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Ingredient Challenge: Caribbean Red Papaya, Sweet Potato, and Asian Pear

By Dennis Linden

In time for the holiday entertaining season, this month’s challenge dish is a colorful and fun-to-prepare recipe that will provide the perfect, deliciously festive, entrée for a small dinner party.
Image of Sautéed Black Cod with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Papaya Sauce and Pickled Asian Pears
Just in time for the holiday entertaining season, this month’s challenge dish is a colorful and fun-to-prepare recipe that will provide the perfect, deliciously festive, entrée for a small dinner party. Chef Jonathan Arocha, owner of Culinary Madness 101 Catering in West Covina, CA, turned his fall harvest challenge ingredients into three relatively easy to assemble components. Each serve as flavor supports to a very simply prepared sautéed fresh fish filet and the balance of flavors achieved is head-turning.

Guest Chef Jonathan Arocha
Pickled fruit sounds like a contradiction in terms...that is, until tasted. The balsamic vinegar and seasonings add a pleasant astringency to the crunchy sweet flavor and unique texture of the Asian pear. So good, in fact, that I found myself taste-testing the slices to the point of almost not having enough left for plating. Chef Jonathan’s brine takes only a few minutes to a simmer, but must be cooled and requires a 90-minute soaking time, so plan ahead.

Asian Pears are one of the true delights of the fall season. The fruit is sometimes called an “apple pear”, which is a great description of the fruits visual and textural characteristics, though not botanically correct. The round shape does make them look like a brown-skinned apple and the unique juicy texture is reminiscent of the classic European pear. The resemblance ends there. Standard pears are picked green and then ripened, usually softening and changing color at room temperature. Asian pears remain very firm when ripe, do not change color and, in fact, will not ripen any further once picked. Use them raw for a sweet juicy crunch in salads; they are also great poached and, of course, absolutely delicious pickled!

Chopped Garlic: My first batch of Caribbean Papaya Purée was much too gritty. In review I realized that I had made an executive decision that the water in Chef Jonathan’s instructions would be unnecessary since papaya contains plenty of juice. A big culinary NOT. In the second attempt it only took an ounce or two of water to smooth out the problem, forgive the pun. Like Chef Jonathan’s pickled component, this purée has such a simple list of ingredients – papaya, garlic, lime juice, cilantro with a bit of soft butter – that belies this sauce’s rich, creamy, slightly tangy flavor.

Caribbean Papaya is a tasty gift from the country of Belize. They are as delicious as they are gorgeous. This fruit’s melon-like flavor, fragrant aroma and beautiful salmon red coloring looks very much like a strawberry papaya, though it is much sweeter and there’s a lot more of it! Chef Jonathan exploits this fruit’s dazzling appearance in his plating; making it very fun to just watch your guests’ eyes widen when they’re served. Looks means nothing without flavor and this part of the dish does not disappoint. Just remember to add a little water!

There is nothing special to Chef Jonathan’s roasted sweet potato medley – unless one counts the combination of warming comfort food yumminess flavored with a touch of Hatch Chile Powder and a hint of nutmeg! The key here is Chef Jonathan’s use of these two seemingly opposite seasonings. It’s an odd combination that simply works; elevating the already creamy-goodness of a slightly crisp roasted sweet potato to another flavor level. Again, I caught myself taste-testing this component a little more than necessary.

Though I was only able to use orange and white sweet potatoes for my prep, use three varieties of different-colored sweet potatoes for more visual impact; a Purple Okinawa would provide the perfect color complement. However, Chef Jonathan also notes that the dish works just fine using one variety if that is all that is available. Think that three whole sweet potatoes are a lot for a recipe using only 4-5 slices per plating? However the quantity provides enough relatively uniform slices for each plating – especially if three varieties are being used – so be picky. More importantly, three sweet potatoes guarantees enough leftovers to serve as a tasty standalone side dish in another meal or, like I did, for a hot lunch the next day!
Image of Tangerine Crepes
While this feature focuses on seasonal fresh challenge ingredients and how a culinary professional incorporates them in a single dish, a word must be said about the fresh fish that is the centerpiece of Chef Jonathan’s inventive recipe. Except for maybe salmon, this dish will work using almost any sea-going species that is available as a filet with the skin on. The most important thing is to choose only the freshest of fish. If you are lucky enough to live seaside or have access to a local seafood shop, then the freshest option is the one that you can watch being fileted to order. If your only source is a large retailer, question the date of delivery, origin and trail of distribution until you are satisfied with the answers. If the answers are unsatisfactory or vague, find a better place to “fish”. Besides, Chef Jonathan Arocha’s wonderful recipe, as well as your holiday table guests, deserve the very best. ‘Tis the season. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Sautéed Black Cod with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Papaya Sauce and Pickled Asian Pears
Serves 5

Pickled Asian Pear
Image of Ingredients for Pickled Asian Pear
Ingredients (Prepare 1½ hours ahead)
1 Asian Pear
¾ cup White Balsamic Vinegar
½ cup Water
2 Tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Whole Allspice
1 teaspoon Dried Ginger

In a small sauce pan, combine all ingredients, except pears, bring to a simmer and then cool completely

Using a mandolin, slice pear in about 3/16 inch rounds, cut rounds in half

Soak slices in cooled brine for 90 minutes, pat dry with paper towel before plating.

Papaya Sauce
Image of Ingredients for Papaya Sauce
1 Caribbean Red Papaya
4 ounces Butter Room Temp (1 ounce for roasting)
1 ounce Cilantro, rough chop
½ teaspoon Cumin
Salt to taste
1 Lime, juiced
1 clove Garlic, minced
4 ounces Water, for blending

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slice papaya lengthwise, seed and peel, cut into 1” chunks.

Melt 1 ounce butter with cilantro and cumin / season to taste with salt - NO PEPPER.

In a mixing bowl combine papaya with butter mixture, transfer to roasting pan.

Roast fifteen minutes (Chef Note: fully cooked with a nice sear)

In a blender or food processor combine roasted papaya with lime juice, garlic, and the rest of the butter, add a little water until smooth.

Run this puree through a small-mesh sieve to remove most cilantro pieces and for smoother consistency. Set aside for plating.

Roasted Sweet Potato
Image of Hatch Chile Pepper Roasting Time
3 Sweet Potatoes – sliced into 3/16 inch rounds
(Chef Note: This component can be prepared using one, two or three different colored varieties – white, orange and purple)
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
½ cup Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Hatch Chile Powder
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients with sweet potato slices.

Roast for 10 minutes in preheated 450-degree oven.

Sautéed Black Cod

5 fillet portions Black Cod w/skin on (substitute Halibut or Sea Bass)
1 pound French Green Beans (approximately 8-10 beans per plating)
3 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper


Lightly cut lines on skin of filets for nicer sear.

In a large sauté pan, add olive oil and wait one minute to heat oil to almost smoking sear filets, skin side down, for three minutes flip once and add in French green beans, sear beans and finish fish for another three minutes.

Plate and serve immediately.


Pool papaya puree in center of plate.

Lay sweet potato slices, in alternating colors, on puree.

Place filet on puree left of slices.

Rest pickled Asian pear slice on filet.

Garnish with seared French Beans.

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