In CityBeat's Food Issue, I wrote about my experience staging (essentially, interning) at Chad White’s La Justina restaurant in Tijuana. Last week, I used a number of the culinary lessons I learned at La Justina in preparing an amuse bouche for 80 at the Culinary Historians of San Diego’s monthly public meeting at the new San Diego Public Library. The April 19 event featured Chef Deb Schneider of Sol Cocina in Newport Beach and Scottsdale. Schneider's also the author of five cookbooks, including Baja: Cooking on the Edge, the second edition of which just came out.
The recipe takes the beautiful bounty of Baja’s ingredients, classic and modern technique and Baja’s rich and surprising culinary and ethnic heritage and combines them in a new way, all in a single bite. It's a dynamic dish, evolving on the palate as the ginger-chipotle sauce gives way to the octopus, then the avocado and the cilantro jus and finally the pea shoot. (The dish is also great made with shrimp.)
Octopus with avocado, ginger-chipotle sauce, cilantro jus and pea shoot. Serves 10 amuse-bouche portions
For the octopus:
* 1 octopus (c. 3 pounds), cleaned and defrosted
* Extra virgin olive oil
* 5 bay leaves
* 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
* Kosher salt
For the ginger-chipotle sauce:
* 1 white onion, diced
* 1 large carrot, diced
* 1 bulb fennel, sliced
* 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
* 2 inch knob of ginger, trimmed and sliced
* 4 chipotles in adobo
* 4 cups chicken stock
For the cilantro jus:
* 2 bunches fresh cilantro
* 2 cups, chicken stock
* 1 avocado, diced
* 10 pea shoot ends
To blanch the octopus, preheat a water bath to 178° F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Cut the head off the octopus, slicing just under the eyes. Discard the head. Using kitchen shears or a very sharp paring knife, separate the tentacles by cutting through the flesh from the point where they join each other to the very center of the mass. Put the octopus tentacles into the boiling water and blanch for 10 seconds. Remove the tentacles from the water and plunge them into the ice bath. Using clean hands, rub the outer skin of the tentacles to remove the slimy skin. Next, sous vide the octopus: Place two tentacles into each food-grade plastic bag along with a teaspoon of olive oil and a bay leaf. Vacuum seal the bags and place them in the water bath, cooking the octopus for five hours.
To make the ginger-chipotle sauce, sweat the onion, carrot and fennel in the olive oil in a medium saucepan for three minutes. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a Vitamix or other high-speed blender and process to a very smooth puree with a sauce-like texture. Refrigerate the sauce, allowing it to cool completely. Transfer the sauce to a squeeze bottle.
To make the cilantro jus, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Meanwhile place the leaves and stems of the cilantro in the bowl of a Vitamix or other high-speed blender. Add the stock and puree. Refrigerate the sauce, allowing it to cool completely. Transfer the sauce to a squeeze bottle.
Slice the octopus tentacles into half-inch segments and season the segments with kosher salt. Add the grapeseed oil to a sauté pan over very high heat. Working in batches, add the tentacles to the pan and sear them for about a minute a minute-and-a-half per side, until they are lightly colored. They should not be overly browned.
To assemble the dish, squirt about a half-teaspoon of the ginger-chipotle sauce in the bottom of an Asian-style soupspoon. Top the sauce with a slice of the seared octopus tentacle. Top that with a piece of diced fresh avocado. Squirt about a half-teaspoon of the cilantro jus over the avocado. Garnish with pea sprouts.
Note: The recipe makes far more sauce than will be used for this dish. Both sauces are excellent on either chicken or fish and for tacos of nearly every type.