(photo from SMH.com.au)
Sometimes it’s wonderful being a blogger.
Like last night when I was shouted a great meal by Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia whose only request in exchange was that I experience the special produce his country has to offer.
Even better I was able to bring my little sister, Stinky, who visited Peru a few years ago and remembers her time there fondly.
I was truly excited by this opportunity because I adore trying new tastes and ingredients and, having learnt so much about Andean cuisine when I made it one of my 2008 food challenges, I could finally taste some things I’d only read about.
So what did I taste for the very first time?
*ají – Peruvian yellow chilli pepper
*rocoto – Peruvian red pepper (capsicum)
*huacatay – a herb also known as black mint or tagetes minuta
Croquetas de Yuca y Queso Manchego con Salsa Huancaina
cassava and Spanish cheese croquettes with Huancayo sauce
These crispy spheres were a salute to the Peruvian classic Papa a la Huancaína (or Huancayo style potatoes). Normally slices of boiled potato sit in a sauce of fresh cheese, ají, evaporated milk, salt and garlic. In this exciting version, mashed and chunky starchy yuca was complimented by an ever-so-slight spicy burn and beautiful, strong cheese that I would never have guessed was manchego. This canapé was absolutely lovely.
Causa de Trucha Orgánica del Titicaca
potato mortar terrine with organic trout from Lake Titicaca
Both the potato and trout gave these morsels a real earthiness. The fish was salty-sweet and the avocado added creaminess. It was doused liberally in rosemary and black pepper oil. Very enjoyable.
Anticuchos de Corazón y Salsa Criolla
beef heart skewers with ají sauce
This was the best taste of the night. The meat was very salty (in a good way), extremely tender and rich in iron flavour. The sauce so divine I wanted to lick it off the plate. The flavours were rich with olive oil, lemons and fresh onions and a mild spiciness lingered in the mouth moreishly. Too good.
Santiago Queirolo Pisco Sour
This cocktail made from lemon juice, syrup, egg white, bitters and pisco (Chilean/Peruvian grape spirit) was a well made Sour and similar to other tangy, lemon drinks. It was good, but I didn’t swoon even though the pisco tasted lovely and smooth.
Canete Plumgrapes Santiago Queirolo Pisco Martini
Although we ordered the Don Santiago Pisco Punch, we were served this martini in a tumbler and told it was punch. We were disappointed and then we tasted it. It was amazing! The drink was so fragrant and aromatic, with a sweet aroma, sweet entry flavour and then a sour ending that left you wanting more, more, more. It was made from plum pisco liqueur, grapefruit bitters, old fashioned aromatic bitters and a pink grapefruit twist. Simply delicious!
Kingfish Tiradito in Two Oils
The fish had a gentle flavour and toothsome texture, but I couldn’t detect the pisco it had been cured in. In fact it was slightly dry, but once you flipped it quickly in the rocoto and basil oil it bounced right back. The basil added a slight aniseed flavour which was pleasant, but at the time I thought coriander would have been a better choice. Later, finding coriander in a few other dishes, it occurred to me that the chef might have been avoid a repetition of flavours throughout the night. The Peruvian rocoto (red pepper) was delicious, adding a spiciness that many capsicum don’t contain.
Served with Brown Brothers Prosecco 2008
Passion at the Pacific
This was a ceviche using passionfruit and ají to cure generous portions of pink snapper, prawns and sea urchin. Tasting the thick fatty texture and mild salty-milk flavour of the sea urchin ticked off another 2009 food challenge. The snapper was deliciously tender and the prawns had the most perfect firm, inviting texture when so often they become slimy and soft when served raw. But best of all was the spicy and quite acidic curing sauce, flecked with coriander. I found this dish very impressive and perfectly balanced for my tastes.
Served with Brown Brothers Vermentino 2008
Pisco & Citron Granita
As a palate cleanser this granita fell a bit short since it arrived practically melted and tasted like an extreme mouthful of Pisco Sour. It was refreshing though.
Oxtail, Rocoto & Solterito Salad
I was dreading this dish because it’s premises was a stuff capsicum (pepper), a vegetable I detest. It came cold in soft shreds on a bed of lukewarm oxtail ragu which was unfortunately gristly and not very flavoursome. Interestingly it was the rocoto that lifted the flavours of the dish. This tiny round pepper was sweet and spicy all at once and tasted the way I’d always hoped other capsicums would taste. Good work rocoto! Alongside it was a truly wonderful salad of doughy, popcorn-like corn kernels called choclo (reminded me of hominy), feta cheese, broad beans and a huacatay dressing (black mint or tagetes minuta). I adored this salad, but does solterito mean bachelor?
Served with Brown Brothers Tempranillo 2006
Cured Alpaca with Quinoa Taboulé
I was really excited about trying alpaca meat, and it may have been the large amount of wine I’d consumed but it was one of the best meats I’d tasted in a long time. It seemed to be strong like beef or game, yet impart an incredible richness like pork. It certainly had the potential to be dry and chewy (Stinky’s slices were overcooked) but my pink strips were delectable. Unfortunately the quinoa’s earthiness tasted more like dirt and was overpowered by chunks of colourful capsicum.
Served with Brown Brothers Heathcote Shiraz 2006
Purple Corn Ice Cream
Our dessert seemed like a tribute to Chicha Morada, a Peruvian drink made by boiling purple corn with spices and pineapple. This was the ice cream version, slightly purple, lightly spiced with cinnamon and sitting on a bed of macerated pineapple and strawberry pieces. I just loved the flavour of the ice cream and think I could make my own version if I could get my hands on some Chicha Morada powder.
Served with Brown Brothers Moscato Rosa 2009 (delicious!)
Overall, it was wonderful to taste so many new and exciting ingredients from an area of the world so seldom featured in food media.
Thank you Chef Saravia for the amazing experience and, for those Sydney-based people who want to experience their own taste of the Andes, visit the Peru Concept website.
For impressions from other bloggers spotted on the night check out:
Not Quite Nigella
Grab Your Fork
A Table for Two