Across the Table from Rick Bayless
Mexican food restaurateur and Bravo TV Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless dishes about his guilty pleasures—and food loves.
By Michele Meyer
1. What food most reminds you of your childhood?
Peaches. Our family would pick and can them, then make peach butter.
2. What's your specialty?
Traditional Mexican food, but I cook a range of dishes at home.
3. Flee if a chef says—what?
They make a favorite dish. Because it's probably the only thing they can make. You've got to love everything and tackle anything.
4. What's your guilty pleasure?
Doughnuts. I never make them for myself, but you can go anyplace on the planet and find someone who specializes in fried dough.
5. What's your ideal setting for a meal?
Anywhere! It's like music. Do you want to listen to one song for the rest of your life? Sometimes you're in the mood for happy, sometimes contemplative. Give me homegrown salad at my kitchen counter, a party on the beach or a beautiful dinner at an elegant restaurant.
6. Any foods you dislike?
I hate tomato juice in any form. It's probably because I was forced to drink it in school at age 5 and threw up all over the table and my classmates. I still haven't gotten over that—and I'm 57.
7. What's the last thing you cooked at home?
Roasted swordfish with a black olive glaze and rutabaga and parsnip puree, followed by an almond and hazelnut cake.
8. Who's the best home cook you know?
My sister. We grew up very food-oriented, influenced by our family's barbecue restaurant, Hickory House in Oklahoma City. She has a really keen concept of flavor.
9. What's your must-have kitchen utensil?
A really good chef's knife.
10. Do you prefer to dine in or carry out?
I never carry out. Leaving food in a sweaty container is the meanest thing you can do to it.
PBS Chef Rick Bayless (Mexico—One Plate at a Time) is an award-winning cookbook author and restaurateur who founded Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. He's also the creator of Rick Bayless Favorite Mexican, a phone app with 30 authentic Mexican recipes and 40 technique videos.
Frontera Grill's Now-Classic Ceviche
By Rick Bayless
I never tire of this ceviche: the lilt of fresh-fresh fish infused with straight-ahead flavors of Mexican street food (lime, chiles, onion, cilantro) and finished to a consistency that's perfect for piling on tortilla chips or tostadas. That's my favorite way to eat ceviche, the sweet, toasty corn flavor of the crisp-fried corn tortilla being the perfect counterpoint to soft-textured brilliance of good ceviche. We've had this ceviche on the menu at Frontera Grill for over two decades.
Shipped-in off-season tomatoes are always a disappointment to me, so I don't use them at Frontera or at home. When local tomatoes are in season, they go into ceviche. When they're not, bits of sun-dried tomato (and some diced jicama) stand in their place.
Working Ahead: The fish can be marinated in lime and completely drained (even if you're going to add back some of the juice) early in the day you're going to serve; cover tightly and refrigerate. All the vegetables and the cilantro can be prepped, mixed, covered and refrigerated early in the day, too. Mix and season the ceviche within two hours of serving; keep it refrigerated until the last moment.
Ceviche Fronterizo makes about 4 cups, enough for 6 to 8 as an appetizer
- 1 pound "sashimi-quality" skinless meaty ocean fish fillet (halibut, snapper and bass are great choices), cut into ½-inch cubes
- About 1 ½ cups fresh lime juice
- 1 small white onion, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
- Hot green chiles to taste (roughly 2 or 3 serranos or 1 large jalapeno), stemmed and roughly chopped
- ¼ cup pitted green olives, preferably manzanillos
- 1 large (about 10-ounce) ripe round tomato, cored, seeded (if you wish) and cut into ¼-inch pieces OR ¼ cup (lightly packed, about 1 ounce) soft sundried tomatoes, chopped into 1/8-inch pieces
- ¼ small jicama, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch pieces (optional, but suggested if using sundried tomatoes)
- ¼ cup (loosely packed) chopped fresh cilantro (thick bottom stems cut off)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- About 16 ounces of sturdy tortilla chips or 3- to 4-inch tostadas (preferably chips or tostadas from a local tortilleria), for serving
1. "Cook" the fish in the lime juice. In a large non-reactive bowl (stainless steel or glass are best), combine the fish, lime juice and onion. The fish cubes should float freely in the juice; if they don't, add a little more juice. Cover and refrigerate until the fish is as "done" as you like: 30 minutes to an hour for medium-rare, 3 to 4 hours for "cooked" all the way through. If you're planning to serve your ceviche on chips or tostadas, tip off all the lime juice; to serve in dishes or glasses, tip off about half the juice. (Sad to say that the juice is fishy tasting at this point and can't easily be used for another preparation or another round of ceviche. In Peru, however, they season it, pour it into shot glasses and serve it as sangre de tigre—tiger's blood.)
2. Flavor the ceviche. In a mini food processor, process the green chile and olives until finely chopped (or finely chopped by hand). Add to the fish along with the tomato, optional jicama, cilantro and olive oil. Stir well, then season with salt (usually about a scant teaspoon) and sugar. Refrigerate until ready to serve—preferably no longer than an hour or two. Serve the "dry" version with the chips or tostadas for your guests to use a little edible plates; serve the "wet" version in small dishes or glasses.