There are few dishes that sound more preposterous, on the surface, than a salad made from a tree trunk. Yet at some point, a hungry person chopped open the main stem of a palm tree, and decided that eating its core might be preferable to starvation.
Hearts of palm are most often found in cans, but one Buffalo restaurant has made it its business to ship in fresh, organic hearts of palm from the same Hawaiian exporter that sends it seafood via overnight air express.
At Bourbon & Butter, chef Chris Daigler took on the challenge of presenting the historic ingredient in a new style.
“Even when they’re canned, they have lots of nutritional value, but we get fresh ones,” said Daigler. “I like to take a cleaver to it, since occasionally there’s a harder shell – they use a machete in Hawaii to chop them down.”
“We break them down into smaller pieces, and blanch them in salted water for about five minutes,” Daigler said. The palm segments are shocked in ice water to stop the cooking process, then put on a griddle to caramelize them.
Daigler uses the hearts as the center of a $13 composed salad, surrounded by flavorful, colorful associates.
There are cucumbers quick-pickled in sushi vinegar and a touch of sambal oelek chili sauce. There’s watermelon radish, thin-sliced on the mandolin, and lime supremes, for bursts of fresh citrus. There are red-veined sorrel leaves, astringent and vivid, and compressed Granny Smith apples, their flavor intensified by being held overnight in a sous vide bag with rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt and “a lot of ginger,” Daigler said. “It’s really refreshing.”
The last element is a sweet-tangy brown tamarind vinaigrette, featuring the flavor of the tropical pod – like lemon, but huskier – with even more ginger.
But what of the hearts of palm themselves?
“Every person I’ve given the salad to is kind of amazed by it – not by the flavor, but the tenderness,” said Daigler. People who’ve only tried the canned version before have remarked on the difference, he said.
“Without the brining, you get a real sense of the nuttiness, almost like an artichoke. They’re really full of flavor.”
Info: Bourbon & Butter, in Hotel @ the Lafayette, 391 Washington St. (bourbonbutter.bar, 253-6453)