The man behind the restaurants Mo-Chica, Picca and Paiche has added a cookbook to his resume. Ricardo Zarate’s “The Fire of Peru: Recipes and Stories from My Peruvian Kitchen” takes readers through the diverse culinary landscape and ingredients of Peru. He wrote the book with LA Times food writer Jenn Garbee.
In “Fire of Peru,” Zarate calls Peruvian food an estofado, or stew that has been simmering for the past 500 years. Peru has long been home to indigenous Incas and Moche people. Spanish conquistadores arrived with enslaved Africans in the late 16th century, and more recently Italian, Chinese and Japanese immigrants have put down roots. Such a rich cultural mix has created a fusion cuisine like no other.
In his kitchen one food Zarate cannot live without is the paiche, pronounced “pye-chay.” This enormous fish lives in the Amazon River — read more about efforts to produce paiche sustainably here — and can grow to be 8 feet long. Zarate likes the paiche for its delicate white flesh, subtle buttery flavor and versatility; it can withstand everything from a strong vinegary marinade to being deep-fried. Try out his recipe for “Grilled Paiche Lettuce Wraps with Honey-Miso Glaze.” If you can’t find paiche at the docks, black cod or salmon will work just as well.
Grilled Paiche Lettuce Wraps with Honey-Miso Glaze
Zarate suggests portioning your fillets into smaller servings so that the paiche will cook quickly and evenly without burning the marinade. Make the anticucho sauce several days ahead for maximum flavor.
Yield: Serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer or 3 as a main dish
Paiche Wrap Ingredients
1 lb paiche fillet, or substitute black cod, salmon or another oily-flesh fish
10–12 whole baby butter lettuce leaves
¼ cup Japanese or Persian cucumber, thinly sliced or diced, fresh or pickled
1 handful fried yams, cut into matchsticks and deep-fried for garnish (optional)
Honey-Anticucho Marinade Ingredients
¼ cup Honey-Miso Glaze (recipe follows below)
¼ cup Anticucho Sauce (recipe follows below)
For the marinade: Whisk together the Honey-Miso Glaze and Anticucho Sauce in a small bowl to make the marinade. Slice the fish into 10 to 12 small pieces — each piece should fit inside a butter lettuce leaf cup. (If you aren’t making lettuce cups, slice the fish into 6 fillets to make 3 main course servings.)
Pour a little of the Honey-Anticucho Marinade into a small baking dish and arrange the fish on top. Pour the rest of the marinade over the fish. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours; if you are using paiche, you can leave the fish in the marinade overnight or up to 24 hours.
To grill: Prepare a regular or hibachi grill for direct, high-heat cooking and place a fish grate on top. When the grill is very hot, use tongs to transfer the paiche pieces to the fish grate (reserve the Honey-Anticucho Marinade) and immediately lift each piece and place it back on the grill 3 times (this is the “pull-up” technique). Add another piece of fish and repeat this same technique. (Add the fish in batches until you get the hang of it. If you are using larger fillets, let the fish rest on the grate without lifting it.)
Grill until the bottom sides are well seared. The flesh should turn whitish halfway up the sides, a good 2 minutes for small pieces or 5 minutes for larger ones if your grill is really hot. Flip the paiche and, if the pieces are small, lift them up and down again a few times on the opposite side (leave larger pieces alone). Grill for another minute, or a few minutes more if the pieces are larger, or until they just get a nice color on the bottom.
Baste each piece of fish with the reserved marinade, flip and brush the top sides generously with more marinade. Grill until the fillets are medium-cooked, or their centers are firm to the touch. This usually takes only 2 to 3 minutes for small pieces or up to 6 minutes for larger, thicker fillets. Brush the fish generously with the marinade again, flip them once more and immediately transfer to a clean plate.
To serve: Place each piece of fish in a butter lettuce cup and spoon any pan juices over the fish. Top each fillet with the cucumber and arrange a pinch of fried yams on top, if using. Or, for a quick main course, you can put the fish fillets on a serving platter, along with the pan juices and arrange the cucumbers on top.
Tip: If your honey has granulated, warm it for a few seconds in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Yield: Makes about ½ cup
½ cup honey
¼ cup Japanese saikyo (sweet) miso, or substitute shiro (white) miso
Slice the lime into 5 or 6 rings and discard both ends.
In a small bowl, combine the lime slices, honey and miso. Lightly mash the ingredients together with the back of a spoon. Cover and refrigerate the glaze overnight, or up to 2 days for better flavor.
Discard the lime slices and refrigerate the Honey-Miso Glaze for up to 5 more days. Stir the glaze before using.
Peruvian Anticucho Sauce
Zarate suggests preparing this Peruvian sauce in advance since the flavors get even better after a few days. You can always freeze any leftover sauce.
Yield: Makes about 1 cup
⅓ cup ají panca paste
3 tbsps ají amarillo paste
2 tbsps red wine vinegar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp malt vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce, preferably a good quality Japanese brand, or 2½ tsps tamari
2 tbsps dark or medium-bodied beer (optional)
3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsps dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican
2½ tsps ground cumin
2 tsps kosher salt
Whisk together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate the mixture overnight before using or for up to 1 week.
To store: Freeze the Anticucho Sauce in batches. Or, you can also fill a large food storage bag and spread it out flat in the freezer so you can break off little chunks as needed.
Text excerpted from “Fire of Peru,” © 2015 by Ricardo Zarate and Jenn Garbee. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.