Top Banana Transcript

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The Jungle

GUEST: Zapato

[AB and Zapato are paddling in a raft, the pull up to bank, get out,
check their map and begin their trek in the jungle, a la India Jones]

ZAPATO: [stopping to rest against a tree, obviously scarred] Tell me, señor, what do we seek in this horrible place?
AB: The Holy Grail of edible artifacts, my friend. A golden idol so exotic, mysterious and delicious that many call it "fruit of paradise". That's what we're looking for. And it's close. It's real close.
  Z: [notices a large spider crawling up AB's back] Señor! On your back!
AB: There they are! Come on!
  Z: Señor? I'll wait here. [here's a monstrous sound] On second thought ...
AB: [zooming into the bananas with his camera] Beautiful, aren't they?
  Z: Bananas?
AB: Yeah.
  Z: We've been trudging through this forsaken jungle for stinking bananas?
AB: Yes.
  Z: Adios, Señor Idiot.
AB: Hey Zapato, have you ever heard of those really, really big banana spiders?
  Z: The ones as big as your head?
AB: Uh huh.
  Z: They say they can kill a man with one bite.
AB: You don't say.
  Z: Why do you ask?
AB: No reason.
  Z: Adios. [turns around with a huge "banana spider"
     on his backpack]

AB: Adios, Zapato.

    I can sympathize with Zapatos' disillusionment. [Zapato screams off screen] After all, bananas are cheap, plentiful and available year round in every mega-mart between here and the Temple of Doom. When you think about it, no other fruit—or food, for that matter—has gotten under the skin of pop culture like the banana. Maybe it's the color, maybe it's the shape, the flavor, maybe it's the handy wrapper. But there is more to this jungle-borne friend than meets the eye. Much more. The banana, which takes many different guises, possesses culinary powers beyond your wildest dreams. In other words, the banana is a treasure well worth pursuing. Not to mention seriously ...

Boynton Beach, FL: 4:30 pm

GUEST: Jeffrey Picazio, Banana Aficionado

    The banana's origins have been traced to Southeast Asia, probably India or Malaysia. Now according to Hindu legend, it was the banana, not the apple, that got Adam and Eve kicked out of paradise. Accordingly, they covered their shame with banana leaves. Not fig leaves. It certainly gave them more fashion options. You can also turn this into a hat, a drinking cup, a cooking pouch or a pterodactyl. But hey, that's another show. As for bananas, I am looking for something I've maybe never had before. [spies something above in the tree] Ah. Excuse me a moment.
    Most historians believe that the Arabs brought the banana to Europe by way of North Africa and then Spain. And we know that a Spaniard, a Friar named Tomás de Berlanga, brought them to the New World. He planted one single banana root, or rhizome, in the West Indies around 1516. And that single plant spread so quick that later European adventurers assumed that the banana was a native tree.
    [saws off a banana bunch] Now I have no idea what kind of banana this is, but [the bunch falls to the ground] ...

JEFFREY PICAZIO: [yells, apparently the bunch hits him on the head]
AB: [runs up to JP laying on the ground] Great Scott, man! Are you all right?
JP: Potogo. [sp?]
AB: Maybe that's his name. You Potogo?
JP: No, me Jeff. Banana is Potogo.
AB: Oh! Well, tell me Jeff, how did you and your Potogo-bananas get out in the middle of this jungle?
JP: This isn't a jungle. This is my back yard.
AB: What?!? [stands up, looks around to see a backyard]

AB: [leaves Jeff's backyard with a banana bunch on his shoulder] Jeff, thanks for the free Potogos and, um, for not having me arrested.

    You know, bananas are 99 percent fat-free, high in fiber, vitamin C and vitamin B6, and it is loaded with potassium which is essential for regulating blood pressure and keeping your muscles strong and healthy. So it's no surprise the banana is an essential part of some 400 million daily diets. In fact, the banana is the only staple food that is not a grain. By the way, bananas are always picked green and allowed to ripen off the tree ... sorry, herb. But more on that later.

Although bananas are fruits, the plants they grow on are actually herbs.

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA - 2:15 pm

    Until refrigerated produce boats came into use in 1903, bananas were a rare sight in North America. But by 1905 banana imports topped 3.5 billion fingers. That's about 40 bananas for every man, woman and child in the country at the time. They are still our most popular fruit. We eat about 75 pounds apiece a year now.
    Now back then there was quite a variety to choose from, but not so much today. I mean sure, you occasionally spot a zana banana, or another miniature, or plantains—which we'll get into later—but by and large, this is the American banana, the Cavendish, or a Cavendish derivative. Why is that? Well, this grows on a very storm-resistant plant. It's the perfect single-serving size and it's got a thick, bruise-resistant skin.
    Oh, interesting thing about this skin: about a decade after they came into this country, they became very popular street foods. Since there were very few trash cans in urban areas, most people just gave them a fling. [flings skin off camera, we hear a man slip, yell, and fall] So many city dwellers were either injured or killed in banana related accidents that the peel became the poster child for the growing litter problem in America. Ironic, don't you think?

Greenhouse grown bananas are the third largest export of Iceland.

The Kitchen

    Unlike most fruits, the banana actually tastes better when allowed to ripen off the tree. And this is a good thing when you consider the fact that bananas are harvested and shipped green and firm. Now, right now about 50 percent of the carbohydrates inside those jackets are in the form of difficult to digest starches. Which is why eating a green banana can leave you feeling ... not your best. But as those starches ripen, most of them are going to be transformed into easily digestible sugars like fructose, glucose and sucrose. Which is why bananas are often the first and sometimes the last solid foods we eat.
    Now if you purchase a green hand, just leave it uncovered at room temperature until ripe. If you're in a hurry, slide it into a paper, not plastic, bag. Plastic traps moisture, moisture begets mold, and mold is not good eats. Not on bananas at least. If you happen to have a ripe banana, or overripe banana laying around, toss it in. It will provide ethylene gas which will kick start the ripening process.
    Packers use the same trick in their warehouses so that when bananas get to the grocery store, they look like this. They look good, but they're only mostly ripe. Okay? This is what truly ripe bananas look like. Not very pretty. I mean, yeah, yellow, but there's a lot of brown there. They may not be the prettiest bananas you've ever seen, but they just might be the tastiest. Now if you want to slow down the ripening process once they reach this point, then just stash these bananas in the refrigerator.
    In just a few days, or actually a few hours, in some cases, the skins will turn brown on you. But the fruit inside will remain tasty for up to a week. Now I don't think that you should try to cheat around this, by sticking your bananas in the freezer. Which is not to say that you should never put bananas in the freezer. Just don't put bananas in the freezer unless you plan on making ice cream.

    The first step to making the world's best banana ice cream—or at least the best one I've ever had—is to take two and a quarter pounds, that's about six large bananas, and freeze them rock hard. Then take them out and put them in a bowl and let them thaw completely.

6 Large Bananas

    I know, it seems kind of funny, doesn't it? I mean, why would you freeze something just to thaw it and freeze it again? Well there is logic here. Let's just imagine for a moment that the cells inside of a fresh banana look like this. [holds up a gallon Ziplock bag full of water] Big bags of water, okay? Now we put this into a freezer and some of that water freezes, right? Into something that looks kind of like this, right? [holds up a 2nd bag holding shards of glass] Ice crystals. Sharp, pointy ice crystals, okay? So when we thaw these bananas we get cells that look something like this. [takes the first bag with water and punches holes in it over the sink] Thoroughly perforated. The result? Very mushy bananas which is exactly what we want.

    After your bananas thaw, peel them and bring them straight to your food processor. You may have to kind of break them up to get them in there. That's okay. There. Just pack them in there. The first thing I'm going to add to this is a tablespoon of lemon juice. I'm going to let that spin for a couple of seconds. Here we go. See, the lemon juice contains almost all acid, and that acid is going to interact with the enzymes inside the bananas and keep the bananas from turning brown. There we go.

1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice

    Now take off the lid and add three-quarters of a cup of corn syrup, light corn syrup in this case. And then go ahead and toss in the insides of one vanilla bean. Now if you don't have a vanilla bean in your house you could always use half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Now we start spinning this up again and then slowly drizzle in one and a half cups of cream. This is, after all, banana ice cream. Nice and slow. That will create an emulsion, almost like a salad dressing. Nice and smooth.

3/4 cup Light Corn Syrup
1 Vanilla Bean, Scraped
1 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream

    Before attempting to churn your ice cream, make sure you thoroughly chill your ice cream mix. There are two very, very good reasons for this. One: chilling will allow time for the flavors inside here to mellow. That's not really going to happen once this is turned into ice cream. The other reason is, the colder this is going into the churn, the better, okay? If this is at refrigerator temperature, say thirty-eight to forty degrees, it means less time churning. That means smaller ice crystals, and that means smoother ice cream. Oh, and this would be a really, really good time to make sure that your ice cream freezer's core is in the freezer.


Chill until mixture
is at least 40°

    When the time comes to take your ice cream for a churn, make sure that the machine is running before you pour in the batter, or odds are the motor will bind up before you get anywhere.
    Now what's so special about this is that the complex chemical composition of the bananas perfectly replaces the eggs that usually hold an ice cream together and provide it with a smooth mouth-feel. Now this is going to set up really quickly because it's viscous, so don't wander away.
    Ah. Hear that? When your motor starts to struggle, you are done. The mixture has taken as much air as it can. Now just fish out the dasher and then wipe off the excess. Or if you don't really want to wipe off the excess, just take your time going to the sink. Okay, so that really doesn't happen that fast, but hey, this is television. You know what I mean.
    This is not, by any means, ready to serve. It still has to harden. So I'm going to move this into a container, plastic container, and it's going to go into the freezer for a minimum of three hours. Six would be even better. Your patience will be rewarded. And make sure that your lid is tight fitting because this stuff is full of fat. And fat will attract some funky flavors in the freezer if you're not careful.

No ice cream maker? Blend the mixture on high for 30 seconds then freeze.
It won't be quite the same, but it'll still be good eats.

The Kitchen

    Although the banana is most often associated with homey-fare, it's got its elegant, sophisticated side, too. Which is best embodied by a dish that is as simple as it is delicious and as much about theatre as cuisine. I speak, of course, of Bananas Foster.

    Now to properly prepare this at tableside, you're going to need either a portable butane burner, or its safer, if not less glamorous, cousin, the humble hot plate, which I am going to set to medium-low heat.

No hot plate?
Use your cooktop.

    Atop that you will need a wide, heavy skillet. You'll also need a spoon, and some turning and stirring tools. A waiter would just use a couple of forks like this.

    As for the software, you will need two slightly under ripe bananas, sliced in half lengthwise. I like to leave the peel on until the last minute to prevent browning. There we go. 2 Under-Ripe Bananas
    Now for the sauce, which we will make first: 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, a quarter of a cup of dark brown sugar, a quarter of a teaspoon of ground allspice, half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of banana liqueur, half a teaspoon of finely grated orange zest, and one-quarter to one-third of a cup dark rum depending on how much flash you want in your pan, hmm? Shall we begin? Excellent! 2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp. Ground Allspice
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1 Tbs. Banana Liqueur
1/2 tsp. Grated Orange Zest
1/4 - 1/3 Cup Dark Rum

     First we melt the butter. And as soon as it is melted, add the brown sugar and the spices. Just kind of work that into a syrup. Then add the liqueur. You may have to line up the banana slices right up next to each other in order to get them in the pan, but try to make sure there's at least half an inch of space between for the syrup to bubble up. Now we'll let these poach for one minute.
    These bananas are already pretty tender, so just scoop up with one fork and kind of flip it over onto the other fork and lay it down gently. There. We'll let these poach for one minute.
    Time to lift, and this is where the two-fork configuration really comes into its own. There we go. Now just return the sauce to the heat so that it can come back to a simmer. That is important. Ooh. It's also important to review our flambé ground rules. Okay, here we go. Let's see.

  1. Number one: No loose clothing. Check.
  2. Number two: If you've got long hair, tie it back or wear a hat. Check.

  3. Number three: Since you never know how high the flames may go, do not hold your head over the pan. Check.

  4. Number four: When working on an open flame, be sure to turn off the flame before adding the alcohol. Otherwise it could evaporate, jump over the side of the pan, and Poof!

  5. Number five: Always use a long stick style lighter or a fireplace match. Okay.

  6. Six: Have a lid standing by just in case things get out of hand, which, if you've observed the first rules, won't happen.

  7. Now make sure you have one of these [fire extinguishers] around in case things really get out of hand.

  8. Oh, and here's my favorite rule: Remember, the dimmer the lights, the flashier the show. Lights! [the lights dim]

    Ah! The sauce is most certainly back at a simmer. So we step back, we pour in the alcohol, and ignite. There. Now the more fiercely the liquid is boiling when you light it, the more flames you're going to have. So make sure this is at least at a simmer. And swirl until the flames go out. Now let this cook for about another thirty seconds just so that the sauce can tighten up a little bit. There we go. Lights!
    The final touch? The zest. Just stir that in. That'll add a little fragrant kick, and sauce your bananas, two to three spoonfuls being traditional. There you go. Now I have to tell you that sometimes I make this up for breakfast, and serve it over waffles. And of course, adding some ice cream to that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Umm ... you ... I'm just going to try it, okay?

Harry's Farmers Market

    Thanks to the growing popularity of Cuban, Caribbean and Latin cuisines, most American mega-marts now carry plantains. Now unlike its cousin, the Cavendish, the plantain has a tough, rubbery skin. So to peel, cut off one end, cut off the other end, then make a shallow incision down one side, and then repeat on the other side. Now just take your thumb and squeeze under the edge, and peel it right off. Now as for the flesh, it stays starchy even when the plantain is ripe. And that's why they're usually cooked like other starchy vegetables. [throws plantain skins off camera] You can bake them, you can boil them, sauté them, braise them, or you can fry them. [we hear a woman slip and scream off camera] That had to hurt.

The concept of the "top banana" comes from an old burlesque routine
in which the comic that gave the punch line received a banana.

The Kitchen

    I'd have to say that fried plantains are probably the best food trick I know. I like them because, well, they taste good, they've got kind of a funky procedure, and you get to use a lot of tools. You are going to need one draining rack, on top of a pan with a lip. You are going to need a wide sauté pan containing at least three-eights of an inch of 325 degree vegetable oil. You are going to need an inverted pan with a little bit of parchment paper. You are going to need a wooden or plastic spatula. You will need a bowl containing two cups of water with one teaspoon of salt and three crushed garlic cloves. You're going to need a tea towel or a little pad of paper towels. And last, but not least, you are going to need some plantains. We have two of them here, cut into one-inch medallions. All of them go straight into the oil. Rack In Sheet Pan

12-inc Sauté Pan
1 1/2 cups Vegetable Or
    Canola Oil

Inverted Sheet Pan
Parchment Paper
Wooden Spatula

2 Cups Water
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
3 Cloves Garlic, Crushed

Tea Towel

2 Green Plantains

    There. Now once you've got them all in, and the oil looks about right, we'll let these cook for a minute and a half. Odds are good that after a minute you'll have to raise the heat a bit to replace what the plantains have taken away. Let's go ahead and roll them over. That's perfect. Just golden with a touch of brown. There we go. Let these go for another minute and a half.

1 1/2 mins. Per Side

    Another minute and a half has gone by, and it's time to evacuate. But first I'm going to turn the oil down a bit. Not off, because we'll be back.

    Now when you've got everything out of the oil, take your spatula, put it right on top of each piece, and mash. You're looking to flatten it out to about half its original height. There we go. Now as soon as you mash a few, move them to the water for a quick soak.

Soak For 1 min.


    After at least one minute of soaking, take the plantain pieces out to a towel or paper towel, so that they can dry. And we'll pad them dry in a moment.
    When your oil gets back to between 325 and about 330 you are ready to re-introduce the plantains into the oil. That's right. They're going to get fried again. Just gather them up and drop them in.

    Mmm. Time to evacuate. Just take these straight over to your rack. Let them drain thoroughly. And you also want to season them well while they are still hot, just as you would French fries. Actually, these are better than French fries.

Fry for 2-4 minutes per side until golden brown.

    Just look at them. It's like they were coated in batter. But they weren't. It's another banana-based miracle.
    Well, I hope that this last half-hour has made a true banana believer out of you. Yes indeed, they are good on cereal. But this plain, little yellow wrapper holds a greater culinary power. Don't let it slip away. [feigns a laugh] Heh. Slip aw ...?


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Transcription by Mike DiRuscio

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010