Saturday, February 23, 2013

This Cookbook is more Book than Cook

Today, we had a full day cleaning the house, prepping the guest room, doing laundry, working in the garden and on the chicken coop.  Finally, around 6:30, I got started on dinner.  I failed to check the recipe earlier in the day, and discovered it had four components to prep, including needing to bake potatoes and cool them before grating and combining.  I got myself a bit stressed out, but jumped in and began prep.

The recipe, from Chefs of Aloha: Favorite Recipes from the Top Chefs of Hawai'i, had four components to make, each with separate ingredients listed and instructions.  After getting the potatoes in the oven, I started collecting, measuring and preparing the (many) remaining ingredients.

40 minutes into prep, I had most of my mise en place, but not a single finished component.  But at least my sauce was on the stove

It was around this time that I got to thinking about this particular cookbook, and this recipe that seemed totally out of order.  The instructions were clearly not intended for a home cook, or at least not catered to one.  This was a glossy photo book, featuring recipes collected from the award winning chefs who put Hawaiian Regional Cuisine on the map:  folks like Bev Gannon, Peter Merriman, Chai Chaowasaree, Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, and, of course, Sam Choy.  This is not the food you'll find at your hotel's luau, but high-end dishes you'll pay through the nose to enjoy.  And these are full-fledged celebrity chefs who pop up on shows like Top Chef.

I realized this cookbook is more souvenir than recipe book.  Although my copy is from Basically Books in Hilo, I've seen it in hotel gift shops, the Honolulu airport, and even in the ubiquitous ABC Stores.  This is something you buy for a foodie friend back home or as a memento of your trip - maybe to remember a delicious meal at Roy's or Hali`imaile General Store.  These are scaled down restaurant recipes from the top chefs in the islands.  They have a team of people with an afternoon to prep for service, so reducing a sauce to 1/6th it's original volume is no problem.

After over 2 hours of prep and cooking, I finally had my four servings plated.  I woke Dan up (who had nodded off in an armchair waiting for dinner), and we dug in.  It was totally worth the effort and the wait.

I've restructured the recipe quite a bit.  The original is courtesy Alan Tsuchiyama, of the Sheraton Waikiki.  His was concise, but arguably out of order.  Mine has lots of details - arguably too many - but optimizes for time... and has pretty pictures of many steps.

 Macadamia Nut-Crusted Mahi-mahi with Sauteed Spinach and Potato Cake
3 medium baking potatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
4 tspn finely chopped shallots (1 shallot)
2 1/2 tspn minced ginger (1 inch)
5 Tbspn butter, softened (not melted) 
1/4 cup carrot (about 1/2 a large carrot)
1/4 cup zucchini (half a small zucchini)
1/4 of a large onion (Maui or Walla Walla sweet, if possible)
2 Tbpsn sour cream
1 Tbspn toasted sesame seeds
8 oz fresh spinach leaves 
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup macadamia nuts
4 mahi-mahi fillets (6 oz each)
1/2 tspn sweet Thai chili sauce
1 tspn chopped basil
Sesame oil for sauteing
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  Prick the potatoes all over with a fork (to let steam escape) and place on a baking sheet.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a fork slides in easily.  When done, cool in the freezer and reduce the oven to 170 F.

Chop the shallots and divide into 1 Tbspn and 1 tspn.  Mince the ginger and divide into 2 tspn and 1/2 tspn.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine, cream, broth, and coconut milk with 1 tspn of the chopped shallots and 1/2 tspn of the minced ginger.  Simmer, whisking occasionally, and allow to reduce down to 1/3-1/2 cup.

You now have plenty of time to julienne the carrots, zucchini and onion, and saute them in a Tbspn or so of oil over medium heat, until they're tender.  Throw in a medium bowl with the sour cream and sesame seeds, plus a couple pinches of salt and a few twists of fresh ground pepper.  Set this aside.

Toss the macadamia nuts in a food processor and pulse until they're finely chopped.  Add the panko and remaining ginger and run for 30 seconds.  Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Skin the mahi-mahi and portion into four 6 oz pieces.  Set aside.

When the potatoes have cooled, peel them and then grate them into the bowl with the zucchini, carrots and onion mixture.  Stir this all well, until uniformly combined.  Divide into four portions and roll into balls.  Take two sheets of parchment paper and cut one into four squares.  Place the four squares in a 2 x 2 grid on the counter, and put one potato ball on each.  Put the full sheet of parchment on top, and set a large cutting board or cookie sheet over them, pressing down to form 4 cakes.  Remove the top parchment.  Heat 3-4 Tbspn of sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Place two or more cakes (as many as you can fit in the pan while still able to move them around) in the pan, using the square of parchment to keep your hands clean.  Discard the parchment.

Brown on one side (about 3 minutes) then carefully flip and cook another 3 minutes, until browned.  As each batch is complete, transfer to a plate in the warm oven.

Lower the heat in the skillet to low-medium.  Rinse and chop the spinach (giving the pan a couple minutes to cool).  Add 1 Tbspn of butter and the remaining shallots to the skillet, and allow the shallots to 'sweat' until they become transparent.  Saute the spinach until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to a bowl.

Season the mahi-mahi with salt and pepper, then press them into the macadamia nut mixture.  Don't worry that not a lot will stick - just press it firmly and get as much on as you can.  Add 2 Tbspn of butter and 2 Tbspn of sesame oil to the pan, and raise the heat in the skillet to medium.  Press extra mac-nut mixture on one side of each fillet and place that side down in the pan.

Cover the pan and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  Remove the cover, add more mac-nut mixture to the top of each fillet, flip them, recover, and allow to cook another 5 minutes - or until golden brown.  You'll realize you have tons of mac nut mixture left - but it freezes well.

Hopefully, your sauce will be reduced at this point.  Add the chili sauce and basil, then whisk in the butter until it's all melted.

Place one potato cake on each plate and top with spinach.  Rest a mahi fillet on top, then drizzle with sauce and enjoy.

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