COURTESY TONY LIU
Tony Liu attempted to reign supreme on "Iron Chef America." CLICK FOR LARGE
'Iron Chef' challenger builds on his local roots in a battle over opah
"Iron Chef America"
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Kaiser High School graduate Tony Liu, owner of the restaurant August in New York City, made a name for himself this week on the Food Network's "Iron Chef America," using the secret ingredient of opah, or moonfish, an island favorite.
Cooking off against iron chef Mario Batali, Liu prepared six opah-inspired courses, beginning with a nod toward home, a poke dish.
"I'm very frugal, so I try to make use of the whole fish, from the fins to the skin to the different cuts of meat," he said. It's a personal philosophy, but also part of the competition to serve the secret ingredient in "as many forms and shapes as possible."
Poke with fried ogo (seaweed), chives, chili oil and toasted inamona (kukui nuts) kicked off Liu's presentation.
Tahitian-style poisson cru came next, beginning with fish cured in lime juice. Incorporating an unorthodox technique, he also made a purée of spinach and coconut cream. He put a can of coconut milk in the freezer to separate the water from fat, and when it was time to use the ingredient, he opened the can from the bottom to drain the water. The fatty part was sautéed with onions and spinach, which helped him to obtain a "tighter purée."
Next came bruschetta with butter beans and artichokes and preserved opah -- what Liu called a "very Tuscan dish" prepared in a pressure cooker.
Liu serves a lot of Greek food at his restaurant, so he also chose to prepare a souvlaki, using the spines from an opah fin as skewers. To challenge the strong flavor and oiliness in the shoulder portion of the fish, he incorporated lemon zest, garlic and dried oregano, and served it over a salad of parsley, capers, red onions, mint dill, red wine vinegar and mint oil.
He also used the bones and skin to make opah pil-pil, a Spanish sauce that he described as "silky and gelatinous," and braised the fish in it.
Opah chowder was the final dish. He cooked the fatty opah skin and "treated it like bacon," smoking it, then blending it with a white wine sauce, clams, onions and a parsley purée.
Despite all that effort, Batali won the Kitchen Stadium match.
"I'm sorry I couldn't bring home the gold for Hawaii," said Liu. "But just to be on the show was good enough for me."