Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mexican Hot Dogs and Popcorn Ceviche: An Evening at Las Peliculas

I was recently inspired to recreate classic junk food as a fine dining dish. I wish I could say that the inspiration came from some ironic life experience like happening to walk past Gramercy Tavern while eating a Twinkie, but it was actually just a quickfire challenge on Top Chef Masters.

Lachlan Patterson from Boulder, CO, who won a James Beard Award and Best New Chef from Food & Wine, made a popcorn ceviche for his appearance as a contestant on Masters. I decided to steal his idea. And the other junk food I was craving? Hot dogs. Apparently it's been a while since I went to the movies.

But how do you turn hot dogs into a gourmet plate? Has anything remotely sophisticated ever been paired with dogs? If so, was that a wise decision? As inclined as I am towards innovation, I was not prepared to be the first person in culinary history to waste caviar or pate upon a wiener.

Mexican hot dogs would have to suffice. These francos double the guilty pleasure of the relatively tame American version. They're wrapped with bacon, stuffed with jalapenos, beans, tomatoes and onions, and caressed with mayonaisse, ketchup, and mustard. I used Smart Bacon and Smart Dog JUMBO Veggie Protein Links because the judge, Marcy the vegetarian, likes her hot dogs intelligent.

The menu was already pretty theateresque with my popcorn and hot dogs, and I decided to embrace the movie theme. A South American movie theme, at that.

I paid a visit to a movie theater in Chevy Chase to pick up a few accessories for the dinner table: Good & Plenty's and Raisinets. I also wanted some empty drink cups to serve the popcorn, but Jarrod, the pimply counter boy, was apparently angling for Mazza Gallerie employee of the week and refused to give me the cups free of charge. After a tense five minutes arguing that he was wasting his youth unless he rebelled against the corporate machine, I paid nine bucks for two empty soda cups.
Back home, I got to work on the ceviche. I'd already bought some black tiger shrimp from A&H Seafood Co in Bethesda and marinated it in orange and lime juice. I now mixed this marinade with a sauce of tomato juice, sriracha, cilantro, onions, and suprisingly good avocados. Surprising, because I found them at Giant. I ladled the finished product into a couple of martini glasses.
I tore open a bag of popcorn, drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled on some cayenne pepper. Some of the popcorn was applied as a garnish for the ceviche, the rest filled the exhorbitantly expensive soda cups.

At 8:30, just as I'd added the final touches - adorning the placemats with the movie candy - there was a knock at the door. I'd purposely scheduled a late dinner to ensure that Marcy would be hungry - typically guaranteeing a 1-2 point spike in my grade - and we wasted little time before diving in. The hot dogs were excellent considering that they were made out of soy, wheat gluten, and "evaporated cane juice." Marcy said the highlight of the ceviche was the avocado, although I noted that the sauce had turned it slightly soggy.

It was time for my grade. For all this creativity and attention to aesthetics, would you believe that I was rewarded with nothing more than a lowly 93? Marcy deducted points because she suspected a low degree of difficulty. Were my verbal fisticuffs with Jarrod not difficult? She agreed to raise the score to a 95, but I continued to sulk before reviving my spirits with multiple handfuls of Raisinets.

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