Grilled Beef with Red Peppers
Food became quite a preoccupation for my husband, Alvah, and me during our visit to New Caledonia's Nouméa, known as the "Paris of the Pacific," on our 36-foot steel cutter, Roger Henry. We feasted there on gooey Brie cheese with crusty baguettes, delicately herbed terrines, succulent prawns, and stuffed crabs. I could've stayed forever, but soon the time came for us to set sail for Vanuatu, an archipelago more famous for its fiery volcanoes, vine-jumping initiation ceremonies, and wild native dancing than for its cuisine.
We sailed from New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands overnight to Port-Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. En route, I lamented that our gourmet days were over, assuming that from here on in, our fare would be furry forest ferns, crispy-fried fruit bat, and peculiarly shaped tubers. Or so I thought.
The cruising life is full of fabulous surprises. The marketplace in Port-Vila, with its vibrantly colored exotic flowers, was indeed stacked with mounds of local legumes. However, the recent boom in tourism has created a demand for the more familiar. Also available to quell the fears of the less culinarily adventurous were lettuces, beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.
It was here that I bumped into an old cruising friend who'd been a master chef in Germany before leaving his land life behind and setting sail. As he was sampling some wild raspberries, he asked me, "Have you tried the local beef? It's the best I've tasted in years!" That was some recommendation.
Breeds of Charolais, Angus, and Limousin cattle were introduced here in the 1900s to keep the coconut plantations free of undergrowth. They integrated, adapted well to the tropical conditions, and thrived. Fortuitously, their beef is amazingly tasty and tender. Vanuatu is now famous for its certified organic beef-so famous, in fact, that most of it's pre-sold to Japan and Australia. Luckily, the beef left for the domestic market is priced for the commoner, yet it's of a quality fit for a chief.
Without a freezer on board, we were reluctant to stock up on this prized commodity. But my abovementioned chef friend had a solution. "When you're due to set sail, ask the butcher to vacuum-seal some choice cuts for you, then put them in the coldest spot in your refrigerator. At around 35 F, they'll age perfectly and keep for up to six weeks," he said.
Five weeks later, when Roger Henry was anchored in beautiful Banam Bay, at the Vanuatan island of Malakula, two giggling girls paddled out to us in a canoe. Among the papayas and shells they proffered for trade were some plump red peppers. I immediately envisioned a plate of charcoal-grilled meat smothered in sweet and tangy red peppers.
It was time for us to pull out that precious tenderloin.
Grilled Beef with Red Peppers
1 1-pound beef tenderloin, whole
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 garlic cloves, pressed
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 red peppers, seeded
and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup good red wine
Rub tenderloin with half of the oil, then roll in black pepper and half of the garlic. Set aside until it reaches room temperature. In a pan, melt butter with remaining olive oil and gently sauté onion and remaining garlic for 3 minutes. Add peppers and continue to cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add sugar and wine. Cook another 5 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.
On a very hot barbecue, lightly char the meat, cooking approximately 5 to 8 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of tenderloin; leave the inside rare. Thinly slice tenderloin against the grain. Spread slices on plate in a decorative fan, then cover with sauce. "Him gud tumas!" the Vanuatans would say: It's too good! Serves two.