My affection for banana starts with a 1945 establishment nestled behind the harbour at a typically English sea-side town and extends to the roadside running perpendicular to the Red River in Hanoi, and the many nuances in between.
As a child, and my ever receding memory still serves me well in to remembering when I was 5 years old, I yearned for two things in my life. The first was a summer holiday stay with my grandparents and a very close second was the Harbour Bar in a quaint little seaside town called Scarborough on the east coast of Yorkshire. The Harbour bar was an Aladdin’s cave of sweet and holiday-spirit delights. Walking in the door was like being dropped in to a place so wonderful, so magical that even Charlie Bucket would not have believed it. The smell of every flavour of ice-cream and then chocolate, cherries, peaches, marshmallows, sweet syrups, lemonade and the sea breeze that wafted through has never left me. As I write this now I close my eyes and I am back there. I can here jovial chatter, the clinking of glass, the crunching of wafer, the fizz of vanilla ice-cream being dropped in to soda, and ice-cream churners churning. And within all that two amazing treats stood out, the two that would cause me to umm and ahh each visit; which one should I pick? The first was their iconic Knickerbocker Glory; a glass as high as the ceiling filled with strawberries, peaches in sweet syrup, ice-cream, cherries, whipped cream, chocolate bits and a big wafer triangle adorning the top. I would choose this first and then remember the second one, the banana split. A banana sliced lengthways filled with three scoops of the house-made vanilla ice-cream, fresh whipped cream, unctuous chocolate sauce, chopped peanuts and the famous wafer. Of all the choices I have had to make through my life this was the most difficult, but by far the most enjoyable.
Roll on many years later; wandering through the backstreets of Hanoi with my young daughter, we passed some ladies at the roadside cooking banana fritters. At first we walked past, although I could see in my daughter’s eyes disappointment. I was taken back to the seaside town and thought about how I would have felt walking past the Harbour Bar and not being allowed to go in. We turned back and sat down with the ladies, communicating in mimes. We were given a banana fritter each with a little sweet sauce, and as I bit in I resumed my affection for banana. As I turned to my daughter I could see a glint that I am sure my mother saw in mine when I first tasted that banana split (and the Knickerbocker Glory).
This recipe is something I have created to celebrate banana, taking my influence from childhood and travels.
Tempura Banana with Palm Sugar and Coconut Caramel SaucePrint
- For the Caramel Sauce:
- ■ 125g palm sugar | Grated. A brilliant caramel flavoured sugar with deep treacle notes.
- ■ 85g butter | Softened and cubed.
- ■ ½ tsp. sea salt | A little salt in sweet sauces can enhance the flavour.
- ■ 250ml single cream | 35% milk fat solids.
- ■ 100ml coconut milk | Full fat.
- For the Tempura Batter:
- ■ 200ml ice cold water | The colder it is the lighter the batter will be.
- ■ 1 large egg yolk |
- ■ ½ tsp. sea salt |
- ■ 100g plain flour |
- ■ 10g desiccated coconut |
- Final Dessert:
- ■ 4 bananas |
- ■ 1 litre grapeseed oil | Or any other non-flavoured cooking oil.
- Garnish with icing sugar and desiccated coconut.
To a medium sized heavy based pan add the grated palm sugar, butter and sea salt. Put the pan on a low heat and stir until the caramel is bubbling and has darkened slightly. Caramelising palm sugar is difficult as it is already a caramel colour so you don’t have a clear visual reference. Try for about 10 minutes; the mixture should be thick, sticky and a shade darker than when you started (but be careful not to burn it though).
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the cream and coconut milk to the caramel – it will spit and bubble. Put the pan on a medium heat and bring back to the boil. Continue to gently boil until the caramel has reduced by about one third, making sure you stir frequently. To check, take the pan off the heat so the bubbles subside. If the sauce is not ready put it back on the heat and continue to reduce. It is ready when it has thickened to a glossy caramel. Set aside.
In a pan, or wok, heat the oil until it reaches 180 deg. C (356 deg. F) – check with a thermometer.
For the tempura batter, add the cold water and egg yolk to a bowl and lightly whisk until just mixed. Cooking chopsticks are ideal to make this batter. Add the salt and flour and gently stir taking care not to overwork the batter. The batter should still have a few lumps in it. Add the coconut and mix.
To cook, dip a banana in the batter so that it is completely covered. Allow any excess batter to drip off and place the banana in the hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes and then turn it over and cook for about a further two minutes. The batter should be a nice light golden brown in colour, and the banana slightly softened. You can cook the bananas in batches of two (more than this will reduce the temperature of the oil too much and the batter will not be light and crispy).
Warm the caramel sauce. Serve a banana covered in the sauce garnished with a sprinkle of icing sugar and desiccated coconut.
This is most excellent served with a quenelle of vanilla ice-cream or a splattering of fresh cream.