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Dish R&D: Sweet Corn Tamale

13 December 2006

A craveworthy meatless recipe expands appeal beyond vegetarian diners at upscale-casual restaurant SouthWest NY Miami.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2006 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 here >>

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

DISH: Sweet Corn Tamale
COMPOSITION: masa harina, vegetable shortening, poblano chiles, Chihuahua cheese, corn husks, cilantro lime-grilled corn salsa, yellow rice, beans
CONVENIENCE PRODUCTS: none; canned corn or chiles could be used
MENU PRICE: $7.95
FOOD COST: 22%

Meatless choices that come across as both interesting and up-market are essential on nearly any menu. They're a draw not just for vegetarians but for others as well, a growing group of diners that exercises and embraces multiple eating styles. Operators eager to position vegetarian entrées as more than niche sellers find plenty of tasty fodder in ethnic fare. At SouthWest NY Miami, Corporate Chef Wade Burch turns to a Mexican classic with that goal in mind. He calls on simple ingredients and timeless appeal for sweet corn tamales with cilantro lime-grilled corn salsa.

SouthWest NY serves a business clientele in New York City's Financial District, while the new location inhabits a mall in Miami's resort-driven Doral community. Among its patrons are international tourists unfamiliar with the concept's French- and Latin-tinged Southwestern cuisine. Tamales, approachable and familiar, are a welcome item.

Unlike the extravagantly sauced, meat-filled tamales of his Texas youth, Burch says adorning the vegetable-filled tamales with fresh salsa allows the sweet-corn flavor to shine. For the dough, he replaces lard with vegetable shortening and, instead of chicken stock, uses roasted-corn stock, a strategy that strengthens and ehnances the dominant flavor. Strips of Chihuahua cheese and roasted poblanos are placed on top and the mixture is rolled into fat, husk-encased cigars for steaming. Poblanos, mildly spicy but deeply flavored, are Burch's top choice, the easy roasting, peeling and ability to hold their shape making them ideal candidates for the job.

Of the cheese, Burch says, "Chihuahua has a little tang but not too much. It's spongy and melts nicely. A crumbly cheese such as cotija or queso fresco wouldn't work because the tamales cook so long; they could get rubbery and hard," Cheese with higher moisture and fat content works better in foods that are frozen and reheated, which Burch may decide to do to if volume demands it.

For the salsa, grilled sweet corn is accented with red onion, red and green peppers, jalapeño, cilantro and garlic. Burch tosses the blend with extra-virgin olive oil, Spanish sherry vinegar, lime juice and honey, which helps bind the mixture. SouthWest NY Miami will menu the tamales all year by sourcing fresh corn globally.

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