Swiss chocolate. Swiss cheese. Swiss Miss. Swiss barbecue?
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I’m at Altes Tramdepot restaurant in Berne, Switzerland, where carved nicknames of local drinking club members speak from the surface of rickety wooden tables and frothy house-brewed blonde beer stirs the appetite. Spying a combo Americans rarely consider—barbecued fruit and meat—I abandon the safer Swiss standbys of cheese and chocolate for my first Pouletbrust at Saaner Senfsauce mit Gebratener Banane und Ananas. That’s Swiss German for grilled chicken, banana, and pineapple with cherry sauce. I soon discover what else it can mean: a refreshingly simple and unique style of summer grilling.
The plate arrives and, wielding fork instead of fondue stick, I ease off a corner of banana still in the peel, lump that on top of sliced chicken and let it linger in the cherry goo. Then to the mouth, where my tastebuds think I am licking the fruit wallpaper of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. As the sweet and savory fog of cherry-chicken-banana clears, I reach for another combo–
perhaps pineapple this time? So many choices, so much flavor, and apparently so little effort required.
~ ~ ~
Back from the land of symphonic cowbells and clouds that strike poses above fuchsia and purple flowerboxes, I challenged myself to recreate this Swiss-summer refresher.
The chicken, banana and pineapple components of the recipe were relatively self-explanatory—I needed only to grill and recreate their rewarding juxtaposition. The oozing pile of cherry sauce proved more mysterious. I sent my Swiss correspondent—who had taken me to Altes in the first place—back to the restaurant to plead for insights, but the cooks obeyed strict orders not to divulge any recipes.
So I turned to the Web and spliced three different cherry sauce concoctions. My base recipe came from a formula an army cook posted on astray.com, which I promptly made more difficult.
I bought all my ingredients fresh—which proved unwise considering the cherry sauce recipe I had required separating canned cherries from their juice, not pulling individual cherries off their pits and squeezing the excess juice into a measuring cup. Reddened cuticles bore the battle wounds of my stubborn obsession with freshness.
The rest of the preparation went relatively smoothly. I whipped up my favorite light marinade with a small amount of garlic and rosemary and lemon juice, thinking those tones would complement the fruit. Feel free to insert your own, but I’d stay on the lighter side.
After ample marinade interlude, the chicken hit the grill, joined there by some pineapple spears and halved bananas (in peel to keep them together).
Once cooked and sliced, the chicken offered a great canvas for dashes of smoky banana, warm, dripping pineapple and the luxurious cherry sauce. The staple sauce served as the catalyst for the dish, keeping all things moist, dynamic and connected. The net result was fruitful in more than one sense, and its magic spoke to the Swiss’ inherent understanding of fruit and meat made most famous in fondues. I encourage demonstrating further deference to their expertise by serving the plate with standard Swiss sides of spring-mixed salad and potatoes, a flaky loaf of French bread and, ideally, a blonde beer imported from Europe.
Grilled Chicken and Summer Cherry Sauce (Serves 4-6)Ingredients
Basic Marinade (4-6 chicken breasts)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
A dash of black pepper
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary
Cherry Sauce (10 servings)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Imitation lemon flavor to taste
2 pounds of dark cherries (canned if possible)
For marinade: Combine ingredients, pour over chicken, and store for four hours or more. Turn chicken halfway through.
For sauce: Separate cherries and juice from cans and set each aside. Combine sugar, flour, and water in a bowl and mix. Use leftover cherry juice and combine with water until there is one cup total liquid. Bring mixture to a boil. Add flour and sugar mixture and stir for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid becomes thick. Remove from heat and add cherries, lemon flavors, and a little food coloring for a redder result.
Serve alongside grilled chicken breasts, banana halves, and pineapple spears.