Scallop Gratinéed at Taco María
A Classic Reborn
Carlos Salgado’s food is thoughtful, it’s smart, and it’s well put together – all qualities that the chef himself also exudes. Eavesdropping as he discusses dishes with his team offers a glimpse into the mind of one of the truly unique chefs in Orange County. Salgado’s brain bubbles with fresh ideas while also showing reverence for culture and history. Even the name of his restaurant is a nod to his roots, honoring his mother, restaurateur Maria Salgado, and all of the “Marías” in his family.
Salgado’s scallops gratinéed are perfect evidence of his ability to turn classic Mexican ingredients into modern fine dining, while keeping flavors balanced. The scallop is barbecued and replated in its shell, on top of melted queso menonita (cheese that was traditionally made by Mennonites living in Chihuahua). It’s topped with squid ink crumb, ancho chile salsa and a hint of lemon.
“Primarily food should be honest,” the chef explains, “then it can be presented beautifully … but simply.”
Salgado’s dish feels both satisfying and light on the palate. The cheese isn’t overpowering and doesn’t seem out of place paired with seafood. The salsa is light on spice but deep in flavor, and the lemon, which gets overdone on so many seafood dishes, is mild. This is Salgado’s sweet: traditional culture while never lacking in technique or creativity. The “Marías” would be proud.
Taco Maria, 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa 714.538.8444 :: tacomaria.com
Salsa de Aceite
Grapeseed or canola oil . . . . 4 cups
Ancho chile, dry, stemmed . . . . 1 cup (packed)
Chile de arbol, dry, stemmed . . . . 2 pcs.
Garlic, minced . . . . 4 tsp
Black garlic, whole* . . . . 3 cloves
Cumin seed, whole . . . . ½ tsp
*Available at Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and other specialty markets.
Toast the cumin slowly in a pan over medium heat. Cool and grind into a fine powder.
Remove the stems from the chiles and place them in a pot with the oil. Warm slowly over medium heat until they smell nutty and darken, but do not allow them to fully toast or burn. Halt the cooking by removing the pan from the heat.
Add the garlic, black garlic and cumin seed, and stir. The garlic will sizzle a bit and begin to caramelize. Control the heat to avoid scorching the garlic.
When completely cooled, puree in batches in the blender by pulsing the blender to achieve a coarse texture.
Pair the salsa with roasted meats, green vegetables, eggs or rice and beans. It is not very spicy but is full of deep flavor and aroma.