Chef Alan Greeley knows how to make an entrance!
Scheduled to shoot an “open-faced” tamale video, he arrived at my house on his packed-with-ingredients motorcycle. Among the beautiful produce was a knock-out watermelon radish that I decided would make a great monocle. Not only does Alan make me hungry, he makes me laugh.
Alan Greeley knows how to take a classic dish and make it better. He improves the taste, perfects the texture and, well, adds his signature touch of whimsy.
His topless tamales are one example. The executive chef-owner of The Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa, loves tamales, but thinks the ratio of masa to filling can be disappointing. So instead of the traditional stuff-fold tamale, he smears the masa atop a fresh banana leaf and steams them open-faced. The filling is the topping, but it is used in more generous proportions.
The short video shows how easy and versatile Alan’s style of tamale can be. He makes three variations in minutes – one with cod and tomatilla salsa, one with shrimp ceviche, and a vegetarian version with beans and squash blossoms.
It’s a method that only requires about 10 minutes of steaming, then, he says, you have a luscious backdrop to work with. One example is the Cod Topless Tamale, that showcases thinly sliced fish, tomatillo sauce, Oaxacan string cheese, fresh tomatoes and cilantro.
Store-bought prepared masa is sold at many Hispanic markets (be sure to specify masa for tamales, not for tortillas). Greeley suggests El Gallo Giro in Santa Ana and El Metate in Costa Mesa, Orange and Santa Ana.
Fresh banana leaves are sold in the produce sections of those markets. The masa steams atop a segment of fresh banana leaf. The masa absorbs the perfume of the leaf as it heats.
Greeley says this is the kind of dish you should serve at a casual gathering. Invite the neighbors, he says, and have them help in assembling and garnishing.
(Look at all the beautiful produce chef Greeley packed in his motorcycle.)
Golden Truffle’s Cod Topless Tamales
Yield: 4 topless tamales
1 fresh banana leaf, cut crosswise into 5-inch sections
2 1/2 cups store-bought masa (masa preparado) for tamales (not tortillas)
4 to 6 ounces string cheese, Oaxacan string cheese preferred, but standard is fine, torn into 8 pieces
8 ounces fresh black cod, or other mild white fish, cut into 3/8-inch slices
Salt to taste
Tomatillo sauce, see cook’s notes
3 tomatoes, heirlooms preferred, cut into small wedges
8 sprigs of fresh cilantro
Cook’s notes: You can use store-bought tomatillo sauce if you like. Greeley makes his by sautéing 1 white onion (chopped) in 2 teaspoons olive oil until softened. He adds 3 garlic cloves (chopped), 2 cups tomatillos (peeled, washed, chopped), 1 to 2 Serrano chilies (remove seeds for a milder version, chopped), and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute). Add 1 cup chicken broth and bring to boil on high heat; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Puree in blender in batches (hold down lid of blender with potholder). If mixture is too thick, add a little broth or water and blend again. Greeley also spooned some vegetables on the side that he had cooked in some strained fish stock (chunks of carrots, onions, tomatoes and celery). He said the vegetables aren’t an essential element. Use caution when working with fresh chilies; wash hands and work surface upon completion and do NOT touch eyes or face.
1. Place banana leaves in single layer on work surface. Place masa in center of each leaf, dividing it evenly. Smear it out so it makes a rough rectangle about 6-inches long. Top masa with string cheese pieces. Place fish on top, overlapping the slices slightly. Season fish with salt.
2. Place in steamer (masa-side up) over (but not touching) boiling water; cover. Steam for 10 minutes. Cautiously remove from steamer and place each open-faced tamale on a plate, masa-side up with the banana leaf still intact. Spoon a generous amount of tomatillo salsa on the side. Top with fresh tomato wedges and cilantro sprigs.
Source: Alan Greeley, executive chef-owner, The Golden Truffle, Costa Mesa
The Golden Truffle, 1767 Newport Boulevard, Costa Mesa, 949- 645-9858
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A quick top from Melissa’s …
Summer cucumber bonanza! One very easy dish is cucumber salad.
Peel the cucumbers. If using hothouse cucumbers, you don’t need to seed them, just slice them. If using common cucumbers you will need to peel, cut in half lengthwise and seed.
Have a look at the last part of the above video to see how. It’s easy.
Slice the cucumbers crosswise and place in colander. Lightly salt them and set aside for 20-30 minutes. This will take out the excess water and make them more flavorful.
Toss them with enough sour cream or plain Greek-style yogurt to generously coat. Chop up a generous amount of fresh tarragon leaves and parlsey; add herbs to the cucumber mixture and toss.
Cover and chill. Enjoy!