There is a certain poignancy, perhaps irony, in the fact that Chad White’s debut on Bravo TV’s Top Chef comes only days before he leaves San Diego for his native Spokane, Washington. The exact reasons for White’s move are not fully known. Speculation, of course, has tended to fill that vacuum.
But what is known – what is not reasonably disputable – is that Chad White is one hell of a cook. We’ve had some great cooks in this town, many of whom have subsequently left (Gavin Kaysen, for example). Chad White is about to be one of those. One can say what one will about the ultimate success of the restaurants White helmed in this town – and, for what its worth, La Justina in Tijuana is still going strong – but what one cannot reasonably say is that Chad White put out bad food. He did not. And the best of his work was amongst the best in this region.
I had the good fortune to be in the kitchen with White twice, once at La Justina and once at Mi Casa Supper Club in San Antonio Del Mar just north of Rosarito. It was on that second occasion that Chef White served a dish that may have been the one that best summarized his cuisine. It was a blood orange aguachile of a shrimp and scallop terrine featuring the usual suspects as garnishes. It was a classic Baja dish – shrimp aguachile – done up in a totally unexpected set of ways. The feature protein instead of raw shrimp was a classic French seafood terrine. The acid was built on blood orange instead of lime, gorgeous to look at with a wonderful balance.
While I helped White plate the dish I was not involved in the making either the terrine or the aguachile, so I was left to suss out on my own what he had done to create the dish. As a result, this is not so much White’s recipe as it is my attempt to recreate the essence of it from taste memory and a couple of pictures. I hope it does the dish – and Chef White – justice.
Blood Orange Aguachile | Scallop and Shrimp Terrine
For the Terrine:
- 1 ½ pounds scallops
- ½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 egg whites
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground white pepper (a pinch)
- Freshly grated nutmeg (about a teaspoon)
- 1 ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
For the Aguachile:
- 6-8 blood oranges
- 4-6 key limes
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1-2 serrano chile peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
- kosher salt
For the Pickled Red Onions:
- 1 red onion, sliced in quarter or half moons
- ½ cup apple red wine vinegar
- 2 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 heaping tablespoons kosher salt
For the Garnish:
- 3 radishes, thinly sliced on a Japanese mandolin
- 3 Persian pickles, thinly sliced on a Japanese mandolin
- 6-8 pretty cilantro leaves
- Begin Making the Terrine Mixture. Rinse scallops and shrimp, drying thoroughly. Puree the scallops and shrimp in a food processor fitted with the “S” blade until smooth. Add the egg whites, puree again until very smooth, then cover the food processor container and refrigerate for half an hour.
- Make the Pickled Red Onions. Meanwhile bring a small pot of water to boil. While the water is boiling combine the rest of the ingredients except the onions in a bowl and whisk to combine. Put the onions in a strainer inside a second bowl. Pour the boiling water over the onions and leave the onions in the hot water for 2-3 minutes. Remove the onions from the hot water and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Add the onions to the bowl with the remaining ingredients and refrigerate for half an hour or more.
- Finish the Terrine Mixture. Return the container to the food processor base, add salt, white pepper and nutmeg to mixture and with the machine running, gradually pour in the cream. To adjust seasonings to taste, drop 1 teaspoon of mousseline into gently simmering water 1 or 2 minutes until cooked through, then taste. Adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to 4 hours.
- Make the Terrine. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer. Meanwhile, line a terrine mold with plastic wrap (wet the mold so that the wrap sticks better). Fill the terrine mold with the seafood. Fold the plastic wrap over it and cover with a lid (or foil). Set the terrine in a roasting pan and pour the simmering water into the roasting pan so that it comes three-quarters of the way up the sides of the terrine mold. Put the roasting pan in the oven and cook until the terrine reaches an interior temperature of 135° to 140° Fahrenheit. Remove the terrine from the oven and then from the terrine mold. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to cool.
- Make the Aguachile Sauce. Combine the juice of six of the blood oranges, 4 of the limes with one of the Serrano chiles and the garlic cloves in the bowl of a high speed blender or food processor, season with salt, and process to a smooth purée. Taste, testing for seasoning, heat and the sweet-acid balance. Adjust the flavors according to your taste and heat tolerance.
- Finish the Terrine. When the terrine is cool, cut it into perfectly even cuboid shapes. Using a culinary blowtorch, sear the top surface of all of the terrine pieces. While this step is optional, it improves the flavor, texture and appearance of the finished product.
- Plate the Dish. Pour enough of the aguachile in each bowl to just cover the bottom. Place a cuboid of terrine in each of the bowls. Arrange slices of cucumber and radish along with a leaf or two of the cilantro attractively around each p