Fresh fish is the ideal building block for a summertime meal, but there are only so many times you can sup on salmon. This season, chef Mike Minor of Border Grill in Mandalay Bay suggests trying an exotic alternative: Ooh, barracuda.
The sustainable seafood advocate admits that he first came across the fearsome-looking fish (price per pound quoted daily, Honolulu Seafood Co., HonoluluFishStore.com) by accident. “Whenever my supplier has bycatch [seafood caught unintentionally during a harvest], I buy it so that it doesn’t go to waste or get thrown back in the water,” Minor says. “It’s not commonly found in Mexican cuisine, but I try to source ingredients that help the environment and keep the ocean clean.”
In pursuing this noble goal, Minor discovered that he actually liked the flavor of the fish—so much so that he recently created an inventive barracuda entrée for a private Clase Azul tequila-pairing dinner (which also featured braised Texas diamondback rattlesnake) at the restaurant.
“It’s kind of like monkfish or an outgoing, more interesting mahi mahi,” he says. “It’s mild, meaty and user-friendly.”
Minor paired pan-roasted barracuda filets with mashed purple Okinawa yams, sautéed pea tendrils and a delicately perfumed lavender beurre blanc. “The seafood is from the waters of Hawaii, so why not take the starch from Japan and the keep the greens light and springy?” he asks. “This way all of the flavors tie together.”
Hesitant home cooks can rest assured that this seemingly bizarre ingredient—greenish when raw—is not difficult to handle. “First get past the color,” he says. “Barracuda feed near coral reefs, so its diet gives its flesh a crazy tint. The greener it is, the better quality the fish.”
Kissed by heat, the meat turns opaque white, and can be treated like any ordinary cut from the fishmonger. “It’s all about texture,” Minor says. “Touch it, and look for something nice and firm. The perfect fish is crispy on the outside and stays buttery, soft and medium-rare in the center.”
The finished plate is full of color and flavor, if not exactly Mexican. But with a wink and a nod, Minor insists that the recipe is a great home project for any fan of Border Grill. “You can get a hint of Mexican flavor in the dish,” he says with a smile. “The secret is to just add tequila.”
Pan-Seared Barracuda with Seared Pea Tendrils and Lavender-Tequila Beurre Blanc
4 six-ounce barracuda filets
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
1 cup white-wine vinegar
1/3 cup tequila
½ cup heavy cream
2 cups cold butter cut into ½ inch cubes
3 fresh lavender tips and stems 1 pound seared pea tendrils (see below for recipe)
4 cups baked, mashed Okinawa yams (recipe below)
Salt and pepper both sides of the filets and sauté in olive oil on high heat until each side is crispy. In a separate pan, place shallots, bay leaf, peppercorns, vinegar and tequila in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and continue simmering until only 2 tablespoons of liquid remain. Pour in heavy cream and bring to a simmer; simmer until the cream has reduced by half. Increase heat to medium-high, and rapidly whisk in the butter, piece, by piece until it has melted into the cream and thickened it. Add the lavender, and allow it to permeate the sauce. Strain the sauce through a mesh strainer to remove the spices and lavender; serve immediately. To plate, place 1 cup of yams in the center. Top with a fourth of the pea tendrils and one barracuda filet. Spoon the tequila-lavender buerre blanc on top and around the dish. Garnish with micro-cilantro and edible flowers.
Seared Pea Tendrils
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh pea tendrils
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of one lime
In a hot sauté pan add oil, greens and salt and pepper. Sauté until greens are wilted, then add wine and lime juice. Pull from the heat and drain off liquid before serving.
½ stick butter, melted and kept warm
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Bake yams at 350 degrees until soft. Peel the skin and mash with hot butter and heavy cream. Salt and pepper to taste.
Cocktail Pairing: La Pinta
Border Grill beverage manager Michael Wilkiel paired the barracuda dish with a simple, refreshing cocktail of 1¼ ounce of Clase Azul’s La Pinta pomegranate–infused tequila liqueur and 2¾ ounces ginger beer and a splash of Meyer lemon juice, served on the rocks, and topped off with soda water. “Barracuda can be a very difficult fish to cook because of its powerful flavors, but it also flakes nicely when prepared properly,” Wilkiel says. “Chef Mike brilliantly seared in those flavors. The citrus of the Meyer lemons helps enhance the lightness of the fish, and the fresh ginger paired very nicely with the spice of the peppercorns and floral notes in the lavender buerre blanc.”