Flavors of faraway lands inspire a best-selling starter at San Diego’s casually hip Jsix.
This article first appeared in the 15 October 2005 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA’s leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website www.foodservice411.com
By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor
Motorcycling through southern Europe and northern Africa, Executive Chef Deborah Schneider fell in love — with a place and also with the bright, bold flavors of Spain and Morocco. Twenty-five years later, the regional cuisines color her cooking at 7-month-old Jsix and Jbar in San Diego, where a starter of Moroccan lamb skewers with green-olive-orange relish is the menu’s hottest ticket.
Inspiration came from similar recipes traditional to both regions: grilled pork skewers in Spain and flavor-rich lamb skewers in Morocco. For her version, Schneider chose lamb rather than pork, which can dry out under the grill’s high heat, or chicken, whose mild profile would be lost amid the spice blend. In early trials, she purchased whole legs of lamb, cleaning and breaking them down in house, but the labor-intensive process prompted her to try prepared 2-ounce cubes.
To let flavor permeate the lamb, Schneider coats it with a paste of cumin, Spanish paprika, oregano, crushed chile de arbol, salt and black pepper mixed with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. The meat stands for at least an hour though often overnight.
Her travel memories had a lot to do with the rub’s flavor profile. “In Spain, paprika dominates, and in North Africa, garlic and cumin dominate, so I landed in the middle and added oregano for its herbiness,” she says. Chile de arbol contributes full flavor with mildly spicy undertones that allow diners to experience the essence of heat without being scorched with full fire. Speared on 6-inch bamboo skewers, the meat is embellished with red-onion wedges.
For an accompaniment that stands up to the assertively spiced lamb, Schneider’s dedication to local, seasonal produce led her to the mild green olives abundant in San Diego. The olives—pitted, coarsely chopped and mixed with garlic, olive oil, orange juice, salt and cracked black pepper— unite the preparation with salty, sweet and pungent accord. A spoonful of olive relish, a handful of locally grown cherry tomatoes and lemon wedges finish the plating.