D.O.M. internship – week 1.
Palmito (or heart of palm) is somewhat of a staple vegetable in Brazil. It is widely used in salads and also in hot preparations such as savory pie filling, pizzas, stews, sauces, stir-fry — pretty much the possibilities are endless. Just the same as you can find anywhere else in the world, palmito is most commonly sold preserved with salt water in jars or cans. In such form they are pretty tasty straight out of the can. Palmito can be harvested from pretty much any palm tree. Most varieties of the palm tree die after the bud is cut for its inner core. Almost all types of palmito that were native to the coastal area that spans from the state of Bahia down to the east coast of Argentina became threatened with extinction due to over harvest in the wild. Brazilian authorities had to intervene making it illegal to harvest wild varieties (now only a few indigenous groups have permission to harvest following their ancestors’ sustainable methods). This change in policy made necessary for producers to invest in planting varieties that regenerate after being cut. The three types of palmito that are consumed the most come from the açaí, juçara, or pupunha palm tree. Açaí and pupunha are both native to the Amazon region.
Pupunha is increasing in popularity because it is a sustainable variety, meaning that when the stem is cut the root does not die and the plant can be cut again next season. According to EMBRAPA (the Brazilian’s government agricultural research department) additional advantages of pupunha is that the plant grows from seed to harvest-ready tree in only eighteen months. The palmito cut from pupunha is considered of superb taste and good size. In fact, the entire plant can be used but the most desired parts are the heart of palm and the fruit which is also called pupunha. EMBRAPA also mentions that pupunha is a crop that has little impact on the environment with a high yield per acre.
As my first station assignment inside D.O.M.’s prep kitchen I am working with garde manger chef Thiago Flores. One of the first tasks he showed me was how to process the raw pupunha segments. The raw pupunha palm is very perishable so it must be worked in a temperature controlled environment to avoid developing an acidic taste. To clean it, first you peel the outer part of the palm (what would be the bark on a regular tree) – this skin is removed and saved for garnish. Inside there is another layer that is too hard to eat so it is also peeled and discarded. Lastly, the top and bottom are trimmed by slicing a 1cm segment off from each end.
Now the heart of palm is clean. For the specific preparation that was being made we trimmed the palmito, so it would fit through a mandolin. We used the mandolin to slice it in a fettuccine shape. This “pupunha fettuccine” is blanched and then sauteed with coral butter and served with glazed prawns. In addition to the prawns with fettuccine, pupunha is also used in other dishes at D.O.M.; there is a pupunha brandade served as a starter, another starter is pupunha carpaccio with scallops.
The pupunha used at D.O.M. comes from São Cassiano, a farm located in Jaú in the state of São Paulo. According to their website the pupunha heart of palm is a low calorie food that is a good source of fiber and it is also rich in iron, potassium, zinc, and calcium. Palmito can also be used as a source of protein for vegetarian diets.