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Ingredient Challenge: Tomatillos

Image of Chef Yvon Goetz
This month’s featured dish was created by Chef Yvon Goetz, executive chef/partner at The Winery Restaurant and Wine Bar in Tustin, California. Actually, the chef’s Chili Lime Rubbed Hawaiian Mahi-Mahi should not be reserved for only a special occasion, it just looks that way.
Image of Tomatillos
Tomatillos have been a favorite of savvy chefs since the Aztecs started cultivating the fruit centuries before its cousin, the more glamorous red tomato, had been developed. To this day, in the two regions where wild tomatillo bushes still flourish – Mexico and Guatemala -- the tomatillo is preferred over the red tomato in both of these countries’ national cuisines. The tomatillo’s paper-thin husk resembles a small green lantern that hangs downward over the fruit. Inside this protective sheath is a plump, tomato-like globe about the size of a golf ball; it is traditionally picked and prepared green. The fruit has a pleasantly tart, lemony taste with a tomato texture that blends well with an array of fruits and vegetables, as in Chef Yvon’s chutney. The tomatillo is also capable of playing a leading role as the main ingredient in either a robust salsa or more subtle green sauce. Grilling them whole to a slight char adds a smoky flavor, which makes for a simple and delicious standalone side dish, garnished with a diced hot chile to taste, and cilantro. dish, garnished with a diced hot chile to taste, and cilantro.

Tired of the disappointing taste of most commercial tomatoes found in the marketplace these days? Try swapping in tomatillos whenever a recipe calls for tomatoes. From salads to sandwiches, pasta to pizza, the change will bring an altogether new world of flavors to your favorite culinary classics!

There are several components within Chef Yvon’s recipe that must be prepared separately and under varying time parameters. So this dish gives the home chef an opportunity to sharpen those time management cooking skills, especially when serving the dish to a small group, which I found a very fun challenge. While the rice and the chutney can be accomplished in advance, the fish and butter sauce reduction must be done on the spot and with focus. Then the components are literally stacked on top of each other and topped with a fried plantain slice; the results are quite a dazzling presentation. It was great fun to bring this recipe together for a gathering at my own table. Good tip: Invite a mix of guests who can entertain themselves at some point in the evening; even with some advance prepping, you are going to have to focus with singularity on the final stages of this one, juggling between the grilling of the fish and the reduction sauce. Then serve the dish with a dramatic flair that befits its elegant style. This is one of those dishes that will evoke whispered “wows” as each plate is served!

In preparing this recipe, I fired up the hardwood BBQ twice; once in the afternoon to grill the chutney ingredients so the mix of flavors had time to meld at room temperature and then for the fish once guests arrived. It is a little more work getting two fires up to heat, but it pays off later on in the evening with only the fish on the grill to manage. Plus the flavor of the chutney really did profit from resting for several hours.

Chef Goetz blends the tang of the tomatillo with the exotic flavors of mango, papaya and pineapple. The agave syrup, though appreciated by those of us on a sugar restricted diet, also adds its own clean sweetness. The red bell pepper and onion bring a flavorful crunch that plays off the softer fruits wonderfully. This particular chutney recipe is also a reminder of what a great match White Balsamic can be with fresh fruit. The chutney is really the binding force on the plate that connects the flavors of the rice and fish perfectly.

Chef Yvon’s butter sauce is a special element that adds an extra flavor to each bite; a subtle detail to this dish that did not go unappreciated by my guests. In fact, I used this same reduction again a few days later paired with a fresh-caught ling cod, this time accompanied by a simple side of steamed broccoli with the butter sauce spooned lightly over both. Excellent! The chef’s Cilantro-Jasmine Rice has also made an encore appearance at my table since its first tasting; it makes a wonderful side dish for roast chicken. I must admit to getting hungry just writing about this delicious dish again!

Melissa’s has had the privilege of working with Chef Yvon since The Winery’s inception in 2007. If the truth be known, the first time the chef participated in this feature I had unknowingly approached him only a month after the restaurant had opened. Still Yvon was gracious enough to come up with a recipe. For Melissa’s, the relationship has grown beyond the normal supplier-customer tie into a partnership that includes event planning for special company occasions held at the restaurant. The chef also provides us with valuable product feedback on occasion by experimenting with samples sent by our foodservice division who are always on the lookout for new fresh items that might be incorporated into the chef’s season-centric menu. The chef’s ingredient list alone attests to why we are such close partners; Yvon uses fifteen fresh produce items in this tasty and colorful dish! I guess this alone does make it a special occasion dish after all! Though once tasted, your definition of “special occasion” will no doubt expand to include any day of the week in any month of the year. Happy Forks!

Chili Lime Rubbed Hawaiian Mahi-Mahi
Serves 4
Image of Chili Lime Rubbed Hawaiian Mahi-Mahi

4 (6-7oz.) Fresh Mahi-mahi (or white fish of choice) fillets
1 Tbsp. Cajun Spice
1 Lime, zested
1 ½ cup extra virgin olive oil.

Marinate the Mahi-mahi with all the ingredients for at least 2 hours, then grill on both sides until done.

fish will cook for another 5 minutes off the grill.

2 cups jasmine rice
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onion, chopped
4 oz. butter
4 cups water or vegetable broth

Sauté the onions with the melted butter, add the rice, salt and pepper and the ginger. Add the liquid and cook covered without stirring until all water is gone and the rice is cooked. When done, mix in the chopped cilantro and keep warm until ready to plate.

2 slices fresh pineapple
½ papaya
½ mango
1 red onion
1 red bell pepper
½ cup Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil

Rub all the ingredients with the olive oil and grill on both sides. When done, let cool before cutting the fruit and vegetables into a fine dice. Combine in a large bowl with the vinegar, syrup, salt and pepper to taste. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Butter Sauce:
½ bottle Gewürztraminer wine
1 chopped shallot
1 chopped clove of garlic
¼ stick of lemon grass
1 lemon (juice)
1 lb. butter

Reduce the wine with the shallot, garlic and lemongrass till nearly dry. Off the fire, add the butter small pieces at the time. When all the butter is melted, add in the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Remove the lemon grass stick, serve immediately.

Fried Plantain:
4 oz. vegetable oil
1 large plantain banana

Peel and cut the plantain in half (crosscut), then slice each half lengthwise and fry in the oil until lightly browned, transfer to a paper towel and lightly sprinkle with salt to taste.

Place a serving of rice in the center of the plate, lay a piece of the mahi-mahi on top of the rice and spoon a moderate amount of chutney over the fish. Nestle the plantain on its edge in the chutney, garnish with a sprig of cilantro, generously drizzle the butter sauce onto the plate around the rice stack and serve.

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