Pineapple and ham are not a crime
While I am sure that there is a time and place for a festive fruit sundae on top of a morning griddle breakfast, they have never been particularly tempting to me. They're often designated as "tropical" on breakfast and brunch menus (which isn't at all fair to the cuisine of the actual tropics), and involve canned, crushed pineapple, sweetened coconut flakes, and a maybe a rum-infused syrup atop a waffle or pancake. Universally cloyingly sweet, lacking in nuance or complexity, I have long dismissed these with a wave in favor of more interesting fare.
But I do love a challenge, and recently, seeing yet another “tropical” breakfast special on a local restaurant's whiteboard, this one involving candied pecans along with the ubiquitous pineapple/coconut situation, I began to wonder: Could you create a festively fruity morning dish that wouldn’t smell like a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion and taste like dessert?
I started with eliminating the idea of pancakes or waffles as the base and balancing the carbs with protein. Pork is often an element of beachy cuisines, and ham is a great morning meat, so suddenly the idea of a slider popped into my head. For bread, slightly sweet Hawaiian rolls seemed a natural fit. Instead of canned pineapple, I thought more about ham baked with rings of pineapple, and made small slices of fresh pineapple, and roasted them in the oven with a mix of sugar and red pepper flakes on top. Fresh pineapple isn’t as sweet as canned, it has much more acidity, so the sweetness is balanced.
For the coconut, I turned to the Indian end of my pantry. Unsweetened shredded coconut is a whole different taste and texture element than the sweetened shreds, and it works so well in a lot of Indian recipes. I knew I wanted a creamy element, but also some textural contrast, so I toasted the coconut and mixed it into some plain whipped cream cheese. A pinch of garam masala brought some heat and warming spices to the mix and before I knew it, I had a "tropical" breakfast slider that was a perfect morning sandwich. The gentle sweetness of the roll is a great backdrop for the salty ham, sweet-sour spicy of the pineapple, and the cream cheese mix brings both some crunch and spice.
I cut all of my elements in squares to fit neatly on the bun, but feel free to be a little more freeform with yours.
Beachy Breakfast Sliders
Makes 4, to serve 2-4 people
1 4-count package Hawaiian Rolls
1 8 ounces ham steak
1/4 cup plain whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut shreds
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
4 small slices from a fresh pineapple
2 teaspoons sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
On a small sheet pan lined in foil or parchment, top each pineapple slice with ¼ of the sugar/pepper flake mixture and bake for 15-20 minutes until softened and lightly golden brown on top.
While the pineapple is roasting, slice the 4 rolls in half and set aside. Cut the ham steak into 4 quarters to fit on the buns and set aside.
In a small dry nonstick skillet over medium high heat, toast the coconut shreds until they turn a golden brown and begin to smell nutty. Remove from the heat and let cool. Leave the pan nearby.
Mix the cooled coconut into the cream cheese and then mix in the garam masala. Blend well and spread ½ tablespoon on the bottom of each bun.
In the same nonstick skillet over medium high heat, fry the ham slices until browned on both sides. Place one ham slice on top of the cheese mixture, and then one slice of pineapple on top of the ham, followed by the top bun. Serve warm.