Anastasia Bernhardt learns to make tomato ceviche with the Mexican chef Santiago Lastra
It’s day 70 of the lockdown and I’m now so desperate for a snifter of my old restaurant-hopping ways that I’ve resorted to extreme measures. One unexpected benefit of our current situation is that I managed to convince Santiago Lastra to help me in my quest for restaurant perfection.
Known as the Nomadic chef, he has spent four years travelling 27 countries, hosting pop-ups, one-off suppers and guest chef residencies. He helped to launch Noma’s Mexico outpost and has worked in some of the most revered kitchens in Europe. In other circumstances he’s not an easy man to pin down. Especially as he would have been a couple of months into launching his debut restaurant Kol in Marylebone, where he planned to take the techniques from his native Mexico and apply them to produce from the British Isles.
As it turns out, I can do a pretty decent job of rustling up a fine dining quality starter if I beam in an acclaimed chef over Zoom, have a spare hour and a half (not including the time it took to trail between four different shops to source the ingredients) and don’t mind using every dish in the house.
This is what I learned from Santiago about cooking fancy food at home:
- You can make ceviche without fish. As proven by the tasty tomato and black cherry little number I’ve just dished up.
- … which sounds simple, until you realise that there are 16 different ingredients involved.
- I will never blanch tomatoes in water to peel off their skins ever again now that I know it’s acceptable to char them in lamb fat to the same effect.
- It also turns out that it’s ok to drizzle sizzling hot animal fat over a plateful of fruit – much as you would with olive oil on a salad. It is in fact to be encouraged.
- I need to invest in bowls that aren’t chipped.
- Sunflower seeds are a great way to thicken a sauce. The salsa macha I made to serve with the ceviche blends chilli (ancho and arbol) fried in vegetable oil, with honey and ground sunflower seeds – but for a simpler option you can blend the seeds with chicken stock to make a beautiful creamy chicken sauce. It’s better than using flour as you don’t get that starchy flavour.
- There is a reason restaurants hire pot washers.
- There is really no excuse to spend £8 on a green juice in Whole Foods. Simply blitz cucumber with chives, a little garlic and kombucha, then strain. This gazpacho-style leche de tigre handily doubles up as a chefy sauce.
- Chochoyotes are Mexico’s answer to dumplings. Make a dough the texture of playdough with water and masa harina (a type of super smooth corn flour) and pop raw into the soup. Or, of course, you could fry them as we did to add texture to the ceviche.
- There is no way in hell this is worth the effort. I for one can’t wait for autumn, when KOL will be open and Santiago can cook me this dish, in person, without the pile of dishes waiting at the end.
Recipe: Santiago Lastra’s Tomato & Black Cherry Ceviche
- 16 Cherry tomatoes, good quality
- 40g lamb fat dices (it can be a piece of the fat of the belly)
- 40ml vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sunflower seeds, toasted
- 1 tsp good honey
- ½ tsp Arbol chili or other spicy paprika
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 30g Ancho Chili
Cucumber and scotch bonnet Leche de Tigre
- ¼ of a Scotch bonnet, seeds removed
- ½ cucumber
- ¼ garlic clove
- 2 tsp chives
- Flaked salt
- 3 tsp Sour kombucha or apple cider vinegar
Chochoyotes (makes 12)
- 20g corn masa harina, Naturelo brand
- 25g water, room temperature
- 8 black cherries
- Rapeseed oil for frying
- Fresh herbs
- In a pan at medium high heat roast the lamb fat with the oil, add the tomatoes whole and roast fast to chard the skin, peel, cut in half and reserve, saving the residual oil from the pan (use it to season the tomatoes at the last minute).
- To make the salsa, heat the oil to 50C in a pan, add the seeds and chilis and blend with all the ingredients in a mortar or blender, season with salt, reserve in a side bowl.
- For the Leche de Tigre, blend all the ingredients together, for 2 minutes. Quickly pass through a fine sieve or coffee filter, reserve in the fridge in a jug.
- Next, the chochoyotes: mix the water with the flour until you have a smooth “play-dough” texture. Make tiny balls with the finger, pressing gently the top of the ball – enough to form a semi basket. Cover with oil, reserve.
- To serve, heat the remaining lamb fat until is smoking hot and pour on top of the sliced tomatoes, season with salt and plate on a bowl. Put one slice of cherry on top of each half of tomato. Fry the chochoyotes at 190C until crispy, putting 3 pieces on each plate. Finish with the herbs, pour the aguachile on the table and serve with the salsa macha tableside on a small container.