Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Truly Mexican - Chef Roberto Santibanez

Truly Mexican - An Evening with Roberto Santibanez, Restauranteur & Culinary Consultant

• Santibañez credits his globe-trotting grandmother for teaching him that food, no matter the culinary tradition, should be creatively prepared and globally inspired.
• Received a classical culinary foundation while studying in the legendary Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
• Although Santibañez adds a contemporary spin to traditional dishes, his goal in the kitchen is always to preserve the integrity and rich history of the Mexican culinary tradition. He does this by keeping true to the roots of whatever he is preparing, whether it is associated with peasant markets or luxe establishments.
• Owned and operated three successful restaurants that revitalized downtown Mexico City: El Sax, La Circunstancia, and Restobar Salamandra.
• Has served as culinary director and executive chef of Fonda San Miguel (Austin, TX) and Rosa Mexicano (NYC; Washington, D.C.).
• Serves as a culinary partner of Maria Maria, a family of West Coast restaurants done in collaboration with guitar legend Carlos Santana.
• Serves as a culinary consultant for Revoluçion, an upscale restaurant in JFK Airport’s popular Terminal 5 that is set to open in October 2008.
• Serves as a culinary consultant for Café Frida, a top-tier Mexican restaurant opening in Manhattan in late fall 2008.
• Serves as an active member of The Gourmet Institute, an annual event in which luminaries of the culinary world hold seminars, information sessions, and tastings to satisfy the appetites of food-curious audiences.

During the program, Chef Roberto shared this Red Snapper Dish (notice the blending of ingredients that traditionally would be considered "mediterranean" along with the spicy peppers and lime):

This casserole is ideal for company as it can be assembled in advance and refrigerated, then baked right before serving.

– Makes 4 servings

Four 8-ounce skinless red (or other) snapper fillets
2 limes cut in half
About 1 tablespoon salt
4 ripe large tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 large white onion, cut in half and then into very thin slices (about 3 cups)
6 bay leaves
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
12 fresh springs thyme
3 Rosa’s Pickled Jalapenos or bottled pickled jalapenos, stemmed and coarsely chopped or sliced, plus 3 tablespoons of the pickling juices, plus (optional) chopped jalapenos for garnish
12 garlic cloves
1/3 cup pitted small Manzanilla (Spanish) olives
2 tablespoons tine (nonpareil) capers
3 tablespoons olive oil

Put the fillets in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice from 1 of the limes over both sides of them, and season them generously with salt. Turn them once or twice in the seasonings. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water near the stove. Core the tomatoes and cut an X in the opposite end. Slip the tomatoes into the boiling water and leave them until the skin starts to peel away from the X. The time depends on the tomatoes; very ripe tomatoes will need 10 seconds or so; less ripe tomatoes will take longer. With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of ice water. Let them stand until cool enough to handle, then slip off the skins. Drain and cut into ¼-slices.

Preheat oven to 425F.

Scatter half the onions over the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish or another dish in which the fillets will fit snugly with a little overlap. Arrange a little less than half the tomato slices over the onions. (If you plan to present the finished dish at the table, use the smaller end slices of tomato here and save the prettier center slices for the top.) Top with the bay leaves, then scatter half the cilantro, thyme sprigs, and chopped jalapeno over that. Season with at least 1-teaspoon salt. Tuck the garlic cloves into the vegetables around the edges of the dish.

Squeeze the juice from the remaining lime over the vegetables and top with the seasoned fillets, spacing them evenly but overlapping a little if necessary. Scatter the olives and capers over the fillets, then make another layer of the remaining onions and tomatoes to cover the fish. Scatter the remaining cilantro, thyme sprigs, and chopped cilantro over that. Season again with salt, drizzle the olive oil and pickled jalapeno juice over everything.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil. The casserole can be prepared ahead and refrigerated or up to 6 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.

Bake the casserole for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the juices given off by the vegetables are bubbling and the fillets are cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.

To serve, scrape the vegetables cover the fish to the sides of the dish. Gently lift up the fillets and transfer them to serving plates. Most likely they will break apart a little; that is fine. Pick out the garlic cloves, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs and discard. Mash the remaining ingredients coarsely into the juices with a fork to make a chunky sauce. Check for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Spoon the sauce over the fillets and scatter some chopped pickled jalapenos over each if you like.

Listen to the interview with Chef Roberto on The Recipe Box.

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