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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Kitchen disaster leads to discovery

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Disasters do happen in the kitchen — and thank goodness, when the result is an unintended but inspired new recipe.

Such was the case with a new menu item at Chef Mavro: a "Hawaiian seviche," featuring crunchy green ogo from Moloka'i, silky sashimi-grade 'ahi, salty 'opihi and chewy-sweet tako (octopus). It's a preparation you could easily re-create at home.

The dish was originally meant to showcase fresh abalone that a friend proposed to supply to Mavro from California. He spent days considering how to best present the sweet, subtly flavored shellfish, eventually deciding on a light, contemporary version of the national dish of Peru, seviche (aka ceviche) — a first course or pupu in which fish or shellfish is "cooked" by means of the acid in citrus fruit.

Peruvian restaurants called cevicherias vie in making this dish. The standard preparation employs a particular type of sweet-tart lemon, akin to the Key limes of Florida; small chunks of a white, fine-textured fish called corbina (or corvino) or, alternatively, shrimp; the fiery aji amarillo chili pepper; shaved red onion; diced cooked potato (often sweet potato) and juicy kernels of fresh corn.

Mavro was ready to test his seviche recipe with abalone when he found out what his supplier would charge: so exorbitant a price that the salad would cost as much as the rest of the meal.

Disaster! Still, the ingredients he had assembled, and the presentation idea he had devised, seemed too good to abandon, so he decided to make use of Island seafood instead.

In contrast to the acid-marinated seviches of Peru and elsewhere, Mavro employs a very light hand. The 'ahi, 'opihi and tako are first napped in a little extra-virgin olive oil to prevent the acid from burning the delicate seafood. When the order comes in, they're tossed with a salad of snipped ogo, peppery Sumida watercress sprigs, chopped sugar snap peas, shaved red onion, fresh Kahuku corn kernels, diced cooked new potato, minute slivers of red bell pepper, cilantro and sea salt. A wide shallow bowl is lined with salted shaved ice and a ti leaf serves as a plate atop this cool base. The dish is finished with just 1 demitasse spoon of lime juice and 2 of lemon. It's best eaten with chopsticks on a sort of voyage of discovery, each mouthful a distinct experience.

Disaster deliciously averted.