The legendary chef answers the question…What did you eat today, Jeremiah Tower?
You would think that I could get enough of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean fish called Boquinete. I can’t. Right now it is the finest fish for me around here. By far. So when the lawyer for the chili farmers that I work with at a greenhouse farm not far from Merida called me to do a dinner for investors that very night, I immediately came up with a menu that was easy to do in the time left. Start with lettuce wraps with either cochanita or barbacoa. Salt preserved Xcatic chili salsa. Can buy that and do in minutes since the chilies already in my fridge. Perhaps capellini with fresh pea and fresh hierba buena butter sauce which, with a food processor, is only 15 minutes more. All at the Santiago market around the corner. A lot of fat, but it is cold – it’s gone down to 65 degrees at night. Then local chicken with garlic and rosemary (same market), ending with vanilla Haagen Dazs covered in candied papaya sauce. I had been dying to try this fruit cured in caustic or pickling lime (calcium hydroxide) and unprocessed cane sugar or piloncillo, but it is too weird sounding (and looking) for gringos. My farmers would love it. “No,” said the voice on the phone to my menu ideas, “they want lobsters.” ‘Who doesn’t’ was on the tip of my tongue until I heard him say “I will be there in an hour” (noon), which down here means two.
Lobster with what I had in house (avocados, freshly shelled white beans, the preserved papaya) I could still make a trip to the beach at noon and be back in time to prepare dinner. At 2:00 my lawyer was at the door panting “c’mon or we will miss lunch.” Lunch! We would barely make it back in time to cook, and there was a big project riding on this dinner. Sure enough we passed my favorite restaurant on the Gulf coast, “Delfines” in Chuburna, and we saw fisherman dragging in a basket of boquinete. Screeching to a stop we bagged a few, told the waiter to hold us a table. We had a few moments to grab a few lobsters from my fisherman, Abram. Then back to some perfect, if end of the season, ceviche de pulpo, the octopus fresh that morning and as tender as the thigh of a nymph. I eyed the beautiful deep fried boquinete swooping by my table, but held firm with another Sol beer. By 9:00 that night the moneybags sat around avocado with red radish salsa (lime juice, salt, sesame oil), boquinete filets in butter with yellow cherry tomato and local basil sauce, and piles of lobster steamed with garlic and olive oil served on top of the silky and flavorful white beans. Ice cream and berries. At 2:00 in the morning I washed the last dish and drained the last Sol. Nothing for it the next “crudo” morning than to give a weak ‘yes’ to a friend’s demand to revisit the beach for fried fish. Sure enough, more octopus ceviche, more fried boquinete, more Sol. With the bill the waiter slyly (and undercover) produced a bag of fresh white blue crab meat, shelled moments before. “Today I am eating no protein,” I told him. ‘Crazy gringo’ was the look on his face. // Jeremiah Tower, Mexico
—What Did You Eat Today, Jeremiah Tower? is a regular 2paragraphs Food & Wine feature.