T.J. Steele, executive chef and owner of one-MICHELIN-starred Mexican restaurant Claro, in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, has been making the most of his summer. On many days during the week, you’ll find him up at Blooming Hill Farm in Monroe, New York—a quick hour-and-a-half drive from the five boroughs—where he’s gathering all manner of the season’s bounty, including tomatillos, a wealth of chiles, wild greens, watercress, purslane and amaranth. (Clearly, the tip of the iceberg.) He’s been quite proud of his menu this summer.
“Being a Mexican restaurant and trying to be seasonal, . . . it’s really important to have a lot of good tomatoes, tomatillos and chiles—it’s the backbone of what we do,” he says while gathering a haul from the farm.
The chef, who opened Claro two years ago, melds New York’s seasonality with his time spent in Oaxaca. Steele frequents the Oaxacan region four times a year (at the very least, anyway), to develop new concepts and touch base with his producers. (All the restaurant's corn is imported from Oaxaca, and a smattering of plates are delivered from artisan producer Francisco Martínez Alarzón of Santa María Atzompa.)
Looking ahead, Steele plans to open a casual mariscos concept. “I want to keep with the focus on corn [that’s] non-gmo and organic,” he adds. “I want to give people more options that are [both] good food and gluten-free.”
Currently on the menu is a pig’s head tostada served with pickled peppers, zesty lime mayonnaise, chicharrónes and salsa verde. And with summer coming to a close, the time is now to try your hand at Steele’s recipe below.
Cabeza TostadaCourtesy of Chef/Owner T.J. Steele, Claro, New York City
For the Cabeza:
1 pig head
10 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cup avocado leaves
¼ cup star anise
¼ cup black peppercorns
1 cup cabeza, diced in medium-sized cubes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
½ cup pickled peppers, chopped (recipe below)
Lime mayonnaise (recipe below)
Salsa verde (recipe below)
For the Cabeza:
Place all ingredients in a large pot and cover with water. Poach for about 4 hours or until meat pulls easily away from skull. Once meat is finished, pull out from water and let it cool. When cool enough to handle, pick out any extra bones, hair and white fat. Place the edible parts in a baking dish using it as a mold. Place in the refrigerator and chill overnight.
Gently heat the cabeza in a pan and season with salt and pepper. Then place in a mixing bowl with pickled peppers. Spread some mayonnaise on to one side of the tostada, then place cabeza and peppers on top. Garnish with salsa verde, cilantro and chicharrón cubes.
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3 egg yolks
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons agave
2 cups neutral oil
Place egg yolks, lime zest and juice, garlic, mustard, and agave in the bowl of a food processor. Turn on the processor. While it’s running, slowly drizzle in oil, then add salt and citric acid. Check mayonnaise for flavor and consistency.
2 cups cider vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup water
2 garlic cloves
1/8 cup peppercorns
5 whole star anise
3 carrots, peeled
1 red onion, cut into medium-dice
2 jalepeño peppers
2 cherry bomb peppers
12 aji dulce peppers
Place the first nine ingredients in a pot over medium-high heat. Cut slits in the bottom of the peppers. Once liquid is up to a boil, blanch the carrots for about 2 minutes. Remove and do the same with onions for about 1 minute, then remove. Next do the peppers for about 2 minutes then place the carrots, onions and peppers in a large container and pour the liquid over and let it sit for about 2 hours.
2 serrano peppers
1 bunch cilantro
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Roast tomatillos on a comal or flat top until they’re soft and slightly charred. Purée slowly, being careful not to crush the seeds. Strain and cool. Purée everything else in a blender, add the puréed tomatillos, and season with salt and sugar.
Image by T.J. Steele.