Drifting off in Paradise
The idea of paradise is different for everyone. For many, picturing a day in paradise conjures up images akin to sitting under a colorful beach umbrella, with some kind of fu-fu cocktail in hand, while watching the sun sink slowly into the ocean.
Periodic gratis days of drift boat fishing is one of the perks I enjoyed while working as a lodge chef. For me, just kicking back in a drift boat under the big sky, near the town of Paradise Montana on the Clark Fork River, is my idea of total serenity. It is early afternoon on a late spring day, with the light musky smell of the river, and sun-touched evergreens in the air. The slight nip of cold coming off the river is off-set by intermittent warm caresses as the sun slips in and out between puffs of wispy white clouds, and the gentle rocking of the boat is enticing me to drift off into “la la land” for a well deserved mind colloquium with mother nature.
Is this lowly lodge chef wondering where the rich fly-fishers are at the moment? No, not at all! It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor. In this vast country where we are lucky enough to live, we can travel freely from state to state unrestricted by borders. We fish the same rivers, and enjoy the same beauty. We each have the same chance to catch the same fish.
We are all equal through the eyes of a trout, and a fish with a brain the size of a pea, has better than a fighting chance of not ending up on a hook. Since fish depend mostly on instinct, they can not be fooled by words created through intelligent thought which man uses to fool man. As soon as a fish takes an invertebrate impostor into its mouth, by instinct, it knows an imitation when it feels it, and automatically spits it out.
Fish in the water are in their element. The best we can do with a line and a fly, is to learn presentation well enough to trick a trout for a split second, and be fast enough to set the hook. Instinct was around long before man came on the scene thinking himself superior because of creative intelligence, yet natural instinct seems to regularly outsmart superior intelligence on the river. Man, with just enough added intelligence and dominion to be dangerous; can form matter into a realistic facsimile of an insect to mimic nature, yet does not have the ability to duplicate natural creation. So no matter how hard a fly-fisher tries to outsmart fish, these simple minded creatures, armed with not much more than basic instinct, usually have the upper fin in the water over man with all his fancy equipment, and are probably laughing their way all the way back to the river bank.
The lodge where I worked during the summer of 2009, was truly off the grid with large solar collector fed batteries, and a back-up propane generator. The only store within thirty-five miles was a small mom and pop grocery with a very limited selection of meat and fresh produce. When fly-fishing clients booked in without an advance reservation, I would have to plan the evening’s menu while in the store, based on what was available that day.
Over the years, I have honed the skill I call “making do in Montana” utilizing whatever I am able to get my hands on. Since I love to come up with destination dining recipes with a rebel twist, I decided on one occasion, to fracture the heavenly classic Crème Brulee..
I scanned the isles, and small selection of fresh fruit, waiting for something to call out to me that would work with my Paradise Montana theme. In the small fresh fruit section, sitting alone in a woven plastic basket was a single fresh mango and the name for my decadent destination dessert popped instantly into my head.
The Last Mango in Paradise Crème Brulee
1 quart (4 cups) Heavy Cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup honey powder or raw sugar
6 large egg yokes
1 large fresh mango (ripe yet firm)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
Place the cream into a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the vanilla and bring the cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat, and cool for ten to fifteen minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together ½ cup of sugar and egg yokes until mixture starts to lighten. Add the warm cream a little at a time, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture into six 8 oz ramekins. Place ramekins into a cake pan. Fill the cake pan with hot water until ramekin dishes are halfway submerged. Bake just until the crème brulee is set, yet not quite firm in the very center (approximately 45 min.). Remove ramekins from the hot water and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Remove the ramekins from the refrigerator a half hour prior to browning sugar on top. Divide the remaining sugar between the six ramekins of crème brulee, sprinkling sugar equally on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar to form a golden crystallized top. Peel, and slice mangos into thin wedges. Place two of the reserved mango slices on the center of each crème brulee. Sprinkle a little of the honey powder, or raw sugar onto the mango slices and torch just enough to melt the sugar. Allow the crème brulee to sit for a few minutes prior to serving. Add additional garnish touches as desired.