Ingredient Challenge: Celery Root, Mango and French Beans
By Dennis Linden
"be forewarned that this interesting, slightly complex dish might completely dominate your guests’ table conversation"
Here is a special occasion entrée with strong French-Asian influences that would be perfect for a small dinner party where elegance and unique taste is sought. However, be forewarned that this interesting, slightly complex dish might completely dominate the table conversation or, more probably, eliminate talk altogether as your guests pay the highest of all compliments with appreciative silence! Chef Seakyeong Kim, Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza, approached this month’s challenge ingredients with a blend of classic culinary traditions flavored with his own cultural roots and creativity.
For the home chef, this is one of those challenging recipes with many moving parts. So get out a few cutting boards, every sauce pan and stock pot in the cupboard; pour a stemmed glass of a favorite vintage grape juice and switch on some cooking music. Well, not every pot in the kitchen, but Chef Kim’s unique Quinoa Crusted Ahi Tuna will take you on a culinary journey from start to delicious finish!
Expect the first read-through of this recipe to be a little overwhelming with so many components, techniques and fascinating ingredients including a recipe within a recipe. The dish can still be very practical for entertaining a small group as parts of the recipe can and should be prepared ahead of time. Chef Kim’s Nuoc Cham sauce must steep overnight and the celery root purée can also be prepared the day before, along with prepping the mango that will be tossed in this sauce.
Actually, spreading the prep of this dish over two days also extends the culinary fun! To help with that enjoyment, Chef Kim’s directions have been separated into “Day One” and “Day Two” as well as formatted in the proper sequential order of preparation.
Looking at the plating of this dish, it could be said that Chef Kim starts and finishes his creation with two very different sauces. At the base of each serving, a soy-infused version of the traditional French butter sauce, Beurre Blanc, surrounds the stack of vegetables and tuna steak. The dish is finished with a topping of diced mangoes laced with Nuoc Cham, a favorite sweet-salty-spicy Vietnamese dipping sauce. What makes this odd-couple of sauces work well together is the soy that Chef Kim adds to the butter sauce; melding two cuisines seamlessly with just a few tablespoons. It’s that chef’s touch and what separates a professional from the rest of us!
Note that the Soy Beurre Blanc is prepared at the end of the recipe, just before the tuna is seared. All other components should be ready and waiting for these last two, which both require centered attention. The key to a perfect Beurre sauce is a constant, gentle whisk. At this point, plating is very close, so you should be alone in your kitchen focused on this last stage of the prep. Do not leave this reduction alone for even a few seconds to avoid having to rename it “blackened Beurre”!
Celery Root, also marketed as “celeriac”, is an extremely versatile and unique vegetable with a mild flavor of celery greens. Compared to other root crops, celeriac contains very little starch, resulting in a much lighter texture than, say, a potato. As to the root’s versatility, Chef Kim demonstrates this twice in his recipe. First, as a creamy purée laced with garlic and shallots, as well as delicate sticks roasted with tarragon. Watch those sticks as closely as the Beurre sauce, flipping them over once during the baking. Two batches of that aforementioned “blackened” style precede this experienced counsel.
Celery root can be served raw or cooked, sautéed, deep-fried, roasted, braised, or simmered in soup and stews, or simply shredded and served with a dressing. It is the most diabetic-friendly of all the root crops, packed with vitamins and nutrients.
Chef Kim’s use of quinoa as a healthy “breading” for the tuna makes for a wonderful flavor surprise when seared. The toasted quinoa adds a hearty crunch to each bite that plays nicely off the creamy textures of the mango, Ahi and purée. After running the quinoa through my processor, as chef suggested, I really saw no difference in the grain’s consistency and suspected my equipment. So I placed the quinoa in the freezer for an hour and then pulsed per the recipe. This helped by making the grain a little rough around the edges for better adherence to the fish steaks.
Ahi tuna is really the perfect fish to pair with Chef Kim’s collection of tasty components. If you are skeptical about the chef’s suggested long cooking time, just have a little patience…the 15 seconds will pass eventually! Seriously, focus on buying the freshest cut of tuna you can find. Grill the retailer, not the fish! Truly fresh Ahi needs no help from a stovetop or grill; the 15 seconds of flame is mostly for the quinoa.
I prepared this dish twice from scratch for this feature; once to simply savor and a second time for the photograph, which was also eventually savored! The preparation of a recipe for a photo has a much slower pace to it since the focus in making the ingredients look perfect. Preparing this recipe a second time with this more deliberate process allowed me to really notice and appreciate the thought that Chef Kim put into the collection of flavors for each component.
I bring this up only because not many have the opportunity to do a “practice round” when cooking a meal. So I urge the reader to relish this dish from the get-go. Enjoy constructing each of the components as the individual taste celebrations that they are; then watch how the whole dish has the power to reduce a dining room of expectant chatter to the singular sound of forks clinking on fine china. Enjoy!
Quinoa Crusted Ahi Tuna with Celery Root Purée, Haricot Vert & Celery Root Sticks,
Soy Beurre Blanc Sauce and Nuoc Cham Marinated Mango
1 cup White Wine Vinegar
1½ cup Fish Sauce
5 each Thai Chili
, split in half
1 cup Sugar, granulated
½ cup Lime Juice
Bring all of the ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pot. Let cool overnight to infuse the chili flavor. Strain before tossing with mango. Peel, dice and refrigerate the mango.
2 Celery Roots
, medium large, peeled
, peeled and sliced
3 cloves Garlic
2 cups Whole Milk
½ cup Vegetable Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
: Save all trimming for the purée. Square off each end of the celery root. Mandolin each root into slices ¼ inch thick. Turn those slices on the flat side and cut 20 sticks ¼ inch by ¼ inch by 2 inches. Refrigerate for day two prep.
: In a stockpot heat the vegetable oil and begin to sweat the garlic and shallot until translucent. Add the celery root trimmings and coat with the oil. Add the milk, cover with a lid, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender. Place mixture in a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate overnight; reheat just before plating.
Mango Nuoc Cham:
, ripe, peeled, diced
¼ cup Nuoc Cham
Salt and Pepper
Toss the Nuoc Cham and mango together until thoroughly coated, then season with salt and pepper.
8 ounces French Green Beans
½ gallon Water
¼ cup Salt
Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot. Trim ends off the green beans. Cook in the seasoned water until cooked. Remove and plunge in ice water to stop cooking process. Once cooled and strained. Separate each bean in half by gently pulling them apart lengthwise down the seam by hand.
20¼ inch Celery
3 each Thyme
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
Toss 20 celery root sticks with vegetable oil and thyme, then bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Watch carefully, flipping the sticks over once during the bake.
Soy Beurre Blanc:
½ cup Sake
½ cup White Wine
1 each Lemon
1½ Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 each Shallot
2 each Garlic, smashed
3 each Thyme, sprigs
1 each Bay Leaves
1 Tablespoon Black Peppercorn
1 teaspoon Sugar, granulated
8 ounces Cold Butter, unsalted, cubed
1 teaspoon Chives, sliced thin
Combine all of the ingredients except butter and chives in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Continue to reduce liquid to 1/8 cup. Strain the reduction into a smaller sauce pot and return to burner set at the very lowest flame. Slowly whisk in butter. Once everything is incorporated mix in the sliced chives. Serve warm.
4 Tuna Steaks, 5 ounces each
1 cup Uncooked Quinoa
½ cup Vegetable Oil
Salt and Pepper taste
Pulse the Quinoa in a food processor 8 times, 3 seconds each time. Empty the contents out onto a flat plate. On a separate plate, generously season tuna with salt and pepper. Drizzle 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil over the tuna and evenly coat both sides. Press the seasoned tuna in the quinoa to crust the outside. Shake lightly to discard excess coating. Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot begin cooking the tuna on one side for about 15 seconds then flip and cook on the other for the same amount to achieve and even cooking. This will yield a “rare” steak.
Start by spooning 2 Tablespoons of the celery root puree in the middle of each plate. Toss the roasted celery root sticks and the green beans together and place a quarter of the mixture on top of the vegetables. Drizzle 1½ ounce Beurre Blanc around the vegetables. Set the seared tuna on top of the vegetables. Top the tuna steak with 1 Tablepsoon marinated mango. Bon appétit!