Carrying the Torch
When chef Enrique Olvera walks into our Test Kitchen to make an octopus cocktail (see the recipe), the first thing he does is ask for a blowtorch.
Blue flame ablaze, he sets about charring a handful of habanero peppers, turning the outsides completely black, before moving on to scorch a few avocado wedges for good measure.
"Charring habaneros is a technique that's popular in the Yucatán Peninsula," Olvera tells us. "It releases all of the pepper's heat."
Olvera—the chef of Mexico City's critically acclaimed Pujol and New York City's avant-garde Cosme—serves the dish at Manta, his new restaurant at The Cape, a Thompson Hotel perched on the seaside of Cabo San Lucas. At the restaurant, his latest endeavor to further Mexican cuisine, Olvera marries local seafood with Peruvian and Japanese techniques.
"There's a relationship between the three cuisines—the Japanese sashimi, the tiradito in Peru—but we'll interchange techniques between the cultures," Olvera says as he carefully lowers a whole four-pound octopus into a massive pot of boiling water.
The octopus aguachile he's making follows that lead: There's a Japanese element—soy sauce—in the mellowed-out habanero vinaigrette. The extremely dark-hued but vibrant sauce still has subtle heat and a dose of acid from lime and orange juice, enveloping tentacle-on coins of braised octopus, wedges of blackened avocado, half moons of cucumber (which soak up some of the dressing quite nicely), pickled onions and cilantro leaves.
"The octopus cocktail is very traditional in Mexico. You get a profound taste from the habanero but also the crispness from the lime," Olvera says. "It's actually very earthy."
And the dish is exactly the type of food he serves at Manta—crisp, light, refreshing, with an eye on the sea.
"You can look good in a bathing suit the next day," Olvera jokes. "You should eat this on the beach with a beer."
Funny, that's exactly where we'd like to be right now.
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