Spirit of the dish
Imagine for a moment, that it's a typical weekday evening and you're getting hungry.
As you drive along with a spouse or a friend or a relative wondering where to eat, the ping-pong game begins.
"So, where do you want to eat?" you ask.
"I don't know," they reply. "Where do you want to eat?"
On and on it goes until you just end up at the first place you see, not really knowing anything about the chef who prepares the food.
This happened to me recently and it got me to thinking - wouldn't it be great if we could know the chefs who cook the meals we eat?
Enter The Golden Chefs of Yuba-Sutter, a new monthly feature on the Appeal-Democrat's food page. Our intent is to introduce the chefs of the Yuba-Sutter area to the community they serve. Not only do you get a really great new recipe, but you also have an opportunity to visit the restaurants these chefs call home and taste the food for yourself.
And what better way to kick off this fun, new feature than with a fun, new restaurant getting raves in downtown Yuba City? I have been getting so many calls about Cilantro's Mexican Bistro on Center Street - all raving about the food - that I thought Chef Ramón Corona would be a great way to start this series.
The family owned business, which opened a few months ago, serves authentic and traditional Mexican fare.
While talking with Ramón in his kitchen - how cool is that? I get to be in the actual kitchen - I found his attention to detail very refreshing.
"I go back to the most basic form of ingredients and then work back from there," he said.
You can almost feel a sense of spirituality while watching Ramón cook. The twinkle in his eye tells it all - he loves what he does and makes every effort to be the very best. He truly captures the spirit of the dishes that he prepares.
Ramón has been cooking this recipe for Camarones Enchipotlados for just under a year and says it is a bit of a challenge to make but worth every moment it takes.
He said his mother taught him to cook when he was about 5 years old and his family recognized very early that he had a passion for cooking.
Ramón said that this recipe will be on Cilantro's menu as of today and to drop by and give it a taste.
Another caller told me how Ramón and his family came out to their table to greet them and see how they were enjoying the meal. Little touches like that seem to make a lasting impression on Yuba-Sutter diners.
So give this recipe a try and don't be shy if you go to Cilantro's. Ramón, his brother Sebastian, and all the rest of their family would love to meet you.
6 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 medium ripe tomato
1 small white onion
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 lbs. of raw 26/30 shrimp deveined with tail on
1/2 to 4 tbs. of Chile Negro de Chipotle
Putting it together
Set griddle over medium heat and roast tomato until blackened and half of tomato is roasted (approximately 10 min.) and then turn over and finish roasting other side of tomato. While tomato is roasting, place unpeeled garlic on the same griddle or skillet the tomato is on, turning occasionally until soft. They will be blackened in spots (approximately 15 minutes).
Slice onion in 1/4-inch slices, place in foil and on griddle for approximately five minutes each side. Then place tomato, onion, peeled garlic, black pepper and cloves in a blender and blend until a medium smooth puree, adding enough water to keep mixture moving in the blender.
In a 12-inch pan, heat the oil over medium-high. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle noisily, add it all at once. Stir for three to five minutes as the mixture sears and darkens, then reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring regularly about five minutes, until it becomes like a like a loose oatmeal consistency.
Placing one tablespoon at a time, stir in the Chile Negro de Chipotle, add shrimp and continue to stir until the shrimp are just cooked through. Taste a shrimp, sprinkle on a little more salt if necessary.
3 small cones of piloncillo or 1 large, (Mexican unrefined sugar)
Vegetable oil, (enough to reach 1/4 to 1/3 depth of a 9-inch frying pan)
30 stemmed chipotle morita chiles
3 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. of salt, roughly
Making the salsa
In a medium-size saucepan, measure 11/2 cups of water and add the piloncillo, bring to a boil then remove from heat and stir until piloncillo is dissolved completely.
Pour oil into an 8- to 9-inch frying pan and bring to medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add in the chipotle chiles several at a time, whatever is manageable to you.
With a slotted spoon stir the chiles around as they toast to a mahogany brown color, (approximately one to two minutes).
Take the chiles out, leaving as much oil as possible, then put them into the saucepan containing the dissolved piloncillo and continue with the remaining chiles. Do not discard the oil.
Remove all but a thin layer of oil from the pan and add the garlic. Cook garlic until golden brown then add it to the saucepan with the piloncillo-chipotle mixture.
Pour the entire contents of the saucepan into a blender and blend until it becomes a smooth puree. You may have to add water to keep moving, but do not add too much because it will take you longer to reduce.
Return the pan containing the oil to a medium-high heat. When oil is hot, pour the entire contents of the blender into the pan. Stir and scrape bottom so that nothing sticks to it. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the salsa is as thick as tomato paste. Season with salt and taste with caution because the chile is very spicy.
. . .
I will be at the Total Home, Garden and Recreation Show held at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. I will handing out new recipe cards featuring one of our past columns with Pam Satchell and her great recipe, "Baked Shrimp with Feta Cheese." Come to the Appeal-Democrat booth in the Main Exhibit Building so I can say hi and get to know you. And yes, I will be wearing my red chef's hat too.
Next week I head back out to Yuba City to Jim and Kathy Lizardo's kitchen for a great new neighbors' favorite recipe of lumpia.
Until then, hope to see you in your neighbors' kitchen.