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Ingredient Challenge: Figs, Grape Tomatoes, and Hatch Chile Peppers

By Dennis Linden

Attempting to come up with words for the flavors of this wonderful dish of multiple sauces was like trying to describe the color blue.
Image of Chef Daniel Godinez
This month’s chef recipe celebrates the bounty of the summertime harvest by incorporating some 20 fresh and dried ingredients in a special occasion dish that will no doubt inspire readers to invent an occasion just to prepare it! Chef Daniel Godinez, Executive Chef and owner of the Anepalco’s Café with two locations in Orange, CA., uses August’s challenge ingredients and a large supporting cast to create the three main components of his scrumptious Fig Mole Duck Breast. This dish also reflects Chef Godinez’s style of blending traditional French techniques with familiar Mexican flavors. Anepalco literally translates to “Bay” or “Bahía” in Nahuatl, which was the language of the Aztecs.

“During the French intervention in Mexico from 1861 to 1866, Mexican and French cuisine combined to bring the best of both worlds to one plate,” explained the chef. “New delicious dish creations sprang up, such as quiches and crepes with Mexican flavored ingredients. Our menu presents this unique and original Mexican-French cuisine. The goal is to provide our patrons with a very different dining experience, be it breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.”

This dish is the sum of its very flavorful parts. Since three of those parts can be prepared long before guests arrive, Chef Godinez’s recipe is the perfect dish for an intimate dinner for two to four. Being able to get a good head start on the prep also allows the host to enjoy the evening without being sequestered in the kitchen. Both the Grape Tomato Puree and the Fig Mole can be warmed up just before serving; the tasty Hatch Chimichurri is best at room temperature. That leaves only the duck to cook for 22 minutes per Chef Godinez’s instructions while the peaches and figs are grilling on the barby for about the same amount of time. The eye-catching presentation that Chef provides, which really is head-turning, certainly gives the impression of hours of work in the kitchen. Still, if you have done the pre-prep as suggested, to your guests it will appear that the meal was accomplished with seeming ease between conversations. Of course, there are lots of little devils lurking in the details of any successful dish...

Grape Tomato Purée: Simplicity in motion! This small, sweet tomato variety is cooked up two ways; each with just one clove of garlic and then blended together with a little olive oil. It sounds almost too simple to be delicious, but it is! The acidic sweetness of this sauce finds its way on to every bite and demonstrates the subtle touch of the culinary professional. Chef Godinez’s playful plating of this sauce in the shape of a wine glass takes a little practice and is guaranteed to dazzle your guests. I finally settled on a very small spoon as my “brush” to outline the shape and then carefully filled it in with more sauce. If your wine glass drawing skills are lacking, looking more like a heavy mug, just pool the puree in the center of the plate and enjoy it!
Image of Grape Tomatoes
Hatch Chimichurri: Chef Godinez’s version of this traditional South American meat topping is a keeper that I plan to use for the rest of the summer grilling season on whatever comes off my barby. Adding the unique taste of the Hatch pepper and a little lime juice to the usual standard formula for Chimichurri again adds a flavorful twist to this iconic sauce. To learn how to roast Hatch Chile Peppers see Melissa’s instructive Roasting Fresh Chili Cooking Tips.

Fig Mole: Though this deeply rich and full-bodied sauce is plated by Chef Godinez as a “strike” positioned to the side of the duck breast, it soon takes center stage in the flavor profile of this dish. Be diligent with the seeding and deveining of the three varieties of dried chile. With a kitchen scissors, snip the stem off each pepper and then butterfly them with a lengthwise cut up one side; once opened, scrape all the seeds out with a spoon or fingers and pull off the dried veins. Be sure to retain the water used in boiling these peppers as it will serve as the binding when it gets to blending all ingredients in the processor. Molé should be the consistency of a thick chocolate sauce because that is exactly what it is! Use just enough of the chile water to make it so. Figs, chile peppers, three kinds of nuts and chocolate – the perfect sauce that almost steals the show with its rich, spicy and chocolaty goodness.
Image of Black Mission Figs
Duck Breast: This part of Chef Godinez’s recipe needs focus. The secret here is getting a crispy skin on a medium rare duck breast. Sauté the breasts skin side down on the stovetop per the recipe instructions, paying very close attention to adjusting the flame as necessary – do not cook too fast or too slow. Leave the breasts skin side down when finishing them in the oven. Over-cooking will dry out the meat; error on the rare side and then let the duck rest several minutes as it will continue to cook.

Garnish: Chef Godinez demonstrates that garnish always plays an integral role in the flavor of a dish and should never be approached as a hood ornament. The figs, peach and red radish slices all contribute to the take-away taste. Slice the radish very thick to provide a delicate, yet crisp texture to each bite. Grill the figs cut side up until they bubble; do not turn them. The sugars of a fresh peach are coaxed out beautifully with grilling. That sweetness works nicely here, giving each taste a fleeting hint of distinct “peachiness” in spite of the dominant richness of the fig mole. It’s another small detail that separates the professional from the rest us.
Image of peaches
I can review the preparation details of each component in this dish down to the paring knife, especially after enjoying it twice as a part of the grueling research necessary for this article. The flavor, or rather, flavors that Chef Godinez creates is a more elusive endeavor. The three sauces work together to create a fourth! The fresh fruits pared with the crispy skin and duck meat add to the palate’s experience. Still, attempting to come up with words for the flavors of this wonderful dish of multiple sauces was like trying to describe the color blue! What I can say is that I conducted my tasting alone this month and still found myself applauding Chef Godinez and my completely cleaned plate when the meal was done, twice! So will you, so will your guests. That’s the best I do in the flavor description category… the sound of one man clapping. Happy Forks!

Fig Mole Duck Breast
Serves 4

Grape Tomato Purée

2 cloves Garlic
16 ounces Grape Tomatoes
4 ounces Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Image of Grape Tomatoes and Garlic
Boil 8 ounces of the Grape Tomatoes with 1 garlic clove. Sauté the rest of the tomatoes with the other garlic. Blend all together in food processor with 4 ounces of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Add sea salt to taste.

Fig Mole

3 each Dried Guajillo, Ancho and California Chiles
2 Tablespoons Raw Pepitas
2 Tablespoons Raw Almonds
2 Tablespoons Peanuts
1 Tablespoons Cumin
1 Clove
1 clove Garlic
8 ounces Black Mission Figs
2 ounces Baking Cocoa
Image of Ingredients Fig Mole
Seed & devein the dried chile peppers, then boil until soft, drain and retain water

Sauté the Almonds, Pepitas, Peanuts, Cumin, Clove and Garlic.

In a separate pan sauté the fresh figs.

In a food processor blend all the ingredients with the cocoa, adding just enough chile water to make a smooth paste.

Hatch Chimichurri

1 Roasted Hatch Chile, deveined and seeded
1/8 bunch Cilantro
1/8 bunch Italian Parsley
1/4 Red Onion
1clove Garlic
1/16 bunch fresh Oregano
1 Lime, juiced
4 ounces cup Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Crushed Chile Pepper
Sea Salt to taste
Image of Ingredients for Hatch Chimichurri
Chop the chile, parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, and oregano very thinly.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Duck Breast

2 (8 ounces)
Image of pan searing duck breasts
Cut each duck breast in half, season with salt and pepper. Pan sear skin side down until the skin is crispy for about 15 minutes. Finish the duck in a 350° pre-heated oven for about 7-8 minutes for a medium rare.

Fig halves, grilled
Fresh Peach slices, grilled
Red Radish, sliced thin
Cilantro sprigs
Image of grilling figs and peaches
In the center of the plate pool the Grape Tomato Purée in the shape of a wine glass (see photo). Place the duck breast in the “glass”. Top the duck with the Hatch Chimichurri, sliced Red Radish and a few sprigs of Cilantro. Position the fresh grilled peaches and figs to the right side of duck breast within the glass. Finish the dish with a strike of the Fig Mole Sauce to the left of the puree glass. Enjoy!
Image of Fig Mole Duck Breast
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