I really love fresh seafood. Heck, I really love fresh seaweed. And I love those apricot colored sea urchin thingies. But I was born and raised in central Vermont and in case you haven’t noticed – there’s no sea here. Luckily, Boston is not very far away and we have places like Uncommon Market that bring in fresh fish to enjoy. Peru has a recommendation for how to enjoy that fish: ceviche.
Ceviche has been part of Peruvian cuisine for at least 2,000 years. It’s excellent for people who enjoy being geeky about cooking science, because it uses chemical reactions to “cook” the fish without heat. The short version of how ceviche works is that fish goes into an acidic marinade, and the acid denatures the proteins in the fish, rearranging them in a way similar to what heat would do. You end up with the texture of cooked fish, but cold and with an acidic bite to it. It can be easier to make than traditionally cooked fish and more interesting. Plus, it evokes summer.
If you’re interested in trying out ceviche in the home kitchen, here is a quite detailed explanation of ‘how’ from Serious Eats. Here is a short primer on food safety and raw or undercooked fish in the home kitchen from The Kitchn. Here are several different recipes from the LA Times.
A simple idea to try from this week that requires no raw fish was the beer-cilantro braised chicken. The starting recipe came from Fire of Peru. What I love about it isn’t so much the chicken itself (and I admit the original recipe didn’t involve chicken), but the rice you can make with the braising liquid. You just toss rice with some of the braising liquid left after the chicken is done and green peas. The basic ratio for making this starting sauce was 3 bunches cilantro: 3 cups pilsener: 3 cups chicken stock and some garlic and salt. Throw the cilantro and garlic in a food processor with a cup of beer (enough so it’s wet but not sloshy) and puree until smooth then add the rest of the liquid.
This combination made me think of other combinations of beer + herbs that could work – we are, after all, in a craft beer revival. Below are some ideas I’ll be trying out in the near future:
- Saison with a Mint-Cilantro combo
- Stout or Port with Lovage or Parsley
- IPA with Dill
- Barleywine or Brown Ale with fresh Oregano
- Lambic Ale with Basil
As an owner of Molly Stevens’ All About Braising I should be more particular about how I apply these sauces to braising. Um. But here’s what I do instead of being particular – Take a whole chicken. Cut out the backbone and smoosh it open (call that “butterfly” if you will). Pat it relatively dry. In a large saucepan with hot canola oil, brown each side starting with the most skin-covered side. It takes about 6 minutes a side at medium-high heat. If you start to flip the chicken with a sturdy spatula and it’s sticking, it’s not done yet. If you proceed anyway you risk tearing the skin. Tearing the skin isn’t the end of the world here because the chicken ends up shredded and no one sees the skin. However, you also risk the chicken coming suddenly unstuck and smacking you in the face (yes I did this once and yes it hurt and yes this particular chicken had been seasoned with turmeric so that in addition to having a hot chicken in my face, I had a hot chicken that stained things yellow in my face).
Tip the browned chicken into a deep roasting tray breast-side-down, cover loosely (you want some steam to escape so it doesn’t overheat), add the braising liquid, and cook at 300-degrees until the chicken begins to fall apart (about 2 hours). Remove the chicken and let cool until you can handle it. Separate the meat from the skin and bones. Skin and bones can be used to make stock later. Adjust the salt levels in the braising liquid. Proceed with however you want to use these items.
The cilantro-beer-stock quantities I give above worked for three 3-pound chickens.
Here’s another excellent idea: Peruvian green sauce. As Ricardo Zarate explains in his introduction to his version in Fire of Peru “This is one of my favorite sauces. The funny thing is. . . it’s not even all that Peruvian. It took me a while to figure out what people were talking about when they said they loved the “green sauce” they had at Peruvian restaurants in the United States. . . when I finally tried this mysterious Peruvian-American “green sauce” I liked it so much, I decided to make my own.” He goes on to say you can put it on pretty much everything, which is likely true.
For a man with a snazzy cookbook to promote, Zarate hasn’t done much publishing of recipes online. That’s possibly because his recipes all require at least one or two hard to find ingredients and there’s nothing like a hard to find, expensive ingredient to scare off a cook new to your cuisine. On a related note, I think I set a record for the world’s worst cost of ingredients-to-price ratio on last week’s menu (I was looking for an excuse to play with all these things so don’t waste any sympathy). I will say that they are readily available on Amazon. I’m a buy local, not Amazon person, but to give credit where it’s due, it took just one click to get the world of Peruvian flavors into my kitchen and that’s kind of cool. You should still buy the cookbook from Bear Pond if you’re going to buy it, though, not Amazon.
Now that I’ve explained not being afraid of the specialty ingredients, I’m going to reprint Ricardo Zarate’s recipe in the spirit of promoting his Fire of Peru for anyone interested in Peruvian food:
- 1-2 medium jalapeños deseeded and deveined
- 1 medium bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and top two-thirds of stems
- 1 scant tsp. finely minced garlic
- 1 1/2 Tb aji amarillo paste (this paste appears in pretty much every single Peruvian recipe so on that basis it’s worth buying – a substitute would probably be to puree a mix of roasted red bell peppers and hot peppers)
- 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, queso fresco, or tofu
- 5 Tb red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 Tb huacatay paste (the original recipe calls for fresh or frozen leaves, but the paste is what I found – it’s like cilantro but earthier and some people say there’s a mint flavor too. It tastes pretty darn delicious in sauces and so it’s likely worth the investment)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- My addition: 3 Tb pumpkin seed oil, which is delicious and available at Alla Vita in town, and I use it all the time if I’m making Mexican food and it tastes like something is missing to round out the flavors.
- 1 tsp kosher salt
Puree in a blender until smooth.
This sauce is what I put on my Peruvian style samosas. The samosas filling is potatoes, aji amarillo, and lime juice. They really are the best yet. I have a few servings remaining that are on the frozen food sales list this week.