If you watch any of the cooking shows on the Food Network, you’ve probably seen chefs on these shows scraping a vanilla bean to use in some fanciful dish. The process of scraping the bean looks so simple when they do it. They take a very sharp knife and slit the bean lengthwise, then scrape out the tiny seeds from the pod. These “seeds” stick together (like a paste since they’re moist and clingy) as the knife is run through the pod.
If you’ve tried this at home, only to find it isn’t quite so easy to slit the pod lengthwise because it’s hard and leathery, try this trick. Soften the pod by steaming it for 1 to 2 minutes in a steamer or in a sieve over boiling water, then cool it slightly. It will be much easier to slit. Also, when scraping out the seeds, do this over a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. Otherwise you will lose some of the precious seeds because they’ll cling to your hands or even get under your fingernails as you try to pick them up.
Vanilla beans are expensive. Once you’ve scraped out the beans, don’t throw out that precious pod! Use it to make delicious vanilla sugar for your coffee, or to sprinkle on your cereal.
To make vanilla sugar, you’ll need a clean empty jar with a tight fitting lid. Put the scraped vanilla pod into the jar and cover it with granulated sugar, then put the lid on the jar. Place the jar out of direct sunlight and let it set for several weeks until the vanilla pod flavors all the sugar. As you use some vanilla sugar from the jar, top off the jar with more granulated sugar.
Follow these simple tips and tricks and soon you’ll be using vanilla beans as expertly as any of those TV chefs!