibiting a shocking lack of commitment, and Easter egg hunts are canceled, postponed or seriously impeded by snow, it’s easy to wonder if warm weather will ever get here to stay.

Just a day or so, social media weather reports of snow this coming weekend in Pilot Mountain were making the rounds. Though now shows 90 percent chance of rain with a low of 33 degrees for Saturday in Pilot, the winter storm reports refuse to die. Fake news (or perhaps fake weather), or perhaps it’s never going to get warm and stay warm.

But if warm weather refuses to come to you, you can go to it — via food. Think of all the wonderful, exotic, island-y food you ate on that trip to the Virgin Islands you either took, wanted to take, or will want to take after sampling some of their recipes. Island food will make you warm by association, and sometimes, because it’s full of hot peppers.

And nothing is more island-y than fruit, particularly tropical fruit, in the main course. It doesn’t take a frequent flyer to the Caribbean to know that island cuisine is very fruit forward. A childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island reruns will teach you that. So, even if the concept of using fruit in savory dishes is not an alien concept to most American minds, making a pulled pork sandwich on banana bread is perhaps a bit beyond the pale.

And yet, rumors have been circulating for several years of a resort in Saint John in the US Virgin Islands that serves just such a sandwich. Evidence of the sandwich is anecdotal, and the recipes available are all of the copycat variety, but nonetheless, it’s tasty. And it’s hard to be concerned about winter overstaying its welcome while eating it.

Also, there is something freeing about grilling banana bread in butter in order to make a sandwich. It just feels so naughty. The trick is to get the banana bread sliced thin enough that it resembles sandwich bread without it falling apart, but there is no shame in tossing aside the top piece of bread, eating the sandwich open face with a knife and fork, and saving the second slice for dessert. It feels like you’re a kid and all of the adult rules have all been suspended, much the same way a Caribbean vacation feels.

Pulled pork with notes of garlic, orange and passion fruit rum spooned onto grilled, buttered banana bread, and topped with tangy, coconut-y red cabbage slaw will have you feeling the limbo in your soul by the second bite. But be warned, if you wimp out on any part of the combo, it’s just not the same. For instance, without the sweet, nutty bread, the pork is kind of bland. You’re going to need some of your favorite Caribbean hot sauce to perk it up.

Or perhaps, you’d like to start with something simpler, like banana fritters fried up just the way they make them in Saint Thomas. Or maybe you’d like a more generic island inspiration. Try Island Beach Chicken, which is Caribbean without referencing any particular island. Nice and hot, a little like jerk chicken, and you can dilute the heat with Puerto Rico’s favorite dish, Arroz Con Gandules, otherwise known as Rice and Pigeon Peas.

Put on a Jimmy Buffett playlist, and you’ll be all set to wait out Mother Nature.

Pulled Pork

For the pulled pork:

3 pounds boneless pork butt/shoulder

2 tbsp. smoked sea salt

1 orange, quartered

6 garlic cloves, peeled

¼ cup passion fruit rum (local ABC stores have mini-bottles of mango and pineapple Baccardi. Either works nicely.)

Using a steak knife, poke the pork all over and rub with smoked salt. Place in the slow cooker along with the orange quarters and garlic cloves. Turn on low and cook for 12 hours. Halfway through, flip the pork and add the rum. When done, remove the excess fat and shred the pork with a fork.

Red Cabbage Slaw

3 cups shredded red cabbage

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tbsp. coconut white balsamic vinegar (white balsamic or white white vinegar will also work fine)

1 tsp. sugar

Place the shredded cabbage in a salad spinner or a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage and mix. Let sit for an hour, then rinse and squeeze/spin out the excess water. Transfer the cabbage to a seal-able container. Add the vinegar and sugar and mix. Cover and store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, until ready to use.

Banana Bread

1 -2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil

3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed

2 tbsp. sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Set oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a whisk until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Drizzle in oil. Add mashed bananas, creme fraiche, and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients and nuts. Pour into a lined loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches on Banana Bread

Pulled pork

Red Cabbage Slaw

Banana bread


Slice the banana bread to the thickness you prefer and butter both sides. Heat a pan over medium-high heat and cook the banana bread slices, turning once, until both sides are browned. Top one slice with the pulled pork and slaw and add the other slice. Serve with plantain or yucca chips, or any chips, or eat plain.

Virgin Islands Style Banana Fritters

4 -6 very ripe bananas

1 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup milk

1 tbsp. demerara sugar

1 tsp. vanilla essence

1 tsp. nutmeg

2 tsp. cinnamon

oil (for frying)

Heat large skillet and fill with about 1/2 cup of oil. Mix all ingredients up to cinnamon with a wire whisk. Mix until batter is almost a pancake batter-like consistency. Make sure batter isn’t too thick; if it is, add a little bit of water, it definitely won’t hurt the flavor. Spoon out batter into the skillet as if you are making small pancakes. Try to spread the mix out so that it isn’t too thick while frying. (If the batter is too thick it will fall apart when you try to flip the fritters). Brown the fritters until they are a golden brown; you don’t want them to be too light, but you don’t want them to be extremely dark either. Watch the edges of the fritters; the edges should turn brown when ready to be flipped. When done frying, drain as much of the excess oil off and then transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels.

Island Beach Chicken

Not specific to the Virgin Islands, but more generic of beachy island destinations. Could be Jamaica, the Bahamas or Barbados, as well as the Virgin Islands. They all use spicy, highly seasoned meats and grill over live fire. And getting out the grill will make it feel like summer, even if you’re shivering the whole time.

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces (or 8 bone-in thighs, 4 leg quarters, etc.)

1 roasted red bell pepper; (or a roasted pepper from a jar)

1 habanero pepper; seeded and diced (wear gloves, please)

1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced

1 green onion, diced

1/4 cup red onion, diced

1/4 cup yellow onion, diced

1/4 cup parsley, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup oil

Take all of the ingredients except the chicken and put in your blender or food processor. Blend/process until smooth. Marinate the chicken with the mixture for 4-8 hours. Set up your grill for a medium heat (350°F.) direct cook. Grill for 8-12 minutes per side. Don”t be afraid of a little char, but keep them turned as needed. Remove when the thighs are 170°F. and the breasts are 160°F. Normally this will take 8-12 minutes as noted above, but on a colder, breezy day it took almost 30 minutes total grilling time to get the biggest pieces to the proper internal temperature. That’s why it is important to cook by temps, not time. Serve with pigeon peas and rice. You can easily make this ahead of time. Chicken can be marinaded up to 24 hours in advance.

Arroz Con Gandules (Rice and Pigeon Peas)

Arroz Con Gandules is a traditional Puerto Rican dish.

2 cups rice

3 cups water

1/2 cup Sofrito

1 16-oz can gandules (Pigeon Peas)

1 tbsp. capers

1 tbsp. green olives with pimiento, sliced

1 packet Sazon Goya w/Culantro and Annatto

1 8-oz. can tomato sauce

3 tbsp. cooking oil

Salt & Pepper, to taste if needed

In a medium sized Caldero (or Dutch oven), combine oil, tomato sauce, capers, olives, Sofrito, & Sazon. Cook over medium heat for 4 minutes. Add all other ingredients. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Bring to a boil for 1 minute, reduce heat to low/medium and cook covered for approx. 20-30 minutes. Do not stir rice during cooking process or it will get mushy.

Sazon (1 1/4 tsp. equals one packet of Sazon in recipe)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. annatto


1 large yellow onion

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

1 Ajies pepper (red and sweet)

1 medium head of garlic

1 bunch of fresh cilantro

6 culantro leaves (Coriander)

1/4 cup pitted olives

1 tbsp. capers

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. crushed oregano

1/2 cup olive oil

Wash, peel and seed everything. Purée and store.

When warm weather is failing to materialize, try an island-inspired sandwich of pulled pork and red-cabbage slaw on banana bread. warm weather is failing to materialize, try an island-inspired sandwich of pulled pork and red-cabbage slaw on banana bread. Bill Colvard | The News

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.