This month’s victim: Cynthia Urbina, part of the dynamic kitchen staff at the Gilded Iguana. Matt, Joellen and Dino enjoy introducing new ingredients to the kitchen, encouraging staff to be creative with new flavors while learning new dishes. Every staff member has passion for food and experience in the kitchen, but not one person is “the chef.” The team works together, several food specialists working like cogs in a well-oiled machine, even on a 200-plus Tuesday night.
The Gilded Iguana’s kitchen philosophy intends to develop flexible skills and drive within their staff, assisting them gain practical experience and skills on the job while training each how to head their own kitchen someday.
Scene of the crime: The Gilded Iguana, Playa Guiones. Probably best known for live music on Tuesday nights, this hotel and restaurant has an informal but comfortable feel. Beyond the open-air restaurant, there is a vast amount of lounge space scattered about, including a pool bar that is open to the public from noon until 6PM everyday. Serving an extensive menu of perfectly prepared items for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday, the whole family is sure to find something (there is a kid’s section). The Gilded Iguana is a confident response to, “where shall we eat?”
The Stolen Recipe: From the “Fresh Catch” menu, we are trying the “Poached Sea-bass in Fennel Tequila Cream Sauce” (8000 colones). How did fennel debut on the menu? It was an accident; they ordered bok choy and fennel showed up. To avoid wasting the anise-scented vegetable, and in line with the Iguana spirit, they decided to experiment and put it to use. A bit of kitchen research reveals that fennel goes well with fish and tequila.
Steps to preparing Tequila Poached Sea Bass:
• Select a thick chunk of fresh sea bass, 250 - 275 grams (about 8-9 ounces).
• Fennel is prepared ahead of time, about 2-3 ounces of chopped stalk and sprigs per serving.
||Start with a heated pan, dropping in a few tablespoons of butter and most of your chopped fennel, reserving the rest for a later addition and a few sprinklings to adorn the plate before serving. Sauté briefly, adding a half-shot of tequila. Chef’s tip: to burn off the tequila taste, shake the pan over the flame to ignite the tequila (making it flambé).
Add the fish and enough milk to bubble up around the fish. The boiling liquid will poach the fish. As milk boils off, it leaves a thick skin that will be the base of the resulting sauce. The fillet cooks about 15 minutes total, depending on the thickness of the fish fillet. Chef’s tip: to shorten cooking time of a thick cut of fish, slice steak sideways into center of cut, like a half-butterfly.
In the last three minutes of cooking, add a few tablespoons of cream and another half-shot of tequila to finish the sauce and give it a fresh, tequila overtone. Chef’s tip: for a lighter sauce, milk is used in the first addition and cream is used just to finish the dish. For a richer sauce, use cream in both additions.
The plate is prepared with rice and house signature julienne vegetables just before the special sea bass lands on it. Sauce drizzles over the top of the fish as the final shreds of fennel are sprinkled over the plate.
We may now enjoy this delightful meal; bringing another tough question: what should one drink with this fish? Plenty of options are available. If your palette prefers a light, white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc, you will enliven the rich, buttery base of the sauce. If you prefer a beer, try a Toña. Allow it to slice that into that richness and open the subtle notes of fennel poached into the fish. If tequila is your muse, the house recommends sipping on a passion fruit margarita while waiting for the main dish to hit the table.
The spirited passion within this staff for flavors and freshness are an indication that whatever you choose, it’s likely to hit the spot.