Coconut chicken and banana flower salad

by Forager on June 7, 2009

Whilst I’ve had many a banana flower salad in Thailand and in the Thai restaurants around Sydney, I’ve never personally cooked with banana flower before. Whilst perusing through the fruit and vegetable stalls in Cabramatta out in Sydney’s west, I picked up a banana flower, stared at it and realised I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to go about preparing it for a salad. I was intrigued enough to buy it and when I got home promptly turned to trusty online search engines for a guided demonstration on preparation, what parts of the banana flower to use as well as a tasty sounding recipe. We settled on this recipe from Sydney restaurant, Arun Thai in Potts Point.

Coconut chicken and banana flower salad

Ingredients:
(Serves 2 hungry people as a main)

1x 400mL can of coconut milk
1L water
250 g skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced

100 g raw king prawns, shelled and de-veined
1 banana flower
2 tblsp fresh lime juice
50 g dried prawns, finely chopped

1 tblsp sliced shallots
2 tblsp roasted cashew nuts, crushed

2 de-seeded birds eye chillies, chopped
handful of coriander leaves and fried onion to garnish
3 pieces of banana flower to garnish

Dressing

2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon palm sugar
2 teaspoon dried, roasted chilli powder
3 tablespoons coconut milk

Banana flower preparation:
When looking for information on the net on what part of the banana flower to use, we were disappointed to find a lack of descriptive, informative or even consistent pictorials. Some said “inner section”, others said “flowers” and no-one offered a clearly marked diagram. So we fell back on the trusty old trial and error method.


The banana flower oxidises very quickly so have a mixture of 2 tablespoons of lime juice with
500mL of water ready to put the banana flower in. Peeling away the hard outer layers of the banana flower bell will reveal small flower blossoms. These are actually male blossoms and won’t eventuate into bananas. Some recipes recommend using these but we tasted these and found them so incredibly astringent we were left with furry tongues, puckered lips, screwed up expressions and desperate groping for a glass of relieving water. So we kept peeling away until we revealed the young white inner section of the flower.

Slice up this inner section in fine diagonal slices and drop promptly into the lime juice water mix to stop the brown discolouration you get from oxidation. Soak for at least 5 minutes and squeeze out the excess water when ready to use.

Incidentally, the female flowers would have been in the middle of this inner white section (had we not sliced it up). Interestingly, if pollinated the female flowers develop into bananas with seeds, if not pollinated they still develop into bananas but these won’t have seeds. Knowing this will forever have me peering at the middle of half eaten bananas wondering whether they’ve been pollinated.

Salad compilation instructions:
Bring the coconut milk and remaining water to the boil in a saucepan then reduce to a simmer before adding the chicken pieces. Cook for 10 minutes before adding the prawns and cooking for a further 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the chicken and prawns to the sliced banana flower. Throw in the sliced shallots, dried prawns, choped chillies and the dressing and toss well. Serve sprinkled with fried onions, coriander leaves and garnished with the banana flower pieces.



We weren’t confident that we used the right part of the flower for the salad, so unconvinced in fact that we nibbled on some more of those awful flower blossoms again to check. Unfortunately they hadn’t transformed into miraculously sweet candied blossoms whilst out backs were turned so for the second time we were very much convinced that they were way too astringent for us to eat. We can be very slow learners.Once you get past the hurdle of deciding on what part to use, this salad is incredibly simple to make! The coconut poached chicken was tender and creamy, the banana flower crunchy and interestingly when mixed with the rest of the ingredients loses its astringency. It was difficult to taste any distinct banana flavour in the banana flower: every now and then we’d taste just a subtle but unconvincing hint of banana flavour. The dressing was sweet and the addition of coconut gave it a delicious nutty and creamy dimension.
It was a very tasty salad and we were satisfied with the overall result.But the question remains: did we use the right part of the flower? Can anybody out there shed some enlightenment?

Foodie in the know:
Seems like an ironic subheading to use when I myself am not sure what part of the banana flower to use, but this is more about ingredient sourcing. You will easily find banana flower in areas with South East Asian groceries like the Western Sydney suburbs of Cabramatta and Canley Vale. Closer to the city you can find this in the specialist Thai groceries in the Thainatown section near Capitol Theatre on Campbell Street, Haymarket.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephcookie June 8, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Yum I love banana flower salad. Yours looks fab, but I've never used banana flower before so I can't help you out, sorry! Sounds like you did use the right part though :)

2 Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella June 9, 2009 at 2:46 pm

This is tres brilliant! I always order Banana Flower Salad if I see that on the menu. It's one of those things that I never thought to make myself (would I even recognise a banana flower? I think not). My favourite one is at Spice Market :)

3 Arwen from Hoglet K June 9, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Poaching the chicken in coconut milk would give it such a beautiful flavour! It sounds like you picked a good bit of the banana flower. Your taste buds shouldn't let you down on something like that.

4 Forager June 10, 2009 at 10:48 am

Hey Stephcookie – isn't that bizarrre? We've all had it, it's used in Asian cuisine (albeit more Thai and Vietnamese) and we have no idea how to use it.

Hey Lorraine – Thanks! It's actually an incredibly easy salad to make (provided you know which part of the banana flower to use). Haven't been to Spice Market yet – so I'll have to check it out. I quite like the one at Pomegranate Thai (the upmarket sister restaurant to Prasits on Crown).

Hey Arwen – The chicken was really lovely poached in coconut. And we reserved some coconut cream for extra dressing if you wanted for flavour in the dish. I hope I used the right part. Haven't gotten any definitive answers so I guess rely on the ol' tastebuds it is!

5 Anita June 10, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Hmmmm… I thought you had used the right part …sorry I can't help. I love banana flower salads though

6 Forager June 11, 2009 at 11:21 am

Hey Anita – I think it's a common theme – we all love the banana flower salad but don't know much about it. I'm so surprised there isn't a detailed diagram on the web about banana flower preparation.

7 Ellie June 11, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Jsut found your blog! Love it! I am afraid I have to repeat the same sentence: "I love banana flower salad but I don't know where to get banana flower in Sydney." Cabramata is way too far… too bad. Thanks for stopping by my new blog!

8 Forager June 12, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Hey Ellie – Thanks for visiting! Cabramatta is not too far away – make it a field trip to the Western suburbs – you'll love it! (Just make sure you go there during the day though).

9 sheri (india) August 25, 2009 at 10:22 pm

When preparing the banana flower you will need oil your hands and then proceed to remove the maroon outer leavers to get the to creamy core,which can be eaten. .Be careful of the sap which the flower leaches which turns black and is hard to get out of skin, cutting boards etc.
Put the chopped flower into a pot and cover with clean salted water into which a lime or lemon has been squeezed. Set aside for at least an hour, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry .
Use accordingly
So yes you used the right part of the flower and the recipe looks great :)
Sheri

10 Forager August 26, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Hey Sheri – Oil? That's a good tip and one I haven't read anywhere else. I'll definitely try using oil next time and soak the flower for an hour (I only did maybe 20 minutes this time). Good to know I used the right part! Looking forward to trying this again with your tips – thanks! :)

11 Liv April 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Thanks for the recipe! Like Lorraine, I love the Spice Market. I’m going to blog about my attempt – slightly altered – which worked well, although I think next time I’d use coconut cream to up the creaminess, and use a little less lime juice.
Have you tried it since? If so, did you change anything?
Liv recently posted..Almond brittle with vanilla, cinnamon and lemon rindMy Profile

12 Bugsy February 25, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Just a comment re your comment that ‘the female flowers would be in the middle of the white inner part of the flower’. The female flowers are the first to appear after the infloescence emerges. The bell you buy consists of bracts that enclose the series of male flowers – it is also referred to as ‘the male bud’. You can’t really get at the bell before the female flowers are exposed and the banana fruit have set. The rachis continues to elongate and the bell becomes evident, separated from the fruit above. What you buy in the market would be harvested from commercial bananas – an extra income for the grower on top of that for the fruit. Because the market for bells would be relatively small, most are cut off and contribute to the organic matter in the plantation. I’ve just come across this page, looking for a recipe as I have just cut the bell from one of my backyard bunches. For a nice description of the banana plant see: http://www.promusa.org/Morphology+of+banana+plant#Inflorescence

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