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Oceana Magazine Spring 2012: Chef’s Corner: Sam Talbot

At the Surf Lodge restaurant in Montauk, New York, executive chef Sam Talbot does his best to recreate his childhood experience of fishing for blue crab and flounder along the North Carolina shores where he grew up.

That means that the seafood served at Surf Lodge is locally and sustainably sourced, a philosophy that Talbot applies to all the ingredients he uses. “I’m constantly looking for the most ecoresponsible source,” Talbot said. “And usually when you find those people, their products, their fish, their vegetables, their honey, it’s far superior to everything that’s out there.”

Rather than flying frozen fish halfway around the world, the seafood served at Surf Lodge comes from the Atlantic waters just beyond the beachside restaurant’s windows. And guests love it, Talbot said.

“Once people realize they’re doing something responsible that they weren’t even aware of when they walk in the door of the restaurant, they start to realize that this guy is really trying to do the right thing, and they look up other chefs who are doing that,” Talbot said. “I think that response is wonderful.”

In addition to emphasizing local and seasonal ingredients, Talbot’s experience with Type 1 diabetes inspired him to write a new cookbook featuring 75 healthy, all-natural dishes. The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries (Rodale Books) is out now.

 

Fish Tacos with Tomato Salsa and Citrus Crema

Chef Talbot says: If you haven’t tried fish tacos yet, you’re missing out on one of the finer things in life. I spent two years concocting, tweaking, throwing out, and eating thousands of these damn things until I got it right. Actually, forget “right”—until I had it bulletproof. By “bulletproof” I mean if they weren’t perfect, I would have been hazed, stoned, and exiled from where I reside. At the end of the day I realized you just need three ingredients: the fish itself, the tortilla, and, just as important, the freshly shaved green cabbage; this last provides just the right amount of texture and crunch in each bite. The salsa and citrus crema bring everything together. If you don’t have time to make your own fresh salsa, a good quality jarred one will do. On the West Coast, mahi-mahi is most often used to fill fish tacos, but any mild white fish, such as cod or tilapia, will work brilliantly.

 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing the tortillas

2 pounds skinless cod, snapper, or mahi-mahi fillets *

1/2 cup loosely packed chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

16 flour tortillas (6 inch)

1 cup Tomato Salsa (page 200)

1/2 large head green cabbage, thinly sliced

1/2 cup Citrus Crema (page 200)

1 Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced

2 limes, cut into 4 wedges each

 

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the butter and ¼ cup oil on a rimmed baking sheet and place it in the oven to melt the butter. When the butter is melted, arrange the fish fillets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with the parsley, cilantro, and garlic. Pour the wine around the fillets and season generously with salt and pepper.

Bake the fish until it flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes. Break the fish into 1-inch chunks and set aside. Heat a grill pan over high heat. Place the tortillas in the pan, one at a time, and cook until they are hot and marked with grill lines, 15 to 30 seconds. Brush the hot tortillas with a little oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

To assemble the tacos, spoon 2 tablespoons of salsa, a few fish chunks, and some of the cabbage onto each tortilla. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the crema over each serving and top with 2 or 3 avocado slices. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with a lime wedge.

*Fish can be any mild white fish such as farm-raised tilapia or sustainable cod.