When I first started cooking I was slightly scared of pineapples, not knowing quite how to come at them or where to start with my knife. When I was a child, pineapple came tinned in neat rings packed in syrup.
My favourite teacher, Elizabeth David (though only through books), came to my aid and, as always, explained it perfectly, which gave me immense satisfaction as I proudly took the pineapple to the table sprinkled with a little sugar and Kirsch.
First you need to buy a ripe pineapple: look for proud, lively green tufts that don’t look too aged or tired. Give one a tug if you can: if it’s ripe it should pull off easily. The other thing to look for is the little thorny bits that stick out – they should be brown. The colour of the pineapple itself is not always a guide: some from Central America are very green and others from the Ivory Coast are golden amber.
Feel the pineapple at the base: it should give and feel soft if it’s ripe, and don’t forget to smell its strong pineapple perfume, probably telling you more than anything if it’s ready to eat. I have now created my own way of dealing with a pineapple. Needless to say, the tough, elusive-looking object needs a really sharp knife. First slice off the leafy top and about ½ inch (1 cm) of the fruit with it – you need to get this as straight as possible. Put it to one side, then cut off the opposite end, which can be discarded.
Now stand it upright and slice off the skin vertically in slices, going all the way round. What you will now have is a whole peeled pineapple, and what you need to do next is use the tip of a potato peeler to dig out the ‘eyes’, which are similar to those of a potato. Now slice the pineapple vertically in half, then into quarters. The central core can be a bit tough, so slice this off along the centre of each quarter, then cut the quarters into slices about ¾ inch (7 mm) thick.
Arrange these in overlapping circles, then sprinkle with a light dusting of sugar and a little Kirsch (rum is also very good) and pop the leafy top in the centre.
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