Back from Bequia with a meal from faraway Fernando's
Having just gotten back from our eleventh visit to Bequia, we feel rested, and, well, just smoothed out — and, we’ll add, a little more tanned. We always plan our trip south for the tail end of the winter so we’ll have it to look forward to. For many winters past we have shoveled snow, slipped on the ice, dashed from one heated place to another and thought, Ah-h-h-h! Bequia is coming soon!! Actually this year was a fluke and we left warm, sunny Block Island for warm, sunny Bequia… well, almost.
To explain, Bequia is the largest in a chain of islands in the Caribbean called St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). It’s a bit of a trip to get there. As we say, “With each leg of the trip the airplane gets a little smaller.” The last leg is the ferry trip from St. Vincent to Bequia. Another ferry? Explain that!
Our little house sits up on a point and looks out over Lower Bay Beach to the west and Princess Margaret Beach to the east. We arrive with snorkel gear, books (actually Kindles this year), a puzzle (that’s our kind of excitement), casual clothes (Bequia is not a very dressy place) and an assortment of equipment and foods to enhance a rather limited kitchen.
The meals on Bequia are a part of the fun of it all, whether we stay in or go out. We have our favorite “at home” meals — many with grapefruit picked from neighborhood trees or vegetables from the local market in town. Our porch not only comes with a table and chairs for dining but also a wonderful view of turquoise sky and water; the green, humpbacked island and always a warm, gentle breeze.
There are restaurants we make sure to visit each year: Coco’s, Jack’s, Da Reef, and Mango’s, but especially Fernando’s. It’s two blocks away from our house, but literally straight up a hill, thanks to the volcanic history of the island. Named after the owner, Fernando’s (or “Nando’s”) is a great success story of a restaurant that began on the terrace of a private home, has never expanded in size but, because the food is so good, the guests pour into the place every night. Gourmet and the New York Times have both written about it.
Fernando’s is determined to keep it simple and still has only 12 tables scattered under an awning, draped with an assortment of finds from the beach, candleholders and flags. Nando takes his boat out and fishes every morning for the dinner that night. If there’s no catch, he’ll offer chicken and lamb chops instead. Amazingly, there’s almost always fish, very fresh fish.
There aren't a lot of choices on the menu. The last night we were there, the soups as a first course were either Callaloo (the best description is to call it a dasheen or spinach soup made with a ham bone and coconut milk and spices) or Yellow Lentil. It’s the main course plate that offers the variety. One of us ordered the fish, the other the chicken, and both plates came with grilled yam, roasted white potatoes, plantain fritters, a portion of eggplant casserole, green beans and a chopped green salad. Dessert choices were chocolate cake, rum raisin ice cream or coconut cream pie.
We were especially impressed with the relish on the chicken, sort of pineapple-ey, sweet and sour with a deep-tasting... well, something. When Nando came out to say “Hello,” we got as far as the list of ingredients in the relish, but proportions were nothing he could reproduce. He’s a real cook, all instinct, so it’s a dab of this and a dab of that, and probably a dish never to be reproduced again. All a very simple, unforgettable meal and evening.
We’ve tried to reproduce Nando’s meal. It’s very Caribbean, but we’ve found the ingredients are available locally. The Block Island Grocery even has plantain. A second sauce, the Coconut Lime Sauce, is a new find, but delicious, and, yes, add the peanut butter, you’ll like it.
Fernando’s Roasted Chicken Breasts
Juice of 3 limes
2 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
6 boneless (6-ounce) chicken breast halves
4 green onions, thinly sliced crosswise
Measure the lime juice, water and salt into a large Ziplock bag. Add chicken breasts. Seal well and gently shake to distribute ingredients. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking pan.
Remove breasts from bag and discard liquid. Dry with paper towels. Place breasts side-by-side in baking pan. Dot with a little butter. Bake about 30 minutes or until cooked through.
Place chicken on a heat platter and slice crosswise. Spoon either Fernando’s Pineapple Relish or Coconut Lime Sauce over the chicken and garnish with chopped green onion.
Fernando’s Pineapple Relish
2 cups fresh pineapple cut in small cubes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 “flavor” pepper (not too hot, Ancho, Italian or Cubanelle peppers are best), seeded and chopped
½ cup white wine
½ cup honey
½ cup raisins
Dash red pepper flakes
Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer, stirring, 15 to 20 minutes to thicken. Let cool to room temperature. Store in a container in the refrigerator overnight. To serve, bring to room temperature or serve chilled over roast chicken.
Makes two and half to three cups relish.
Coconut Lime Sauce
From “At Blanchard’s Table” Cookbook
¼ cup lime juice (fresh is best, but either Manhattan or Floribbean bottled brand is good, too)
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup light brown sugar
6 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup smooth peanut butter
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Whisk together all ingredient in a saucepan. Heat gently, but do not boil. Spoon over roast chicken.
Makes One and a half cups sauce.
Roasted Sweet and White Potato Wedges
2 whole sweet potatoes or yams
2 whole white potatoes
Salt and ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and cut potatoes (with skins on) in wedges. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a little pepper. Bake until tender and golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Serves four to five.
2 medium-sized eggplants
4 tablespoons butter
2 fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried sage
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 cup crushed Saltine crackers
1 cup grated, sharp cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Peel, slice, and cook eggplant in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain well and mash gently with a potato masher. While eggplant is still hot, add butter, and stir until melted. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Spoon into a 2-quart buttered baking dish and bake about one hour or until center is set and top is lightly browned.
Serves eight to 10.
2 small or 1 large, ripe plantain (1 cup mashed)
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 egg, separated
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch cream of tartar
Peel and cut plantain into chunks and boil 10 minutes. Drain and mash. Stir in butter, egg yolk, brown sugar, salt and milk. Measure the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into the bowl with the plantain mixture and stir in.
Add pinch of cream of tartar to egg white, and beat until stiff. Gently fold into the plantain mixture.
Spoon tablespoons of the batter onto a hot, greased griddle or skillet. Cook about one minute, or until browned, on each side. Transfer to a heated platter and serve hot.
Makes about 16 small fritters.
Coconut Cream Pie
7 tablespoons melted butter
13 graham cracker squares, crushed
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Melt butter. Mix in graham cracker crumbs, sugar, coconut and salt. Blend well. Press onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake eight to 10 minutes. Remove, but leave oven on.
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons fresh or bottled lime juice (Manhattan or Floribbean bottled brand)
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Blend milk, yolks, juice and coconut together. Mix well. (Mixture will thicken slightly.) Pour filling into crust. Bake 15 minutes. Cool. Refrigerate at least four hours.
Can be served with whipped cream or fresh fruit.
Serves six to eight.