Updating the Cuisine of Mexico- A Workshop with Val Cantu

Starchefs ICC 2017 workshop with californios chef val cantu using Ora King Salmon and the breville polyscience control freak

Once again, I had the opportunity to attend the StarChefs International Chef’s Congress this past year. I took a number of hands-on workshops, and thought that I’d share my experiences with you. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few of the other workshops that I attended. Today, I wanted to start with chef Val Cantu‘s workshop.

Starchefs ICC 2017 workshop with californios chef val cantu using Ora King Salmon and the breville polyscience control freak

Updating the Cuisine of Mexico

At his San Francisco restaurant Californios, chef Val Cantu serves an 18-course menu of what he describes as “very simple, very traditional” Mexican food. That’s not to say that he doesn’t use modern techniques or bring innovation to his dishes. He says that he’s “updating the cuisine of Mexico.” In his workshop at The 12th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress, the chef shared a few different methods for cooking his Ōra King Salmon with Fermented Carrot Salsa.

Attendees had the opportunity to see how different amounts of salt in a brine affect the final taste and texture of the salmon. The Ōra King salmon was cured in both a 6% and 7% brine, while another batch was left completely unbrined. After twenty minutes, the salmon was removed from the brines, and four different oils were waiting to poach the fish in. There was an extra virgin olive oil, a smoked grapeseed oil with morita and chipotle chiles, a chile negro oil, and an árbol chile oil.

Starchefs ICC 2017 workshop with californios chef val cantu using Ora King Salmon and the breville polyscience control freak

Cantu prefers to poach the salmon directly in the oil, as opposed to cooking it sous vide. He says that ‘even being very cautious, you’re still going to mash the fish”, and that’s something he doesn’t want happening. Because he’s looking to gently cook the fish to a final temperature of 115°F, he decided to use the Control °Freak induction cooking system by PolyScience and Breville. By using the probe control thermometer directly in the oil, he’s able to maintain a precise cooking temperature.

Starchefs ICC 2017 workshop with californios chef val cantu using Ora King Salmon and the breville polyscience control freak

For the salsa, carrots are fermented for 2-4 weeks in a salt brine. He prefers fermenting vegetables to pickling them. “Pickling is great, but pouring hot brine over something is easy. If we make a vinegar pickle, it’s with vinegar that we’ve made in house.” When done fermenting, some of the carrots are pureed with carrot juice, rice vinegar, Fresno chile juice, and a pinch of xanthan gum. The sauce is then mounted with butter, and finished with lemon and salt. The salmon is topped with sauce and served with the reserved fermented carrots and herbs. Each dish tasted slightly different due to the variation in brining and the type of oil used. Unsurprisingly, all four versions were delicious.

If you’re interested in more information on the Control °Freak induction cooking system, check out a piece I wrote about chef Brad Kilgore’s 2016 StarChefs workshop.

Starchefs ICC 2017 workshop with californios chef val cantu using Ora King Salmon and the breville polyscience control freak

If you like what you see, please consider hiring me for an in-home dinner or cooking lesson. I run a personal chef business based out of Frederick, MD. Get more information here. Thank you.

Chris Spear

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