Although the method of cooking food on a wooden plank has been used for ages, it was just 10 or 12 years ago when I first discovered it. One of my husband’s buddies brought the idea back with him from a fishing/camping trip he’d been on. He had watched fresh salmon being prepared on a cedar plank. They decided to try this technique on the grill in our backyard. It was a delicious success.
Since that time, we’ve occasionally used cedar planks as a tray for grilling meats on our grill. Just recently, though, I received a copy of "Napoleon’s Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling," by Ted Reader. I’d never thought about preparing appetizers and sides on a plank, let alone dessert. And I had never thought of soaking the planks in anything but water before placing them on the grill. But, Reader often suggests soaking planks in a mixture of water and wine or juices, sometimes along with fresh herbs, in large zip-top plastic bags. As I read through the book, I caught the plank-grilling bug. I’m not a big steak lover, but the photo of Reader’s Red Wine-Planked Peppercorn New York Strip Steaks was tough to pass up. I soaked cedar planks in a red wine and water mixture for several hours. Once the steaks have almost cooked through, they are topped with a gorgonzola and red grape mixture. The steaks were tender, moist and flavorful with just a hint of smokiness. The topping surprised me with its perfect combination of sweet and tangy — so good with the steak. You can click here to get the recipe and see my photo of a planked steak. I think it would make a great grilled meal for beef-loving men on Father’s Day.
Friday night we prepared a meal centered around grilled Jerk Pork Tenderloin, using a recipe from the June 2009 issue of Eating Well magazine. Dessert didn’t come from Reader’s book. Cider-Planked Stuffed Bananas was an idea born from our love of chocolate-banana anything and a desire to come up with another food to grill on wet planks. My son and daughter-in-law were with us. My daughter-in-law readily admitted she did not like warm bananas, but said she’d give them a try.
I’ve been using grilling planks from Maine Grilling Woods. They are slices of tree trunk, the bark still attached. I’ve got a few different sizes of the oval planks and several varieties, such as white cedar, olive and apple. I find they don’t start burning on the grill like some rectangular cedar planks I’ve purchased that come wrapped in packages of two or three planks. The planks from Maine Grilling Woods smolder on the grill, adding interesting flavor to the food that rests on them.
I slid the planks into a large zip-top bag and poured in a mixture of half water and half apple cider, sealed up the bag and let them soak all day. At dessert time, I set out bananas with brown-speckled skin which was a sign they would be perfectly sweet. I cut a deep slit into the flat side of each banana, being very careful not to go through the other side. Bowls of "stuffing" ingredients surrounded the bananas. There was peanut butter, both chunky and creamy, mini-marshmallows, coconut. Whatever you like to eat with bananas would probably work as a stuffing ingredient.
Each person created their own stuffed banana and then set it on a small, wet plank and onto the grill it went. The bananas heated up in the closed grill, sweet cider-spiked smoke swirling around them as they cooked, adding more flavor. In 5 to 10 minutes, the peanut butter was melting and the chocolate was soft.
The warm bananas can be eaten right out of the skin, scooped out with a spoon. We decided to scoop our stuffed bananas out of their peelings and right into a bowl full of ice cream. Premium vanilla ice cream is a good addition to this dessert, but I had mine with a scoop of Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss, a non-dairy frozen dessert that I discovered at my local natural food co-op last week. It’s made with coconut milk. It comes in several flavors. I’ve only tried the Naked Coconut. It satisfies my coconut-loving tastebuds.
The verdict: My daughter-in-law had two bites and turned it over to her husband to finish. She went with the ice cream only. I liked the warm banana with my scoop of Coconut Bliss. The two guys each downed their grilled stuffed bananas with lots of ice cream. It’s a fun dessert that makes sense to make when the grill is still warm after cooking the entree.
Next time you’re gathering family and friends for an outdoor picnic, soak some grilling planks and set up a make-your-own stuffed banana bar. And have the ice cream ready to scoop.
Cider-Planked Stuffed Bananas
- 1 banana per person
- Plenty of stuffing ingredients of your choice — chocolate, butterscotch and peanut butter morsels, creamy and crunchy peanut butter, coconut, marshmallows
- Grilling planks
- Apple cider for soaking planks
Early in the day you plan to serve the Stuffed Bananas, mix equal parts water and apple cider. Pour over grilling planks in large zip-top bags. Set aside.
Place bananas on work surface, laying them on a flat side. Use a sharp paring knife to cut through the skin into the banana but not all the way throught to the other side. Use a clean finger to run through the slice, opeing it up a bit. Push stuffing ingredient into the slit. Place bananas on soaked planks and place on grill. Close lid of grill and heat over medium temperature until stuffing in bananas is melted and banana peels have turned dark. Eat warm right from the skin or scoop out of skin and eat with ice cream.