You don’t become one of the top chefs on the planet without having a few tricks and techniques up your sleeve. But through all the flambéing and sous viding, Virgilio Martínez of Lima’s Central Restaurante often returns to one rather simple technique…
What I like is the caramelisation that you get searing vegetables, meats, fish, etc. – all types of searing are great. And also, after searing, infusing: I get delicious stocks after adding a liquid to the caramelisation of a meat, fish, herb or vegetable.
I use searing every day – this is something normal here at Central, because we like tasty and natural stocks. We also like techniques that don’t demand a lot of processes, and searing and infusing are something you can easily control regarding consistency, taste and texture. For instance, we prepare a seared octopus and then infuse it in a stock – we call this dish Close Fishing. We present the octopus covered by its coral and the stock, which is the juice of its cooking, on the side. This way you’d be ‘drinking’ the caramelisation of the octopus.
It would be really difficult to list all the things that you can sear well – it all depends on the taste of the product. For example, I can say that a stock made of caramelised tree tomatoes [tamarillos] would be super delicious, very umami. Infusions of other types of vegetables, like leeks, would also be really good, but most of all, it’s really tasty to sear certain meats.
A quick way to try your hand at searing is to get 1.2 kg of octopus. First cut off the head and then the extremities. Sear the head and the tentacles in olive oil until caramelised, then add clam stock and infuse at 70ºC for 1 hour and twenty minutes. Then strain and let it cool down.
For more practice, truly adventurous home chefs can try Virgilio’s Seared Octopus with Hot Ceviche Sauce: Get the recipe here
Currently topping the list of Latin America’s Best Restaurants, and clocking in at number 4 in the world, Virgilio Martínez’s Central Restaurante in Lima is part of a food revival that’s putting Peruvian cuisine centre stage in the gourmet theatre – and Martínez is one of the headlining acts. In a world where Peruvian ingredients are already exotic, he’s known for sourcing the most outlandish of the bunch (think high Andean potatoes and wild foraged quinoa) and weaving them into dishes as fascinating as they are paradoxical – where ingredients older than history meet techniques born just yesterday. Martínez’s modern Peruvian cuisine can be sampled in Cuzco at his restaurant Senzo, as well as outside of Peru at his two restaurants in London – Lima Fitzrovia and Lima Floral – and one soon to be opened in Dubai. centralrestaurante.com.pe
Virgilio is a master at explaining often difficult culinary techniques. So much so that we will surely all now be tempted to rush off to the kitchen to practice our searing moves. Just between us, though, how would you describe your skills at this culinary technique?