Snobbery of the Tomato kind.

I am a horrific snob when it comes to tomatoes.  God forbid some chef put a "fresh" tomato in any dish during the Winter.  My usual reaction is to snarl up my face like a three year old smelling rancid milk.  I always ask for "no tomato" unless Summer has started.  Call me crazy, but I think its a great rule to have.  Seasonal fruits and veggies make all the difference in the world.  A gorgeous range of tomatoes start hitting the farmers markets around June and they just keep on getting better as the days get longer.  Towards the end of Summer, they get sweet and spicy not to mention fruity and plump.  Grilling (or frying) up not yet ripe green tomatoes lend a tangy and earthy hand to a sandwich.  On every menu during the Summer throughout the Catalan region of  Spain, you will find Pan Con Tomaté, a crispy olive oil grilled piece of crusty bread rubbed with their special plum tomatoes.  Places where the growing seasons are shorter and nights are cooler the tomatoes are almost sugary and so amazing canned or jarred.  Here are some simple tomato tips to make you just as stuck up about tomatoes as I am.  

  • If you MUST buy canned (its fine, really) and you haven't jarred your own, try to find San Marzano imported from Italy.  Its best to get them whole too.  Trust me on this.  They are grown to perfection under strict and specific rules.  Same premise of say French Champagne as opposed to California sparking wine.  They even have a DOP or a stamp verifying its origin (Denomination d" Origine Protetta).  Hands down, the best tomatoes for your Sunday night sauce!
  • Tomatoes (the bigger ones) should feel hefty in your hand.  This basically means a firmer flesh, and had been farmed in idea conditions.  Smaller tomatoes should have tight skin (not wrinkled) and should "pop" in your mouth.  I always sample (just one, folks!) if I am grocery shopping.  If it doesn't pop with juice when you bite into it, move on.
  • When slicing the tomato, use a very, very sharp knife.  It prevents all the juices from squishing out onto your cutting board.  I've found a ceramic knife to be good.  
  • Salt your tomatoes right before serving.  A good healthy pinch of kosher or sea salt is great.  

 

Red Snapper Ceviche with Italian Beer Granita

Ceviche.  It is a perfect meal starter...light, clean, and fresh.  There are thousands of variations and ways of serving this dish actually.  A popular dish believed to have originated by the Moorish women in Granada, Spain and introduced to the coastal regions of Central and South America some 2000 years ago.  Since I am allergic to crustaceans, when I do make this dish, I stick with fish.  I also prefer to keep it simple, focusing on just a few flavors like the citrus, peppery olive oil, and freshest fish.  Although the Peruvians have mastered the art of making a great ceviche, this recipe is my variation of one I tried at the Fairmont Mayakoba Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Beer Granita

Granita is easy and can be made with anything.  Here I used an Italian Beer but any will do.  I do suggest a lighter flavor beer like an Pilsner or an Ale as to not overpower this dish.  Feel free to omit this step if you want to shy away from alcohol.  

I bottle of light beer

Ceviche

Tip: The key to a great ceviche is the freshness of the fish/seafood you choose.  FRESH!!  If it smells fishy, it isn't fresh.   Try and hit up your local fish monger if you have one, as they have a little more invested in quality as opposed to a supermarket.  Plus, its a great way to keep local businesses active and your money in your community.  I suggest staying away from oily types of fish like salmon or bluefish.  Fresh water fish are not ideal either for ceviche.

  • 1 large fillet of Red or Yellow Tail Snapper (sea bass, flounder, or grouper is great too)
  • 1 Meyer Lemon (a regular lemon will do nicely)
  • 2 tbsp of your best (extra virgin) Olive Oil  (invest in a nice olive oil for drizzling or dressing folks!)
  • Sea Salt, Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed micro greens or fresh herbs like flat leaf parsley, cilantro, Mexican oregano
  • 1 medium Shallot
  • 1 tsp of honey (optional)

Recipe

Ceviche is very easy to put together and impress anyone you are serving it to (even yourself)!  However, it must be made with the intention of being eaten right away, so I advise against making ahead of time.  Also, if you must store your fish for a few hours before you eat it, be sure to do it on ice.  Your fish place can usually add crushed ice to the bag if you ask.  This is essential.  Fish breaks down rather quickly when stored in the fridge, so when you get home with your fresh fish be sure to put it on ice if not done so already.  This doesn't mean throw it in the freezer either.  Keep this rule in mind when preparing all fish, although if you are cooking it with heat, its not as important.  Also, if you are not experienced cleaning the fish (such as the skin or bones) have your fish monger do it for you.  Its a game changer.  The skin on red snapper can be hard to remove without the proper tools.  It is always a good idea to use your fingers to check if they fish guru missed a bone or two before slicing.  

At least an hour before you plan on serving the ceviche, prepare the granita.  Pop the beer and pour the contents into a shallow glass bowl or dish.  Every 20 minutes or so pull the dish out of the freezer and with a fork, break up the ice by scraping it up to the consistency of a shaved ice.  You want it to be rather "fluffy".

Prepare the ceviche by starting with the fish.  Slices should be vertical (think sushi style) and to your desired thickness.  If you want it super thin and shear try using a razor blade, but a regular fish knife will be fine.  I like to have a bit of a hefty bite so I usually slice it about the thickness of a chopstick or a 1/4 of an inch.  You should be able to get about 10-12 slices out a fillet.  DO NOT saw into your fish.  It isn't a piece of steak.  Invest in a sharpener for your knife.  Also, try to stay away from a serrated edged knife.  You want your presentation to be pretty, right?  We aren't Neanderthals for goodness sake.  You should be able to cut through the fish in one (two tops!) stroked pulling towards you.  

Take them delicious little nuggets of the raw fish and put them in a glass mixing bowl.  Toss with the juice of one half of the Meyer lemon, 1 tbsp of your peppery extra virgin olive oil, a healthy pinch of sea salt and a couple good twists of the pepper mill.  Set aside.  Ideally you want to time this according to taste.  I usually let it marinate for 10 minutes, no more than 12 tossing occasionally.  See below for the timing options.  Anything longer than 30 minutes just ends up being chalky and gross.  Your friends will laugh at you and call you names.  

  • 0-1 minutes is essentially raw.  
  • 2-5 minutes has some texture changes.  Mostly the outer edges appear "cooked"  and raw in the middle. 
  • 10-12 is my to my preferred taste.  Its firm, yet tender with still a hint of the sea.
  • 15-17 minutes may be the best for beginners or those who are wary of raw fish.  Essentially it is "cooked" perfectly for most pallets.
  • 30 minutes is still good, but pushing the limits.  Any more than that its over cooked and tastes rubbery.

While marinating make your accoutrement.  With the remaining juice of the lemon and olive oil, whisk a touch of honey (helps to cut the acidity) and toss your micro greens (available at most markets these days) and/or herbs and finely sliced shallot.  

Plate your dish by laying out your cooked ceviche in a nice pattern.  Then scatter some of your micro green salad over the top, and drizzle a little of the remaining dressing over it all.  As a final touch, scoop a little of the Beer Granita on top.  Enjoy!

Optional: Serrano pepper has a great kick if you like a bit of spice.  Slice it down the middle, and throw it in with your ceviche while it marinates.  Remove before serving.  Meyer lemon is slightly sweeter than a regular lemon and can be hard to find.  Lime or Lemon is just as good as a substitute.