The churned cream of cows’ milk tends to feature fairly prominently in my diet and my cooking. I will not sully my bread with anything less than pure, natural English or French butter (unless perchance I’m dipping a piece of ciabatta in a good olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar). Tomatoes on toast are just not right unless fried in a mixture of extra virgin and good butter (with freshly ground black pepper) and the same combination works admirably for roasting potatoes when there is no goose fat left.
I recently stayed in a self-catering apartment in the Caribbean. Although we made some use of local restaurants, the cooking facilities came in handy, especially on the third day when I caught a barracuda.
Stocking up at the local supermarket, I bought such essentials as coffee, fresh fruit, rice, rum – and went to look for some butter. There were a few packets of a well-known antipodean brand but that was all. Plenty of margarine. Well, if you’ve read my book, you will know that I detest antipodean butter and have nothing but contempt for that culinary abomination I just mentioned. So, I decided it would have to be a week without butter. I bought a small bottle of coconut oil since that was sort of local and extra virgin olive oil doesn’t come cheap in the West Indies.
The issue of what to spread on the bread I’d bought was solved by having avocado toast for breakfast. The avocado, which I bought from a street trader, was a big one and she assured me it was perfectly ripe. Having squeezed the thing I was dubious – back home an avocado that soft to the touch would almost certainly be brown and mushy inside * – but I trusted her. When I cut it open it was full of creamy yellow flesh which spread – like butter. Which confirms my suspicion that a lot of the tropical fruits we get here never really ripen properly. I have long known this is true of mangos – they never aspire to that state of sweet, succulent juiciness which they have when eaten in their native territory. But now it appears the same is true of avocados. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; fruits were meant to ripen on the tree, not in a cold store thousands of miles away.
But I digress. The doing without butter was working well. The coconut oil was fine for cooking a red and green pepper omelette, the bacon (American style streaky **) was fat enough to fry without any additional lubrication and all the barracuda steaks needed was a squirt of fresh lime juice (although I did try one with sour orange for comparison).
* QED: not long after writing that I opened an avocado that was much less soft externally than the aforementioned one but it was already beyond redemption. Fortunately I had a couple more in hand.
** Interesting that the Caribbean islands, despite being mostly former British and French colonies, show a decidedly American influence in culinary matters, even in the pronunciation of ingredients like “tomaytoes” and “baysil”. Geography trumps history? And is back bacon known at all on the west of the pond?
Actually the week wasn’t completely without butter. At a charming little restaurant just above Marigot Bay, the esteemed proprietress cooked and served us a lovely dish of freshly-caught mahi-mahi with lemon and garlic butter.