Chef Eric Ripert is a master at weaving together unexpected ingredients, like this tender charred octopus with a sauce of salty fermented black beans and sweet pear. Finding a wine pairing for such a complex dish, however, is a challenge. "It needs a very aromatic wine, just to stand up to all the flavors,"says wine director Aldo Sohm.
Tostones—fried, smashed plantain slices—are a great variation on the toast used for the familiar hors d'oeuvre of smoked salmon and herbed cream. Soaking the plantain slices may seem like an unnecessary step, but it helps remove some of their starchiness and keeps them white.
"I add lemon confit to so many dishes—from broiled fish to pork and beans," says Eric Ripert of New York City's Le Bernardin. He blends his lemon confit with butter to add a pleasantly pungent flavor to broiled snapper. Before broiling, he dots some of the lemon butter on the fish, then serves more lemon butter on the side. Lemon confit can be refrigerated for several months, but if you don't want to make your own, jarred Moroccan preserved lemons are a fine substitute.
In Puerto Rico, cooks use fresh pigeon peas, which aren't readily available in the mainland United States. The dried variety can take up to two days of soaking, but you can substitute 1/2 pound of brown lentils, which can be cooked right out of the bag in only 45 minutes.