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September, 2012

Ingredient Challenge: Muscato Grapes, Keitt Mango and Hatch Peppers

By Dennis Linden

Chef Alex Dale of SeaLegs Wine Bar, Huntington Beach, CA., improves on this traditional marinated seafood salad using this month’s Challenge Ingredients combined with several heaping tablespoons of culinary creativity.

Chef Alex Dale of SeaLegs Wine Bar, Huntington Beach, CA

Ceviche, in its most basic form, can be traced back to those foodie Incas, who preserved fish with fruit juice, salt and chile peppers. That formula was probably tweaked with lime juice by the North African cooks who were traveling with the early Spanish explorers as they roamed around what is now Peru. Today, throughout Latin America, many variations of ceviche can be found; all contain a fresh fish du jour, an acidic fruit juice (usually lemon or lime) and salt. The other ingredients added to this generic recipe usually reflect the prevalent fruits and favorite flavorings of a local cuisine.

Chef Alex Dale of SeaLegs Wine Bar, Huntington Beach, CA., improves on this traditional marinated seafood salad using this month’s Challenge Ingredients combined with several heaping tablespoons of culinary creativity. Add a sunny deck, a favorite libation and you have the makings for a refreshing light lunch or a something-special appetizer. This delightful dish packs almost more flavors on a single won ton chip than the palate can manage… I said almost!

Grapes

The chef combines fresh Muscato Grapes and tropical mango with the rich flavor of a Hatch Chile Pepper, which plays perfectly off the tang of a quality white fish that has been steeped in an exotic citrus juice laced with two very different Asian sauces. The word balanced is such an overused word gastronomically, nevertheless that is exactly what Chef Alex has managed with this collection of competing flavors.

This dish is also as fun to make as it is to enjoy. I love a recipe that requires the slicing and dicing of an assortment of fresh ingredients. Lock me in a kitchen with a pile of fresh produce all needing to be cut up differently, a sharp knife, maybe a glass of wine, some good background music and I’m a happy cooker! So this recipe is enjoyable from the first slice to the last bite.

While the use of seasonal produce is always the focus of this feature, everything in a good ceviche starts by using the freshest of fish. Alex chose Hamachi, which is the Japanese version of what is called yellowtail in this country. However, the beauty of ceviche is its flexibility in ingredients. The chef suggests trying this recipe with wild-caught Halibut, Bay Scallops, crab meat or even a combination of a couple of your own favorites. Just think fresh to get the best flavor, especially once your choice is soaked in the chef’s delicious marinade for approximately three hours.

In fact, do not let the word marinate fool you; for ceviche longer is not better. A ceviche is a raw fish dish before and after being marinated. Some refer to the marinating process as “cooking” the fish, which is a misnomer. The citric acid in fruits like lemons, limes or Alex’s Yuzu do change the color and texture of the fish, but does not really cook it in the true sense of the word. While the supporting ingredients in the marinade will also add complimenting flavors, the fish retains its fresh, raw taste. However, similar to real cooking, fish can be “overdone” by marinating too long. Pay attention to the clock in preparing this dish and drain the marinade off at Alex’s 3-hour time limit. There are even some ceviche recipes that only marinate for as long as it takes to prepare and combine the rest of the ingredients. Leaving the fish to steep too long in citric acid will turn the texture mushy and overpower its natural flavor with an unpleasant, chalky tartness.

By the way, save that marinade! This liquid is called Tiger’s Milk. In some South American countries, it is served chilled in a small glass alongside the ceviche. A shot of vodka has been known to find its way into the glass more often than not. This liquid contains little bits of all the ingredients that give it a brightly colored, festive hue. SeaLegs being a wine bar, the chef suggested a glass of the Rosé in the recipe as the perfect accompaniment. While the wine certainly paired well, I must say that Chef Alex qualifies as a master mixologist as his Tiger’s Milk is a very tasty, liquor fortified, concentration of all the flavors of his dish. The first, no doubt timid, sip will convince—try it!

I have never come across a recipe with PVC piping in the ingredients, but it turned out to be a very fun aspect of prepping this dish. The plating calls for the use of a 4-inch cake ring to form the ceviche into a 1½-inch-high patty. My local gourmet cooking store only had large rings. However, the chef’s suggestion of a trip to the hardware store turned into a fun adventure. Several of the store’s staff took on the challenge of coming up with the just the right culinary tool amongst the array of gaskets, fittings, auto and pumping parts. I finally settled on the perfect converted patty maker and could save the reader a lot of time by publishing the part number from the receipt…I said “could”. But that would be robbing the reader of getting to play chef-in-distress at your own local hardware store. Enjoy the culinary scavenger hunt!

Yuzu fruit has a unique tartness to it, but do not let the lack of availability of this specialty citrus in fresh form keep you from preparing this recipe. Most high-end gourmet retailers and all Asian markets carry bottled Yuzu juice. However, if you are in a no-Yuzu zone, I have provided the closest substitute for this fruit’s flavor profile in the recipe. Again, with the exception of the freshness of the fish, a ceviche is a very flexible dish when it comes to any one ingredient.

Anahiem Pepper

With that said, the rich flavor of the Hatch chile pepper simply cannot be replicated. Looking very much like an Anaheim Pepper, I have stuffed and served this pepper without calling attention to the fact that it was actually a Hatch. It never ceases to amaze me that there are always guests who notice the difference and come asking after the great flavor of what they thought was just an ordinary Long Green Chile. Nevertheless, there are limits to using truly seasonally fresh produce; the Anaheim pepper is the best substitute when the Hatch Chile pepper season ends. Or spice it up a bit with a Poblano Pepper, instead!

Chef Alex’s recipe has made me a big fan of won ton chips. It will take a little practice to get the deep frying right; it becomes a mini-quest for the perfect shade of golden-brown in a world of hot oil. Leaving the chip in too long – even a few extra seconds chasing it around the pot with a spoon – will produce an unappetizing burnt sienna. Do some pre-chipping at a slightly lower temperature than the chef’s 350° to build up speed at flipping, plucking, and achieving the right golden tone to avoid a Lucy-In-The-Chocolate-Factory experience.

If you have never prepared a ceviche, use Chef Alex’s wonderfully tasty recipe as an introductory prototype and then experiment with your own favorite combinations of fish, citrus juices and other fresh components. Besides, the collateral benefit of developing a collection of exciting new ceviches is also reaping a good supply of Tiger’s Milk!

Hamachi Ceviche with Won Ton Chips
Hamachi Ceviche with Won Ton Chips
Serves 3

Ingredients
For the Ceviche
:
16 ounce Hamachi, medium dice (option: any high quality, fresh white fish)
1 Keitt Mango, medium dice
3 ounces Red Muscato Grapes, halved
2 Hatch Chiles, small dice (option: Anaheim Pepper)
½ cup Green Onion, sliced thin on a bias
2 ounces Mulderbosch Rosé
6 Yuzus, juiced (options: 12 ounce bottled Yuzu or 6 oz. each of fresh lime & white grapefruit juices)
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha
Sea Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

For Plating:
1 pinch of Cilantro, chopped (garnish)
1 Watermelon Radish, sliced thin, then julienned (option: regular radish)
1 pack of Melissa's Won Ton Wrappers – halved, cut diagonally forming triangles
1 Cake Ring, 4” diameter by 1½” high (option: PVC pipe fitting of same size)

Preparation
For Ceviche
:
Combine all ingredients in a container and let marinate for 3 hours.

For Won Ton Chips:
Preheat frying oil to 350°F in a large saucepot. Make sure the wrapper triangles are separated with no “doubles” sticking to one another. Cook won ton triangles quickly in small batches, taking care not to overcrowd. Flip once using metal tongs or a slotted spoon and remove onto paper towels when chips turn a light golden brown.

Plating:
At one end of a rectangular “skateboard” plate, pack the ceviche inside the ring mold, then top with the radish (first) and a scattering of cilantro. Press down this garnish before carefully removing ring. Fill out the plate with won ton chips.