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Ingredient Challenge: Tomatillo, Cocktail Grapefruit and Parsnips

Image of Chef Greg Moro
Here is a deliciously interesting recipe that layers three very different components – a root vegetable hash, baked swordfish and a tangy salsa -- into a stack of flavors that belie the basic ingredient list and straightforward preparation it takes to make this wonderfully tasty dish. Greg Moro, award-winning executive chef of French 75 Bistro and Champagne Bar, in Laguna Beach, California, used this month’s Challenge Ingredients to create his Swordfish with Parsnip Hash & Tomatillo Salsa. The dish is the perfect main course to prepare during the holiday entertaining season, as it is relatively simple to make, beautiful to look at and, most importantly, offers an impressive mix of flavors that will raise the eyebrows of your holiday guests with each bite.

Once all the ingredients have been prepped, the cooking and construction of this dish goes quite fast. If doing this dish for a group, the salsa can be done ahead and, I think, improves if left to steep overnight. The parsnip hash can also be prepared partly in advance, up to the final sauté. With those two components readied, your guests will hardly notice your absence to finish the dish with the cooking of the fish and a quick sauté of the roots in the fish drippings before it is ready to plate!

Fittingly, Chef Greg lays the flavor foundation of his dish with a hash of earthy root vegetables that is sautéed into a warming, comfort food smoothness. ‘Tis the season for root crops! This is a very healthy group of vegetables that are as nutritious as they are flavorful. After all, roots nourish the plant with all their sugars, starches and vitamin-filled goodness. The culinary detail of using the same pan to sauté the roots in the baked fish drippings quietly ties the hash to fish. This is the kind of attention to the little things that recently garnished Chef Greg and French 75 Orange County’s Golden Foodie Award for Best French Cuisine 2012.

BTW, if you save recipes in a box or on your computer, you might want to file Chef Greg’s parsnip hash recipe separately, as well as a component to this dish, for it could be the base for an array of standalone dishes. For instance, add peas and carrots for a vegetable medley side dish; or how about sautéing the roots in drippings from a high-quality sausage instead of fish. Roots veggies are incredibly versatile and pair well with an array of other vegetables, meats and poultry. The trio of parsnip, yam and gold potato share the same creamy texture when cooked; though each contributes an individual flavor note that together forms a scrumptious harmony.
Image of Tomatillos
Speaking of standalone dishes, since writing this feature I have adopted Chef Greg’s salsa as my own house sauce. I have now used it with chicken and pork as well as a condiment on a beef taco and my favorite breakfast burrito. For me, the secret of this tasty salsa comes from the chef’s blending of a few traditional ingredients, tomatillo and cilantro, with the distinctive shallot and smoky red bell, rather than a regular onion and spicier chile pepper. Two more shades of flavor are added with the unique sweetness of cocktail grapefruit as well as a refreshing aftertaste of cucumber. I roasted the bell pepper over the open flame on the stovetop and then sealed it in a small paper bag for about 10 minutes, then peeled and diced it. This one also deserves a separate place in your recipe file…under "D" for delicious!

While both the hash and salsa may have separate careers on other plates, together they are amazingly successful. In fact, I must admit to being a little surprised at just how naturally the salsa worked with the hash in Chef Greg’s creation. It just seemed like such an odd couple, “warm buttery smooth” with “tangy-sweet-refreshing” yet it works delectably!

Of course, no matter how tasty, one does not just slather salsa right on a root vegetable hash without a good excuse, which is where the swordfish comes in. Considering the vibrant flavors already represented, the chef keeps the fish prep simple with just a light touch of salt, pepper, then an uncomplicated sear and high-heat bake. While the fish adds both texture and taste, it also provides a kind of delivery vehicle for the hash and salsa flavors to play off of each other on the palate.

Endangered Swordfish: With the chef’s permission, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch List recommends purchasing swordfish caught using sustainable fishing practices by environmentally well-managed fisheries in the North Atlantic, eastern Pacific, U.S. and Canada only.

This feature focuses on demonstrating to Melissa’s readership how a culinary professional would use a group of seasonal fresh produce items in a single dish. However, it is also hoped that the challenge ingredients provide the chef with a fun test of his/her skills in the process. So it was especially rewarding that Chef Greg carried his Ingredient Challenge onto his menu by offering this dish as a weekend special after coming up with it for this article. So have confidence serving this recipe at your own holiday table, it has been restaurant tested. Of course, for readers in the Southern California area, consider giving yourself a real present and letting Chef Greg prepare this one for you in the elegance of French 75! After all, ‘tis the season!

Happy Forks & Happy Holidays!

Swordfish with Parsnip Hash & Tomatillo Salsa
Serves 4

6 each Tomatillo
2 Cocktail Grapefruit, juiced
2 each Shallot, minced
1 bunch Cilantro, chopped
2 Red Bell Pepper, roasted, peeled, medium diced
1/3 cup Cucumber, diced

Puree tomatillo with cocktail grapefruit juice.
Fold in shallot, cilantro, 4 Tablespoons red pepper, set aside for plating.

Parsnip Hash

2 Parsnips
1 large Beauregard Yams
2 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Shallot, minced
2 Tablespoons Chives, minced
½ cup White Wine

Peel, medium dice (¾-inch), blanch all three roots until slightly tender.
Set aside until ready to sauté.
When fish is done, use same pan to sauté roots until slightly browned.
Adding in shallot, garlic, chives, white wine.
Reduce until dry, add 1 Tablespoon butter and serve.
Salt & pepper both sides of four swordfish steaks.
In a large sauté pan, on high heat, quickly sear one side of each steak in canola oil.
With seared side still down, place sauté pan in a 450-degree oven for 15 minutes.
Remove fish from pan; use pan to sauté Parsnip Hash.

In the center of a round plate, place a serving of Parsnip Hash.
Place swordfish steak on top of Hash.
Drizzle salsa over about one-third of the right side of the fish.

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