Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Taste of Hawaii: Ahi Pizza

Well, the sun is out, the husband is back and all is right with the world. The weather gods may be wreaking havoc with the rest of the country ( 8" of rainfall in NYC, state of emergency in NJ, gale- force winds up & down the eastern seaboard, tornadoes in the mid-west) but they seem to be feeling benevolently toward the old city by the bay; at least for the moment. Yes, while other cities are battling the elements on this April morning, San Francisco is sitting pretty: blue skies, warm air & low humidity.

It's as though we are being kissed by the gentle breezes of those magnificent islands in the South Pacific that we, in the USA, lucked into... you guessed it---Hawaii.

There are few places in the world like it.

The spirit of Aloha permeates everything & everyone in it. You can just feel the tension drain out of your body as soon as your foot hits the tarmac & that first waft of warm fragrant air greets you.

Hawaii seems to be suspended in some time/space warp: you co-exist with the rest of the known universe but nothing in it can affect you. Senate hearings, stock plunges, e-coli scares.

None of it matters.
Not here. It is heaven. Everything is beautiful, everyone is happy.

A favorite expression among the locals, the rare time you may experience a mes-en-temps, is "It's all good!" Always said not as a rebuke but just as a gentle reminder of your good fortune to be experiencing such an earthly paradise... and how right they are!!!!

How I wish I was on the Big Island today!!!

But hey, Hawaii is not just a pretty place on the map; it's also a state of mind. So--- because it is such a remarkably beautiful Hawaii-like day in S.F. and because my brilliant & inspired husband requested it when I called him this morning to see if he had a hankering for anything special for dinner.... I offer you my adaptation of a wonderful appetizer served at the world's best bar, the Lava Lounge located in the beautiful Four Seasons Hualalai Resort on the Kona Coast of the Big Island. So that you, too, could share a taste of paradise. Just close your eyes...can you hear the ocean?

This recipe is a lot more laborious to read ( and write) than it is to make. It's really just an asian-influenced ahi tostada.
Don't be intimidated by the number & variety of ingredients. Most can be found in any large supermarket chain who do a great job of stocking asian pantry items these days. I like to cook foods with asian accents so I always have them on hand. The assembly of the dish is really quick and easy, once you have everything in front of you, pre-measured, chopped & ready to go. It takes about 30 minutes, start to finish.
This dish can easily serve two people as a very satisfying light meal or six people as part of a pupus or tapas platter. A light steely chardonnay or sauvignon blanc would complement the sweet, salty richness of the dish without hurting the wine.. A lighter style beer like Asahi Super Dry or Corona wouldn't be a bad choice, either. Of course, you could go all the way & have a Mai Tai while playing some soothing steel guitar music in the background. It's all good!



For the Pizza:
6 tomato- flavored flour tortillas
( I recommend "La Tortilla Factory" brand ) or 3 large sized lavash, the baked flat breads of the Middle East (every grocery store carries some version of it), cut into 18 small rounds with a 3-1/2" cookie cutter or empty tuna can
1/3 cup olive oil, regular or light not extra virgin.
1 tablespoon canola oil
16 ounces of sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna (ahi), at least 1" thick fillets
cajun or other cayenne pepper-based seasoning, to taste
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 large or 2 small Haas avocados, thinly sliced just before assembly of pizza
3-4 ounces good quality feta cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons of Chinese plum sauce
chili aioli, recipe below

For the slaw:
2 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup red cabbage, shredded
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely sliced into thin julienned strips
1 carrot, finely grated
1/2 large maui or sweet onion, finely sliced
1/3 bunch of cilantro, leaves only, roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onions, white & light green portions only, minced
1/2 cup, or so, poi vinaigrette, recipe follows

For the poi vinaigrette:
2 ounces poi*
(white or red miso paste can be substituted)
1/4 cup passionfruit juice (guava or mango juice mixed with equal parts fresh orange juice can be substituted)
1 lime, juice & zest
1 ounce rice vinegar
(a mild-flavored white vinegar )
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon shallot, finely minced
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon of mirin
(sweet japanese rice wine; you could substitute sherry or just honey)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup high quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil

For the Chili Aioli:
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha hot chili sauce or to taste
( I recommend Huy Fong Foods brand, buy it at Safeway or
1 small clove garlic, smashed & finely minced
1/3 cup mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven & heat blind for 15 minutes. If you don't have one, then line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil & place that in the oven.

While oven is heating, prepare the vinaigrette by whisking each item in a bowl one at a time, starting with the poi (or miso) then adding mirin ,shallots, mustard, vinegar, black pepper, soy sauce, mayonnaise, lime juice, passionfruit juice, & plum sauce until well combined. When mixture appears smooth & uniform, slowly begin whisking in olive oil & finally sesame oil until the emulsion reaches a consistency you like. The vinaigrette should be very light & fresh tasting. Taste & adjust seasonings. Is it too sweet, add more acid. Is it too acidic, add more oil. When you're done, set it aside.

Next is the seasoning for the ahi: using a mortar & pestle (or a small sturdy mixing bowl) grind the sesame seeds & the cajun seasoning together adding the tablespoon of canola oil & teaspoon of soy sauce & combine well. Rub mixture on all sides of the ahi & set aside to marinate for 5 minutes. While the ahi marinates, heat a grill or heavy-duty saute pan until very hot. When ready, place ahi on cooking surface, searing for 2 minutes on one side without moving the fish. Then turn ahi over & sear for 1 minute more. Remove from grill & let rest on cutting board.
Do not overcook the ahi. It should be blackened on the outside but still rare in the center. The best way to tell is by looking at the side of the filet while you cook it. The middle of the fish should still appear red & translucent from the side while the top & bottom 1/8" may appear opaque or brown.

Now, prepare the chili aioli: Using the flat side of a chef's knife (or a mortar & pestle) make a paste out of the garlic by adding a pinch of salt to it while alternately smashing the garlic with the blade & chopping it, working the salt into a garlic paste. Then place the garlic paste into small bowl adding pepper, sriracha sauce, & mayonnaise whisking with a fork until well combined. Add lime juice until aioli has the consistency of a thick salad dressing. Taste for seasoning. Then set aside. (Could be made 1 day in advance).

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Brush tortillas with regular olive oil, coating very well on both sides then place on hot pizza stone or hot baking sheet for 5-7 minutes until crisp & toasty. (You could deep-fry them instead but I find it too dangerous & messy to do at home). When crisp, turn off oven & keep tortillas warm.

While tortillas are toasting, toss all of the slaw ingredients together, giving the vinaigrette a quick whisk to re-emulsify it before adding to the vegetables. Toss well.
Next slice the ahi against the grain & on the bias into very thin slices using a well-sharpened knife. If your ahi has strong tendonous intersections, don't fight it, cut along those lines. Then thinly slice your avocados. Try to keep the size of both the ahi & the avocado about 2-1/2" in length or no longer than the diameter of your "pizza" rounds.

Now assemble pizzas:
On heated plates or platters, plate your tortillas, brush lightly with plum sauce, add asian slaw to cover entire surface, place a single layer of the avocado slices (about 2 pcs.) on top fanning them over the slaw, now place a single layer of the ahi (about 2 pcs.) in similar fashion, drizzle the chili aioli over the ahi, sprinkle small amount of feta over center of "pizza"
add another drizzle of aioli , if desired, then top with a sprig of cilantro.

* Poi is just a tuberous vegetable indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands. It has no discernible flavor to the untutored palate but it has a very distinct texture which adds viscosity
and a certain Hawaiian panache to the vinaigrette. While most islanders would disagree with me, you'll never miss it, if you can't find it, especially in this dish where it is a really minor element in a small part of the dish. However, you can order on it line if you really want to try it.

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