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Ingredient Challenge: Baby Bok Choy, Red Papaya, Fresh Horseradish

Image of Seared Swai Filets with Garlic Bok Choy, Red Papaya Salsa and Romesco Sauce
By Dennis Linden

This month’s Guest Chef Recipe will please the home gourmet who enjoys the challenge of preparing multiple components that come together only at the final plating. A plating so visually stunning that the presentation, not to mention the equally impressive flavors of this dish, really should be shared with a few very lucky dinner guests. Spencer Kim, chef-owner of Spencer’s Bistro in Buena Park, CA. provides six components of culinary fun with a very inventive use of his challenge ingredients in a delicious entrée of layered flavors that was almost as enjoyable to make as it was to taste!
Image of Chef Spencer Kim
Though this dish has many moving parts, in practice Chef Spencer’s recipe is the perfect dish for a small, intimate dinner party. Meaning, four of the components can and should be prepared in advance. That will leave just the quick sauté of both the bok choy and fish, which can to be done simultaneously just before serving. So there is a natural break in the prep that allows the host a little quality conversation time with guests before exiting to the kitchen. With a little organization, the final stage of cooking and plating of this dish will appear effortless to guests. In fact, it’s one of my favorite challenges when cooking for a small dinner party of just three or four people; trying to make my prep as invisible as possible. With a larger group, one can pop in and out of the kitchen at will without being noticed. Not so when the cook also represents twenty-five percent of “the party”! Here’s a tasty solution with wow factor eye appeal to boot!
Image of Strawberry Papaya
Chef Spencer’s papaya salsa is a refreshing mix of tropical fruit sweetness laced with just the right amount of heat-onion-cilantro bite. I plan to try this one on grilled poultry. Use either Strawberry Papaya or the much sweeter Caribbean Red Papaya depending on personal preference. Though a topper, the salsa has a say in every enjoyable forkful and in perfect balance with the rest of the dish’s flavors. I purposely doubled the recipe to insure leftovers for that aforementioned chicken!

The chef’s Romesco Sauce is such a simple formula that also finds its way into the overall taste of the dish. What an interesting mix -- sweet red bell pepper and roasted peanut – who would have guessed! The vibrant vermilion coloring certainly captures the eye immediately. The taste starts out with that familiar crisp sweet pepper flavor, but soon the peanut’s creamy tone takes center stage. Considering the element is only four playful dollop smears on the plate, this sauce is a pleasant taste force that plays more than a bit part in the performance of the whole dish.

Just three ingredients to Chef Spencer’s Basil Oil, though it does takes a bit of focused attention to prepare. I found that the lowest possible heat setting, stirring the mixture often and removing the pot entirely from the flame several times was the key to not over-cooking the puree. Where I would have probably used a more expensive cheese cloth, Chef Spencer’s coffee filter is a much cheaper option and works well! Again, another creatively subtle component that enhances the enjoyment of every other flavor on the plate by design, aka the professional chef’s touch.
Image of Horseradish Root
My first batch of horseradish chips were too thick, so tasted dense and starchy. The “duh” moment came when I revisited Chef Spencer’s recipe words “paper thin”. Much better – light and crispy. Cooking horseradish does take away the root’s infamous pungency. Still, the chips retained some of the distinctive aroma of the root, which is “tasted” if only a hint. The chips also add an occasional crunchy-salty texture to the mix that was a pleasant contrast to the rest of the ingredients. Try them!
Image of Baby Bok Choy
So far, all of the above can be done in the privacy of one’s own kitchen long before guests arrive. Even the blanched baby bok choy halves could be chilling out in the ‘frig waiting to be finished; shaving even more minutes off that final cook-and-serve visit to the kitchen. Baby Bok Choy is such a flavorful and versatile vegetable. The pan-size heads are easily grilled whole or, as in this recipe, quickly sautéed. Chef Spencer lets these tender greens speak for themselves with just a little garlic, basil and parsley for support.

The chef treats his fish in an even more minimalist manner than the baby bok choy—salt, pepper and high heat. Sometimes less is more and here the fish is really a vehicle to deliver the rest of Chef Spencer’s wonderful flavors. As far as the variety of fish, Swai is a farmed Asian river fish that is starting to find its way into the U.S. marketplace. However, if unavailable, the chef suggests substituting either fresh trout, tilapia filets or any other firm white fish that will hold up during the searing process without breaking up before the fish is cooked through.

This is a very fun dish to plate. Practice the dollop smudge a few times on a practice plate before going LIVE. It might also be a good idea to practice looking nonchalant when your guests do the expected double-double take…first for presentation and then for the sublime flavors of Chef Spencer Kim. ENJOY!

Seared Swai Filets with Garlic Bok Choy, Red Papaya Salsa and Romesco Sauce
Serves: 4

Red Papaya Salsa
6 ounces Red Papaya; small diced (either Caribbean Red or Strawberry Papaya)
2 ounces Perfect Sweet Onion, small diced
2 ounces Roma Tomato; small diced
1 teaspoon Jalapeno; minced
1 Tablespoon Cilantro; minced
½ teaspoon White Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Salt to taste
Image of Ingredients for Seared Swai Filets with Garlic Bok Choy, Red Papaya Salsa and Romesco Sauce
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Set aside for plating
Horseradish Chips
1 Horseradish Root, medium sized
Image of Horseradish Chips
  1. Peel the skin off the horseradish.
  2. Thru a mandolin, slice the horseradish at paper thin slices.
  3. In a pan, pour just enough oil to shallow fry the chips to a light brown
  4. Remove from oil and toss with salt -- let chips cool down to get crispy
Romesco Sauce
6 ounces Red Bell Pepper; rough chopped
½ ounces Roasted Peanuts
1 ounces Bread pieces
1 teaspoon Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Image of sauce
  1. In a blender, combine red bell pepper, peanuts, and oil until mixture is pureed
  2. Add bread until blended; finish with salt & pepper, set aside for plating
Basil Oil
1 ounce Fresh Basil
2 ounces Fresh Spinach
1 cup Oil
Image of Basil Oil
  1. In a blender, combine basil, spinach, and oil.
  2. Transfer mixture to a small sauce pot or sauté pan.
  3. Over low heat, heat the oil for about 15-20 min. Do not let the oil come to a boil. Turn the heat off and off if necessary.
  4. Strain the oil thru a coffee filter. Save the oil for plating.
Garlic Herb Baby Bok Choy
6 each Baby Bok Choy; halved
4 teaspoon Garlic; minced
3 teaspoon Basil, minced
3 teaspoon Italian Parsley, minced
Salt & Pepper to taste
Image of Baby Bok Choy
  1. Blanch the baby bok choy in boiling water.
  2. Over medium high heat, sauté minced garlic in a little oil.
  3. Add blanched baby bok choy, herbs, and salt & pepper to the pan.
  4. Sauté until baby bok choy is hot.
4 each 6-7 oz Swai filet; halved (opinion: any firm-textured white fish i.e. trout, tilapia)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Image of searing fish fillets
  1. Salt and pepper both sides of the filets.
  2. Drizzle enough oil to coat the bottom of the sauté pan.
  3. Heat the pan over medium high to high heat.
  4. When oil starts to smoke, place the fish presentation side down first.
  5. Sear the fish until the edges start to turn golden brown.
  6. Flip the fish over and continue searing until fully cooked.
Image of plating
Wrap the 3 baby bok choy halves around each other and place on center of the plate. Place 4 dollops of romesco sauce on the plate. Take a spoon, and smear the sauce. Place a filet piece on top of the baby bok choy. Spoon the salsa on top of the filet and drizzle basil oil around the fish. Sprinkle the horseradish chips over the fish and around the plate. ENJOY!
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