Omakase (お任せ?) is a phrase that means “I will leave it to you” (from the Japanese, to entrust). When you indulge in that luxury of allowing a fine sushi chef to make the gastronomic calls — the aesthetics, the architecture, the inspiration, the dynamics, the visuals, the sensuous flavors, the enticing aromas, the intriguing textures — all rising to or sometimes transcending the level of theater. Plated delectation.

Young and old, exacting sushi chefs try to emulate masters like Morimoto, Jiro and Nobu. They bless and coddle your palate with riveting morceaux adroitly shaped with dazzling blade work and raw ingenuity. The genuine article shortly followed by those hushed tones of pure contentment.

So, I will leave it to you or them.

TUNA & AVOCADO CEVICHE

1 lb tuna (sushi/sashimi grade only), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/2 small red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 T shoyu
1 T capers, rinsed and drained
Freshly ground black pepper

1 Hass avocado, cut into 1/4″ dice
3/4 C fresh lime juice
Small jalapeño chile pepper, stemmed, seeded and very thinly sliced
1/4 C cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt

Cilantro leaves, whole

Line a baking sheet or jelly roll pan with plastic wrap. Arrange the tuna slices in a single layer, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm but not frozen, about 10-15 minutes.

Stack the tuna slices on a cutting board and using a supremely sharp chef’s knife, cut the tuna into 1/4″ cubes. Transfer the diced tuna to a medium glass or bowl and stir in the red onion, shoyu, capers and a pinch of black pepper. Cover both the tuna and the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about a half hour, stirring occasionally.

Just before serving, gently fold in the diced avocado, lime juice, jalapeño, and chopped cilantro and season very lightly with salt.

Transfer the ceviche to a chilled bowl or glasses. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves.

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Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
~ Mark Twain

It is brutally hot here…again. At noon, the car’s thermometer registered a paltry 103 and tomorrow will be even warmer with a hefty dose of humidity. A scorcher. Seems a good time for a chilled cup of ceviche and a crisp glass of cold white. These heat spells are also a sad reminder of climate change. So, before we move on to blithe culinary noise, please allow me a brief harangue about our precious oceans.

Over recent decades, numerous studies have documented the deterioration of ocean systems and predicted not a gradual, but a potentially catastrophic, decline in significant fish species. Simply put, we are facing fish population collapses. The vanishing of sea life. As one scientist voiced, “our children will see a world without seafood if we don’t change things.” One of the culprits is global warming, now more accurately, yet euphemistically referred to as climate change.

Please be patient with my digressive diatribe, but this subject is as serious as psychotic depression or a newly discovered melanoma. To some, a food site is no place to discuss climate change. To me, it seems ever so apposite to deliberate here about global warming’s effects on oceans.

Climate change results from an increase in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and surfaces, especially a sustained increase causing significant variations in global climate conditions. Despite misconceptions, climate is not weather. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere behaves over relatively long periods of time.

An overwhelming consensus of the scientific community has firmly concluded that climate change is a clear and present danger that, if left unchecked, will likely produce dire consequences for Mother Earth for this and generations to follow. Global warming poses extraordinary challenges—the kind that are difficult to put our heads around. Leading atmospheric experts have warned that a gradual heating of our climate is underway and will continue apace. This warming trend poses even greater risks to poorer regions that are far less able to cope with a changing climate…communities that largely rely upon fish for food or are already strained from water shortages.

The mechanisms of climate change follow some from the phenomenon known as the “greenhouse effect.” First proposed in 1824 by Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist, the greenhouse effect is a process by which the atmosphere warms the planet’s surface. Inside an artificial greenhouse filled with plants, the surrounding glass traps the sun’s energy, making it warm inside, even while outside it may be frigid. This modus operandi allows the plants to flourish. The same effect occurs every day on the earth when gases within the atmosphere act like that glass, trapping the sun’s heat. Solar radiation passes through the earth’s atmosphere, most of which is absorbed by the earth’s surface and some of which reflects off the surface back towards space.

The atmosphere is partly composed of several greenhouse gases (including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) which regulate the planet’s climate by absorbing and trapping some of the sun’s outgoing energy, retaining heat somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse. Without this natural “greenhouse effect,” temperatures would be much lower; indeed, the earth’s average temperature is 60 F higher than it would be without the greenhouse effect.

Particularly in the recent past, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have been steadily and remarkably elevating. Notably, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide concentrations all have increased dramatically. These additional accumulations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing marked warming of land and water surfaces resulting in climatic changes across the world. A group of leading climate researchers, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), saw a greater than 90% likelihood that most warming over the last 50 years has occurred due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This study synthesized the life’s work of hundreds of climatologists from around the world, and called evidence for global warming “unequivocal.” High scientific agreement exists that global greenhouse gases will continue to grow over the next few decades through this century. This continued warming has and will transform how societies currently function, as coastal cities, water, agricultural and food supplies are threatened.

Projections of future warming suggest a global surface temperature increase of by 2100 of 3.2—7.2 F, with warming in certain regions of the United States expected to be even higher. Global mean surface temperatures have increased 0.5-1.0°F since the late 19th century. Our last century’s final two decades were the hottest in 400 years and perhaps the warmest in several millennia. In a recent report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists concluded that global warming is “undeniable.” Climate change indicators pointing to global warming included:

–Declining Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover
–Rising air temperatures over land and sea
–Increased ocean surface temperatures, sea levels, ocean heat, humidity and troposphere temperatures
–Reduced numbers of record low nighttime temperatures

According to the report, each of the past three decades has been hotter than the decade before. At one time the 80’s was the hottest decade on record, but in the 90’s temperatures increased every year and the pattern continued into 2000. The NOAA found that temperatures were the hottest between 2000 and 2009, and the first six months of 2010 were the warmest on record.

This warming has grave implications for the environment: increased sea levels and temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, more frequent floods and droughts, water shortages and more frequent heat extremes. Ecosystem disruption, human migration, species reduction and loss are givens.

A word to the less than wise…Mme. Palin and your fellow global warming deniers, who decry climate change as a hoax and are proudly bigoted non-believers (as if it were some evangelical sect), please read and heed the word of true scientists. You know, those erudite ones that gather global data from satellites, weather balloons, weather stations, ships, buoys and field surveys. But why listen to experts in the field? You do have your own self-annointed PhD in Palin political theater…aka a buffoon’s conspicuous bullshit. If only your absurd, cerebrally bankrupt face-tweets were benign. But, our children and children’s children cannot abide by your drearily predictable and unreasoned hubris, Sarah. Your prattle harms humanity. Refugnant.

SHRIMP CEVICHE

2 lbs. small (41-50 count/lb.) fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 shallots, peeled and finely minced
3 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1/3 C fresh lime juice
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/3 C fresh orange juice
1/2 T fresh oregano, stemmed and chopped
Zest from 2 fresh limes

2 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped

1 avocado, peeled and diced
Sea salt
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Parboil the shrimp—In a heavy, deep pot, bring cold water to a vigorous boil. Scoop the shrimp in, allow to cook for a moment or two and then promptly dump into a colander to strain. Immediately plunge the seafood into a large bowl filled with ice water to cease the cooking process, and then spread them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Allow to cool completely.

In a medium large glass dish, toss the cooled shrimp, shallot, lime juice, lemon juice, orange juice, oregano and zest together. Cover well and refrigerate for at least four hours. Mix well from time to time.

During the last hour of chilling before serving, add the chopped tomatoes and toss. Remove from refrigerator and pour into a large bowl. Then, just before serving, add in the avocado, toss and season to taste with sea salt. Serve in chilled glasses or cups/bowls, garnished with cilantro.

Pourboire: If you are confident that your shrimp are decidedly fresh, you can skip the parboiling step.

Flatfish & Mussel Ceviche

August 24, 2009

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
~William Shakespeare, (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3)

A friend just returned from Peru where she visited the mystical pre-Columbian Inca site of Machu Picchu. Our mummy bag accompanied and warmed her at night on her life journey. Machu Picchu by osmosis. Her homecoming was a shameful reminder that, to date, only one ceviche recipe appears on the site (see Ceviche: Debated Ancestry 03.27.09). Time to remedy that oversight.

FLATFISH & MUSSEL CEVICHE

1 lb white skinless fish fillets, such as flounder or sole
1 lb fresh shelled mussels, cleaned and rinsed
1 C fresh lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 t salt
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely diced
2 fresh serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 T chopped parsley
1 T chopped cilantro
1/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/4 C red onion, peeled and finely diced

2 C corn kernels
1 lb sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ slices, then half disks
1-2 avocadoes, halved, peeled and sliced

Chill bowls in the freezer.

Cut the fish fillets horizontally into 2″ x 1/4″ slices. Soak the fish and mussels in lime juice for at least 2 hours. Add the salt, garlic, and chili and refrigerate for another hour before serving.

Roast the sweet potatoes in the skin until a fork pierces the meat easily, about 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. Cool, then peel, and cut into 1/4″ slices, then half disks

Just before serving, fold in the parsley, cilantro, and onion and slice the avocadoes.

Divide and mound the ceviche in the center of each bowl. Surround with fanned sweet potato and avocadoes slices topped by corn. Serve immediately.

Ceviche: Debated Ancestry

March 27, 2009

Ceviche, seviche or cebiche is a technique of marinating raw seafood in citrus, traditionally fresh lime juice. As with all great food…exalted simplicity. The fish is slightly “cooked” by the citric acid, which does not involve heat, but does impart subtle flavor. The citric acid denatures the proteins in the fish, unraveling the molecules and altering their chemical and physical properties. Bathing the fish in citrus juices turns the flesh firm and opaque.

As with sashimi, ceviche should be reserved for the absolutely freshest your fishmonger has to offer…and sustainable, less toxin-risky species should always be the goal (see Sustainable Seafood).

While many espouse that ceviche originated in Peru, there seem to be so many varied claims and theories on which country or historical era gave birth to this dish that landing on a solid postulate seems nearly impossible. Suffice it to say, ceviche appears to be native to Central and South America (but, stories persist about ceviche being the fancied, imported stepchild of Moorish women who immigrated to the Viceroyalty of Peru beginning in the 16th century). Such are the culinary conundrums created when civilizations merge, expand, disperse and vanish over time.

GINGER CEVICHE

1/2 lb fresh white fish, such as red snapper, sea bass, sole, flounder, grouper
1/2 lb scallops
Sea salt
3/4 C fresh lime juice
2 T fresh grapefruit juice
1-2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely diced
2 T fresh ginger, grated
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Chill several small serving plates in the freezer.

Carefully cut the fish horizontally into 1/8″ thick slices with a well sharpened and newly honed knife. Salt fish on both sides and place in a large flat bowl. Spoon the lime and grapefruit juice over the fish and toss with the chili, ginger and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably more. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to the chilled plates and serve.