Chef Claudette Zepeda shares her game-changing approach to the punchy, spicy, refreshing world of aguachiles.
Coconut water, celery, ginger, and chiles come together to flavor the base of this delicate aguachile, while pineapple, cucumber, and avocado garnishes help cool it down. Chef Claudette Zepeda makes homemade coconut chips by shaving and toasting fresh coconut, but we've substituted readily available store-bought coconut chips. Timing is the key to this recipe, as the shrimp is "cooked" in lemon juice.
Claudette Zepeda uses fresh carrot juice as the base for this aguachile, which is complemented by fresh ginger, spicy habanero, and scallions to amp up the flavor of the juice. Thin strips of carrot and cucumber are mixed and topped with salty smoked roe, thinly sliced red onion, and roasted cashews for a dish with deep layers of flavor and complex textures. For a vegan alternative, replace the trout roe with 1 bunch of roasted or grilled carrots.
Claudette Zepeda uses a reverse-sear technique for this steak served with a salty, umami ponzu sauce. She tops the steak with a fresh tomatillo, onion, cucumber, and cilantro salad that balances the richness of the meat. If you can't find a pre-cut 28-ounce ribeye, ask your butcher to cut one. Be sure to stock up on charcoal and have three (3-inch) hardwood oak wood chunks on hand to make the most of this recipe. The flavors of this dish are inspired by the pantry of northern Mexico, where Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ingredients are common because people from those countries were in Tijuana. "Mexico is a complex melting pot of people, where the story stops being about why we're so different and starts being about why we're so similar," Zepeda notes. "Chinese laborers built the city of Tijuana; Japanese immigrants established the entire seafood industry in Ensenada. These are the stories that inspire me."
Chef Claudette Zepeda loves to experiment with different ingredients in her aguachiles, while still showcasing the dish's fundamental flavors of salt, acid, heat, and a little bit of sugar. For this gorgeous beet aguachile (which the chef nicknames "Vampiro" aguachile, for its deep purple-red color and for its inclusion of black garlic), Zepeda makes a bright, spicy broth out of beet juice. The unique, funky flavor from the black garlic and sweetness from the orange juice help balance the acidity of the lime juice. The beets and the broth can both be made a day ahead, making assembly a snap.
Aguachile, in literal translation, is 'chile water.' The dish originally comes from the Sonoran Sierras in Mexico, where ranching was the local trade, and was made with machaca (dried beef floss) that was rehydrated in water that got its kick from tiny, round, potent wild Chiltepin chiles. According to chef Claudette Zepeda, "anything can be an aguachile if you take creative freedom with it." For her colorful Strawberry Aguachile, Zepeda cooks strawberries in a double boiler to gently release their sweetness, creating a juice with vibrant color and flavor. When mixed with scallions, cucumber, anise-scented hoja santa, and citrus juices, the juice creates the perfect, punchy base for a strawberry and radish aguachile.
Chef Claudette Zepeda mixes some of the flavorful broth left over from making her popular Birria with citrus juices, tequila, and beer for a cocktail that is both delicious and thirst-quenching. Think of it as a new version of a Michelada. Zepeda encourages you to make it your own—adding more or less of each ingredient to find your happy place. Be sure to remove all of the fat from the top of the Birria broth before adding it to the cocktail shaker to prevent it from forming a layer on the top of the cocktail.
The filling for these bao may be unexpected, but Claudette Zepeda's recipe for Birria, a chile-rich savory shredded beef, is a delicious match for the chewy and slightly-sweet dough. If you are lucky enough to come across some cilantro blossoms at the farmer's market, pick some up. They make a wonderful garnish for the bao. Be sure to line the bottom of your steamer with parchment paper so the bao dough sticks to the paper, and not the steamer.