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Fire & Ice Ceviche #CooktheBooks #FoodieReads

 

Claudia of Honey from Rock is hosting our bi-monthly reading group Cook the BooksAnd, if you'd like to join the fun, the posts aren't due till the end of March, so you still have time. You can read her announcement here. She has asked us to read Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef by Aarón Sánchez* which is the book pick for February and March 2021.

I have had this on my shelf for a few months and just kept pushing off starting it until I read some other books. When I had a lull...and realized that February was almost gone...I picked it up. And it was a breeze to read and a completely delight!

I know that I have seen Aarón Sánchez on television when we've stayed in hotels and watched the Food Network. Maybe Chopped. Maybe MasterChef  or IronChef. But he never struck me as a television personality that I was compelled to read more about or learn his back story. So, I'm glad that Claudia picked this memoir because his story was absolutely wonderful.

On the Page

From his parents' divorce and his move to New York City with twin brother and his mother - herself a pioneering Mexican chef - to dropping out of culinary school after a year to opening and closing restaurants of his own, the candor with which Sánchez tells his story is both compelling and inspiring. He writes with reflection about his failed marriage, depression, and even the MeToo movement in the restaurant industry. But it is his dedication to his craft, especially shining the spotlight on Latino cuisine and traditions, that created a book that I couldn't put down.

Here's how he described Mexican cuisine, "Always the food. Rusty, dried guajillo peppers. Verdant sprigs of curled cilantro. Flavors that take days to develop, layered with wildly complex blends of spices and ingredients, techniques that take years to master, so that every dish pops and dances on the palate. There is nothing about the food of Mexico that is dull or muted." And "In Mexico, cooking for someone is the ultimate gesture of love, so what better way to draw your brother back from the dead than with his favorite earthly delights?"

He writes about mole. "But the canon of mole variations is so much more vast than most diners recognize. It can be made from almonds or pumpkin seeds. It can be yellow or green or red or pitch black. There are legends about its invention, one tale including nuns, another involving an Aztec king. Regardless, the constant is the sauce’s complexity. Some versions use thirty or more ingredients, the spices and peppers carefully toasted and ground together, most often by hand, in a molcajete—a sort of Mesoamerican mortar and pestle."

And he writes about his identity as a Mexican-American chef, "Being bicultural always presents that challenge; you’re never quite American enough north of the border, and never exactly Mexican enough on the other side."  About culinary authenticity, he muses, "I think what I’ve learned in my time in Mexico is that in some ways, the 'authentic' Mexican way of doing things means doing it your own way. With the ingredients and techniques that come from your own heritage and your own surroundings. We wouldn’t expect a homogenous product from Puebla to Veracruz; adaptation based on geography and personal experience is making food in the true Mexican spirit."

After I finished the book I started streaming The Taco Chronicles on Netflix. It's not his show, granted, but there was something about his book that inspired me to watching several episodes that focused on regionally relevant and traditional tacos from all over Mexico. Word of warning: don't read this book while you're hungry. Seriously.

Finally here's an example of his writing that blends together culinary history, food commentary, and personal experience just as he would blend together a multitude of ingredients to create a delicious dish. "Eating food where it’s grown or where a dish was created, still consumed for the same reasons and by the same people, where tradition runs centuries deep—there’s just nothing like it. It’s spiritual and emotional. It is humbling beyond words. I was also exposed to flavors and cooking techniques that explained much about the pre-conquistador connection to Mexico, the ingredients that were exchanged, the history and timeline of events that altered the course of both countries and hugely influenced modern Mexican cuisine. When the conquistadors landed at the port of Veracruz in 1519, they brought ingredients that influenced and enlarged the canon of modern-day Mexican flavors: olive oil, wheat, pigs, and Vitis vinifera, the grape vine. And beyond following the trajectory of different foods, when we visited an archival library, I was also able to trace our family back to Spain in the 1500s. I learned my ancestors on my mom’s side are from the Basque country and were once musket makers. It was an influential, insightful trip both professionally and personally, and it intensified my appreciation for understanding where things come from and why—myself included. Then, several years later in early November 2008, I had a chance to take a trip with the Chilean tourism board. We traveled to San Pedro de Atacama in the northern part of the country, which is the most arid place in the world, even more so than the Sahara and Mojave deserts. I learned about the machuca people, natives of a small Andean village where only twenty or so buildings, constructed from clay and cactus wood, comprise the entire town. They lived on and traded llama meat and empanadas, their simple lives heavily reliant on the tourism industry and visitors to their little piece of the globe, and were generous and welcoming to travelers."

On the Plate

Clearly there was a lot of food inspiration in this book! And I will be trying several of the recipes he included in his book.

He describes the Texas barbeque that he had when he visited his dad: "I learned then that Texas barbecue was all about the beef. We’d get this huge spread: pickles and white bread—always untoasted—and then the beef brisket and massive fucking Flintstones–style, dinosaur-sized racks of ribs. It was always super hot outside, so we had huge red cups of Coca-Cola packed with ice to wash it all down. I always left with sticky fingers and a smile on my face, full and satisfied, knowing I had a whole El Paso summer ahead to spend with my father. Even now, the flavor of smoke and brown-sugar-sweet, vinegar-spiked sauce is enough to take me right back in time, to that little Texas joint, and bring back those feelings of excitement and anticipation."

He shares what he made for his mom when she first came to visit his restaurant, "When she came for the first time, I made a point to cook for her personally. I roasted a lamb loin with a pomegranate ancho chile sauce that she loved. I did a whole roasted suckling pig, cocina de pibil style, slow-roasting the pork in a marinade with pickled onions with habanero, served with a big cracklin’ on top and fresh tortillas on the side. I made a simple sautéed fish with lime, serrano, cilantro, and olive oil. I think she recognized the effort I was making, what I was trying to do, and that I had a clear vision—and that was really important for her to see." Everything he described made my mouth water. 

But I was inspired into the kitchen from this passage about his menu at Patria: "a dish called 'Fire & Ice'—a coconut ceviche with tuna and ginger and tons of chile, served out of a coconut shell over ice, surrounded by a flurry of snow-white coconut shavings. Or ceviche negra, octopus and scallops served in an emulsion of black-as-night squid ink. Golden arepas were made fresh, one side with yellow and the other with white corn, stuffed with a satiny black bean puree and farmers cheese, served with blistered heirloom tomatoes and finished with a fire-branded star. The stuff coming out of that kitchen was creative and beautiful and completely unique. We had a dessert burro made to look like a cigar; we called it the 'Smokeless Cuban.' It was stuffed with dulce de leche and chocolate mousse, rolled in tons of cocoa powder and served with matches made from spun sugar and a whipped coffee custard—even a cigar band with the restaurant’s name. Every night I went to work so proud to be putting my small stamp on each of those dishes."

Ceviche is a simple dish of seafood "cooked" by the acid in limes. It's so easy, but it requires incredibly fresh ingredients. I usually ask my fish monger which is the best choice for ceviche that day. That day he offered me wild-caught, local rockfish. Perfect!

Ingredients
 

  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds, rockfish, cut into 1" pieces
  • 6-8 fresh limes, juiced plus lime wedges for serving
  • 1/4 cup fresh salsa plus more for serving
  • 1 to 2 organic avocados, cubed
  • 2 radishes, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (traditional would be cilantro, but I had dill from our garden)
  • 6 Tablespoons coconut milk or coconut cream
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • tortilla chips, for serving
  • candied jalapeños (my recipe here), for serving (that's the 'fire' part for my dish!)

 
Procedure

Place the raw seafood pieces in a glass dish and cover them with freshly squeezed lime juice. The seafood should be completely covered by juice.

 

Cover the dish and place it in the refrigerator. Let the seafood marinate or "cook" in the lime juice for at least 4 hours. Once the seafood is "cooked" in the juices, drain the lime juice, but reserve 1 to 2 Tablespoons of the juice.

Stir in the salsa, avocado, radishes, herbs, and coconut milk. Stir in the reserved lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Serve with tortilla chips, more salsa, fresh lime wedges, and candied jalapeños (my recipe here). 


If you want to read the book and join the Cook the Books fun, you still have a month to do so. Even if you don't, I highly recommend that you read this book at some point. You'll think differently about Latino workers in restaurant kitchens as well as the regional Latino cuisines. I promise!

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

 
In addition to submitting this to #CooktheBooks, I am adding it to #FoodieReads.
Click to see what everyone else read in February 2021: here.

Comments

  1. That fire and ice sounded wonderful to me as well, however I would be the only taker for it in this household. I have always liked Aaron and I loved that my mind read his words using his voice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. More ceviche for you, then! Thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  2. I marked the passage about Mexican cuisine as well. Love this colorful dish!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have absolutely got to make this dish, what a fabulous concoction! Will probably use ahi tuna though, which we get a lot of fresh here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your ceviche looks fabulous, Cam. Gorgeous presentation :)

    ReplyDelete

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