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Ingredient Challenge: Celery Root, Edamame, Red Papaya

Image of Chef Chris Tzorin
This month’s set of ingredients are combined in a wonderful recipe that entertains the eyes as well as the palate with a deliciously playful dish, layered with vibrant colors and flavors. In fact, it was gratifying to learn that our recipe challenge resulted in Chris Tzorin, Executive Chef at Savannah Chop House in Laguna Niguel, CA, offering this dish as a special on his menu! May it inspire readers to serve this to your own dinner guests!

For the home chef who enjoys the culinary process, here’s one of those multi-stage recipes requiring the careful prepping of five separate components that cover a wide gamut of cooking techniques. If you are a regular reader of this feature, add my other two favorite components when approaching this kind of a recipe – your favorite music to slice by and a long-stemmed glass of a preferred vintage grape drink!

While each of the three challenge produce items do play very prominent roles in his dish, with the exception of the fish and rice, Chef Chris depends almost entirely upon a large supporting cast of fresh ingredients to create a multitude of flavors. In fact, the chef uses the sea bass and risotto as tasty vehicles for the delivery of this troupe of fresh flavor combinations. Another interesting layer to this recipe is the chef’s use of temperature as an ingredient by including both hot and cold components on the plated together. I have always considered the word “complex” to be a vague cop-out used by food writers just too lazy to be more specific. Having said that, this dish is complex! And very fun to make!
Image of Red Papaya
Obviously, sheer line of sight elevates Chef Chris’ red papaya sauce to celebrity status on the plate. The dazzling color, deepened in a reduction and polished with a touch of cream, immediately grasps visual attention. The sauce’s creamy, fruity richness has a delightful tangy-sweet edge to it from a touch of rice vinegar that provides just the right balance to the fruit’s sweetness. Speaking of fruity sweetness, there is a great choice of red papaya varieties to use for this recipe since Melissa’s does offer three: Caribbean, Maradol and Strawberry. If you decide on a Strawberry Papaya, which is the size of a regular papaya only with gorgeous salmon-colored fruit, then add either sweetener option called for in the recipe. The other two are much larger and quite a bit higher in sugar content, so neither really needs any help in the sweetener department. All three will provide the same stunning color accent.

Another striking shade of flavor that Chris uses to paint his plate is the cilantro oil. For those who have an aversion to cilantro, substitute parsley. This is a very simple component to make; just plan ahead as this oil really needs an overnight strain to max out taste and color. In fact, if you are a first-timer making either of these oils, remember this neat little prep trick as both make tasty garnishes that pair with a wide assortment of dishes and cuisines. Applying these attractive oils from a squeeze bottle opens up a world of design options in plating. Moreover, the oil contributes subtly and beautifully to the taste of the dish. Plating rule #1: Garnish should always be treated as an ingredient, not a hood ornament! BTW, it should be noted here that the orchid in Chris’s plating is an edible flower. This is the chef’s signature garnish in honor of his father, award winning master chef Louie Tzorin. Chris credits his father with being his mentor and the inspiration for everything he prepares in his own kitchen.

Encrusted Edamame! What a wonderful idea. I should caution that my first attempt at searing the fillet with this delicate Panko-Edamame coating came out more blackened than attractively seared. The second try, with a shortened sear time, did the trick of retaining some of the brilliant green of the edamame. It can burn quickly, so just pay attention.
Image of Celery Root
Celery Root sure cleans up well for this dish! Chef Chris turns this gnarly-looking veggie into the star of a refreshing, chilled relish that adds a pleasant contrast in temperature to each bite, as well as an avalanche of more flavors to enjoy in combination with the rest of the dish. This simple mix of the celery root with onion, roasted corn, and red pepper that is heavily laced with cilantro has an energizing zip to it that acts as a unifying force in every bite. Actually, I made an extra-large batch of this relish; the next day I got the bright idea to add some shredded chicken to these leftovers for a wonderful chicken salad lunch. Try it!

Another enjoyable taste twist to this dish is adding wasabi to the risotto. The sharpness of the wasabi is such a wonderful little touch, which demonstrates Chef Chris’ inventiveness and underscores his attention to detail. I prefer the powdered over the paste version of this product simply because of all the ingredients that I cannot pronounce listed on the paste package! But, whichever you choose, it will add a nice zing to this time-honored rice preparation.

As far as the risotto itself, a specific recipe was not included here though it is definitely an integral part of this dish. Risotto is an art unto itself; a plethora of cooking instructions can be found in a simple recipe search of the Internet or even our own recipe archives on this site. I will say that the secret to good risotto is patience and focus; take time out from the world around you for the 25-30 minutes it takes to stir this dish into a heavenly deliciousness. Call it Risotto Meditation! A risotto done right is the perfect balance of creamy-firm texture and taste; risotto done wrong is just rice. Embrace the process!

Chef Chris’s creation is definitely food and plating that deserves an audience. The chef’s recipe has been laid out in a sequential format with preparation for a table of dinner guests in mind. The components that are uncooked or chilled, the oil and relish, can and should be done ahead of time. Actually, the red papaya sauce could also be done in advance and then reheated depending upon the social pressure you feel to be the super host. However, for the “live” preparation, you will have to leave your guests to entertain themselves for 30 minutes. Lock yourself in the kitchen with no distractions for the risotto and the fish! Not bad hosting, just good cooking. All will be grateful for this absence in due course. Actually, that would be Chef Chris Tzorin’s main course! Happy Forks!

Edamame-Encrusted Sea Bass
Serves 4
Image of Edamame-Encrusted Sea Bass
Cilantro Oil

½ bunch Cilantro (blanch in salted water, shock in ice water and squeeze dry)
¼ cup Olive Oil
2 ounces Lime Juice

Place all ingredients in a blender and purée smooth. Add more oil if needed. Place purée in cheesecloth and let strain overnight, then pour strained liquid into a squeeze bottle for use during plating.

Celery Root Relish

1 large Celery Root, peeled, cleaned, medium dice
1 Red Onion, medium dice
1 cup Melissa’s Roasted Sweet Corn
½ Red Bell Pepper, medium dice
1 ounce Honey (option ½ ounce Agave Syrup)
1 bunch Cilantro, chopped rough
4 ounces Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cook celery root in boiling water al dente (tender crisp), immediately transfer into ice bath for 5 minutes to stop cooking process, drain and then set aside until cool. Once cooled, in a mixing bowl combine celery root with the rest of the ingredients, add salt/pepper, then refrigerate mixture until chilled.

Red Papaya Sauce
Image of Red Papaya Sauce
1 Red Papaya (Caribbean, Maradol and Strawberry), peeled, seeded, cut into small chunks
2 ounce Rice Vinegar
1 ounce Sugar (option ½ ounce Agave Syrup)
3 ounce Heavy Cream
5 ounce Butter, small cubes

Purée papaya until liquefied. In a small saucepan, combine purée and sugar, vinegar, then reduce 50% -- stirring in the cream a little at a time. Turn down heat to stop reduction and slowly whisk in butter cubes until fully incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Edamame Encrusted Sea Bass

4 Chilean Sea Bass Fillets, 8 ounce, skinless
1 Melissa’s Shelled Edamame, 10 oz package
½ cup Panko
1 teaspoon Garlic or Onion Powder
1 Egg/3 ounces Milk (Egg Wash)

In a food processor, course chop shelled edamame. Spread out chopped edamame on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and roast at 375°F until dry and toasted. Combine toasted edamame with panko and seasoning. Set up an assembly line of 3 shallow dishes: flour – egg wash – edamame mix. Season fillets with salt & pepper. Coat fillets on both sides first with flour, then egg wash; then press one side only into edamame mix. In a large sauté pan, sear fillets on high heat in olive oil, encrusted side down, just long enough to adhere the edamame mixture to the fish. Then flip the fillets over and pop the entire pan in a preheated oven at 375° for 8 minutes.

Ingredients for Plating
2 cups of cooked Risotto (Chef suggestion: flavor the rice with 3 ounce of wasabi paste or powder)

  1. In the center of a large round dinner plate, pool one ladle of Red Papaya Sauce
  2. Outline this pool of sauce with Cilantro oil.
  3. In the center of sauce pool, place a scoop of risotto only slight larger than each fillet.
  4. Place fillet, encrusted side up, on top of risotto.
  5. Top fish with Celery Root Relish.
  6. Garnish with an edible orchid (optional).
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