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Ingredient Challenge: Sweet Young Coconut, Plumcots, and Baby Bok Choy

By Dennis Linden

Chef Andrew’s recipe has a fun speed to it that prepares and funnels the three components from stovetop to plate in a matter of minutes.
Image of chef Andrew
The fun part about writing this feature is waiting to see what the chef will do with each month’s challenge ingredients. Andrew Gruel, chef/owner/sustainable seafood advocate of SlapFish Restaurant in Huntington Beach, CA, came up with a dish that is not only a delight to prepare and enjoy, but also provides some food for thought in his choice of fish to pair with our fresh ingredients. At SlapFish it’s not only how the fish on the plate is prepared, but also how and where it was caught.

“SlapFish is committed to sourcing only eco-friendly and well-managed seafood,” explained Chef Andrew. “We work closely with several organizations to ensure that we are utilizing the most current data on over-fishing, harmful fishing practices and responsible fish-farming. Sustainability is a balancing act between supply and demand. We believe in taking wisely from the ocean, without harming the marine eco-system.”

Once the chef’s relatively short ingredient list has been prepared, the actual stovetop time for this dish is very quick. While it seems like common sense to pre-measure and prepare all the ingredients necessary for a dish before one starts to cook it, the French felt the need to give it a culinary name, Mise en Place (MEEZ-ahn-plahs). The phrase translates to “everything in its place” – as in sliced, diced, blanched and otherwise all lined up in row, ready to go. This is always a good idea, if for no other reason than to avoid discovering a missing ingredient or pre-prep requirement at a crucial moment during the cooking process. It also makes the actual cooking of a dish so much more enjoyable if one is not futzing around with measuring spoons and cups at the same time. Anyway, once your ingredient ducks are in a line, Chef Andrew’s recipe has a fun speed to it that prepares and funnels the three components from stovetop to plate in a matter of minutes.
Image of Plums
While the chef does suggest that regular plums will work as a substitute for Plumcots for his Sweet & Sour Plum Sauce, heed Andrew’s suggestion only in the off-season or if stranded on a deserted island of plum trees. Plumcots have a much richer and complex flavor over the common red plum. The full-bodied taste of this hybrid fruit compared to an ordinary plum is like substituting a rosé wine, diluted with water, for a vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. Admittedly, that might have been a bit of a poetically-licensed exaggeration; the point is, while plums would be good, plumcots would be so very much better. Right now the fruit is in season, plentiful and absolutely juicy and delicious!

This same substitution advice holds true for using the juice of a Melissa’s Sweet Young Coconut over any of the bottled or canned products of coconut water that are readily available in the grocery store juice aisle. Firstly, fresh is always best in flavor. A rule is that if a processed-from-fresh-produce product does not require a refrigerated display case at retail, head over to the produce department and pick up the real thing! More poetic license: attending a play in person, sure beats watching a movie anytime!

Besides, once the juice has been extracted for Chef Andrew’s recipe, there is a whole natural container of sweet coconut meat “leftovers” to enjoy out of hand or in another recipe just waiting to be discovered! The carrot and coconut broth made from these two fresh juices not only command attention visually, the tasty combination is the unique touch that a culinary professional brings to the table. The rest of us can only strive for such creative simplicity. It’s one of the stars of Chef Andrew’s dish.
Image of Baby Bok Choy
The Baby Bok Choy and Sweet Potato mix is also an understated component of this recipe, serving as the foundation of the dish with a flavor that certainly belies its quick and easy prep. I chose to use the orange variety of sweet potato that is marketed as a “yam” in this country; its vibrant color was a good match with the carrot-coconut broth. A white sweet potato would work and might even add a little more sweetness. Baby Bok Choy is such a wonderfully flavorful and tender green. Every time I use it, I am reminded of this vegetable’s great characteristics and always resolve to use it more often.

Lastly, Chef Andrew’s treatment of wild Pacific Albacore tuna is a culinary reminder that fresh fish needs very little flavor enhancement. His lemon-parsley-chive-oil marinade is simple and the perfect complement to one of the most popular and flavorful fish on the planet. Of course, the key word to this ingredient for Andrew, SlapFish and the planet is “wild” – as in “slow caught” by trolling or line and pole. Albacore tuna lives and is caught in every ocean around the world. Chef Andrew includes in his recipe the informative link that lists several locations where sustainable tuna is sold and served on the west coast. The chef also uses and recommends FishWatch, a federal program maintained by NOAA Fisheries, the leading science authority for managing the nation’s marine fisheries. FishWatch provides easy-to-understand science-based facts to help consumers (and chefs) make smart sustainable seafood choices.

“While there are no studies to back this up,” prefaced Chef Andrew. “Serving the freshest fish and shellfish sourced from well-managed, responsible suppliers of sustainable seafood definitely feels better and, I think, just tastes better too!”
Image of Wild Pacific Albacore Tuna with Sweet Potato, Baby Bok Choy, Sweet and Sour Plums
Wild Pacific Albacore Tuna with Sweet Potato, Baby Bok Choy, Sweet and Sour Plums
Serves 4

For the Albacore:
Pre-heat oven to 350°
4 (4-6 ounce) Steaks of Wild Pacific Albacore Tuna
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon, juiced and zested
2 Tablespoons Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon Chives, chopped

For the Vegetables:
2 Tablespoons Grape Seed Oil
½ pound Sweet Potato or Yam, peeled, julienned into paper-thin strips
5 Baby Bok Choy, roughly chopped
1 Sweet Young Coconut (juice only)
¼ cup Fresh Carrot Juice
1 Tablespoon Butter
Salt and Pepper, to taste

For the Sweet and Sour Plums:
1 Tablespoon Grape Seed Oil
2 large Shallots, quartered and separated
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
4 Plumcots, large dice (substitute option: Red Plums)
½ cup Red Wine Vinegar
¼ cup Brown Sugar or Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 teaspoon Fresh Basil, minced


Preparing the Fish: Combine the oil, lemon juice, zest and herbs and marinate for 30 minutes.

For the Plum Sauce: In a medium sized sauce pot add the oil and heat over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer--about 1 minute-- add the shallots and salt. Reduce the heat to medium low. Sauté shallots over medium-low heat until translucent and lightly browned--about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 45 seconds (until toasted to the color of hay). Add the plums and combine all ingredients with a quick stir. Add the vinegar and sugar and reduce over low heat until the sauce thickens a bit--about 5 minutes. Stir in basil and set sauce aside.

Finishing the fish: Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Drizzle in 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Do not let the oil smoke. Add the tuna steaks one at a time making sure to season with salt (not pepper) on one side. Sear the tuna until lightly browned --about 2 minutes. Flip the tuna and place in the oven with any of the remaining marinade. Cook in the oven until medium rare -- about 3-4 minutes. When the tuna is finished, remove and cover with foil until ready to plate up.

For the vegetables: While the tuna is in the oven, heat a sauté pan with grapeseed oil over high heat until almost shimmering, but not smoking--about 1 minute. Add the sweet potato and sauté for 45 seconds until golden. Add the remaining Bok Choy and sauté for another minute until slightly wilted. Deglaze the mixture with carrot juice and coconut water. Toss together. Stir in the remaining butter and prepare for plate up. (this will be broth-like)

To finish and plate up: In a shallow bowl pool a small ladle of broth. Place the sweet potato-bok choy mixture in the center of the bowl, surrounded by the broth. Slice each tuna steak into 3 pieces and place atop the sweet potato-tuna mixture. Finish the tuna with a dollop of the plum sauce.
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