Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Taste of Carica

One of the many delights of dining out is discovering something new. Last week I had a wonderful dinner at Sbicca in Del Mar. The restaurant, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, continues to draw big crowds, even on a week night.

Before I went to dinner I had gone online to check out the menu and noticed an interesting reference to carica, as in carica salsa and carica chutney. Somehow I'd missed carica -- I hadn't seen it on any other local menu -- but after some research I learned that it's a tropical fruit indigenous to Chile and related to papaya. In fact, locally, it is called papaya.

It's a beautiful looking fruit, honey colored with an elongated star shape. And, it's the fruit that has launched a new Chilean agribusiness company for the U.S. market. If you like carica, you owe some thanks to an MBA banker named Daniel Vitis, who collaborated with a Chilean agribusiness group called Tamaya. In 2004, according to Business Chile, they went into partnership and formed Tamaya Gourmet and immediately changed the papaya name to something more exotic, Chilean carica (taken from its scientific name, caricacea pubescens).



Four years later, this delicate fruit has become one hot product, sold in bottles, already cooked with a syrupy juice. With flavors that are reminiscent of the tropical fruits we already know--papaya, mango, pineapple, guava--the fruit and the juice are really versatile, used for everything from sauces and protein accompaniments to vinaigrettes and sophisticated drinks like Chilean Carica Martinis.

At Sbicca, I chose the coconut panko prawns with ginger carica salsa and wasabi-ponzu drizzle for a first course. The prawns were delicious, crispy on the outside but juicy within and the salsa, with its sweet exotic flavors, perfectly complemented them. It was easy to pull out the flavor and texture of the carica in the salsa, which reminded me of mangoes but with a hint of pineapple-like tartness. It married beautifully with the salsa's ginger and jalapeños. Chef/owner Susan Sbicca was kind enough to give me the recipe to share:

Coconut Prawns with Carica Salsa

Coconut Prawns

12 large prawns (peeled and deveined, tail intact)

Bowl of flour (for dredging)

½ cup Coconut milk

2 large eggs

½ tsp vanilla

¼ tsp salt

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs

2 tbls olive oil

Preparation:

Bowl 1: Mix together coconut milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt

Bowl 2: Breading mix together shredded coconut and panko bread crumbs

Directions:

Toss prawns in flour and shake off excess

Place floured prawns together into Bowl 1

Then roll prawns in breading mix (Bowl 2)

Heat olive oil in non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat

Sauté prawns until golden brown, turn and cook until completely brown

Remove and place on paper towels (if necessary to drain excess oil)

Serve Immediately with Carica Salsa (below)


Carica Salsa

1 cup carica fruit diced

1 small jalapeño seeded and minced

1 tsp fresh ginger grated

2 tbls apple cider vinegar

½ tsp sesame oil

3 tbls cilantro chopped

Directions:

Mix ingredients together in a bowl.


Susan also uses the carica juice in her truffled mixed greens avocado salad, which includes shaved red onion, tear drop tomatoes, French feta and carica vinaigrette. And, on the Sbicca website you can find a delightful recipe for pan-seared scallops with artichoke hearts, saffron-sherry cream and roasted peppers accompanied by carica chutney.

Susan gets her carica from Chef's Warehouse, which also sells to retail customers. Locally, the closest you can find carica in a store is at Gelson's Market, which isn't in San Diego but there is a store in Dana Point if you're up that way. And, of course, can find it online everywhere from Tamaya Gourmet to Amazon.com.



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