Chef Chat: Cilantro lends bright flavors to a variety of dishes

2014-03-19T00:00:00Z Chef Chat: Cilantro lends bright flavors to a variety of dishesBy Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Cilantro loves these (relatively) cool days, and fresh bunches are crowding the supermarket.

Which makes Pastiche’s executive chef Tim Moore very happy.

“I love cilantro,” says Moore, who has been at the restaurant for about eight years, and its head chef for two.

“It’s my favorite herb.”

Moore has been exploring foods since he first started working in a restaurant when he was 15.

“At the time, it was just a high school job,” says Moore, 28, a Tucson native and graduate of Canyon del Oro High School.

“I went from dishwasher to the sandwich line to prep to manager.”

That manager job was the “ah-ha” moment for him.

“That’s when I learned I liked working with food the most,” says the self-taught chef.

And if he had to zero in on one thing he likes making best, it would be sauces.

“A proper sauce is essential,” says Moore. “A horrible sauce can turn a dish to garbage, or it can transform a plate.”

But they aren’t the easiest, he admits.

“They do take a lot of care. You have to put your heart and soul into it — babysit and watch it.”

But not are all that labor-intensive, such as the Green Harissa sauce/marinade he shared with us — with the key ingredient his favorite, cilantro.

“Cilantro became popular a few years ago,” says Moore. “Many chefs say it’s a fall back.”

He disagrees.

“Fresh, it has a beautiful aroma; it brightens up everything. I love that it can bring out other spices, or it can add a citrusy brightness to things. It has a very uplifting, vibrant flavor.”

Ah, but there can be too much of a good thing.

“You can definitely overdo cilantro,” he says. “It can take control of whatever you are putting it in. You want the flavor, but you don’t want it to be overwhelming.”

Cooking it robs it of its sparkle, so Moore uses it in uncooked sauces, such as a salsa or a marinade, or adds after cooking is completed.

“I use it as a kind of finishing note,” he said.

And a word of caution — if your cilantro tastes soapy, here’s why:

“If it’s overchopped, it gets that weird soapy flavor,” says Moore. “Just do a rough chop.”

Thinking about throwing it into a blender? Don’t, he advises — that has the same effect as overchopping.

“But if you put it in a food processor with an oil, it won’t bruise,” he says.

Moore loves Green Harissa because it’s so versatile.

“You can use it on fish or seafood,” he says. “I’ve never tried it on chicken, but I’m sure it would work just as well. It’s also good in rice, couscous, or to sauté vegetables in.”

And it’s not just good as a marinade, he added.

“You can add some oil and call it a sauce, or make it thicker and it’ll be a paste,” he says. “You can tweak it and make it whatever you want it to be.”

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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