We all have it; a culinary comfort zone. Yep, chefs do too. And I stepped out of it and made this light and green Cucumber Apple Tartare with Mackerel.
It was worth it!
I believe everybody has it, a culinary comfort zone. It could be the food of your upbringing. The dishes that you learned to cook first. The recipes that are easiest for you.
And yes, I do have a culinary comfort zone too. The zone is quite big, as I’m an experienced chef. But of course, there are gasps in my knowledge and experience. One simply can’t know everything.
But the thing is, I’m not scared to step out of my culinary comfort zone.
Being a cooking teacher helps. Sometimes I just get assigned a class that I would never have picked myself. A cookie decoration class. Irish food with only one day to prepare, no time to test the recipes. Typical American sweets and dessert dishes. And last week’s sake tasting class.
Honestly, my first reaction to the sake class was to refuse. First of all, I’m a chef who loves to talk food, not a sommelier who knows how to say a thing about drinks. But with my experience in teaching wine paring cooking classes, I can’t really hide behind that one.
But there’s another reason: I don’t know anything about sake. It’s not a drink that I have often. Okay, I have a few times, ever. And I had to teach a 2-hour class about this Japanese drink of which I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce the name in English?
Of course I did.
And everybody had a good time.
I told the class honestly that I’m not an expert. I read, re-read and studied on the main Wikipedia page about sake. Flipped through a book I had on paring sake with food. Made notes that only I was able to read. And I grabbed all Japanese ingredients from my cupboard for flavoring the chef’s special appetizer that I also had to whip up in the non-kitchen classroom.
The sake paring book inspired me to make a light, green tartare (like the steak tartare, but without the meat) style appetizer and I trusted my creativity to come up with the other ingredients when shopping.
Yes, again I taught a dish in a cooking class without having written out a recipes first. I found a can of mackerel in the supermarket and knew this umami rich fish would be wonderful in the crunchy, fresh cucumber apple tartare I was thinking about.
And it all worked out beautifully. I might have stretched the cooking part a bit, but I don’t think anyone noticed or cared. 😉
You can check the recipe below.
A light green Cucumber Apple Tartare with Mackerel
This Cucumber Apple Tartare with Mackerel (no steak tartare!) dish works very well as a small appetizer or as a base of a larger salad. The crunchy and fresh cucumber and green apple make your mouth water. The flaky, umami rich mackerel gives a bit more depth to the dish.
I used for an appetizer for 5-6 (depending on portion size):
1/2 granny smith apple
5 twigs cilantro
1/6 can mackerel (15 oz)
Tip: If you can buy super fresh mackerel you can use that in this dish. Or buy smoked mackerel for that extra smokey flavor. It’ll all work.
3 T mayonnaise
1 T sesame oil
1 T soy sauce
sriracha to taste
1-2 t lime juice
(no salt needed as the fish and soy sauce provide that plenty)
Tip: For a vegetarian tartare, you can leave out the fish. The dish will be a bit fresher and crunchier, but as good. Maybe add 1/4 cup of shredded artichoke (can or jar, leaves only) for that same flaky texture.
Chop all ingredients. Peel and remove seeds from cucumber (snack on seeds while cooking) and cut in very small dice. Dice apple as well, same size. Half scallion lengthwise and mince. Chop cilantro and chives very fine.
Flake the mackerel with your hands or 2 forks.
Make the dressing by mixing up all ingredients. Taste to see if you like it. It’s okay to be bold.
Mix all vegetables and mackerel. Mix in dressing, starting with 2/3rd, and add more to your liking.
Serve on a bed of arugula as a salad, using a small mold for nicer presentation. Or serve with thin rice crackers for a snack.