Chef Aarón Sánchez.

Restaurateur, cookbook author and Masterchef judge Aarón Sánchez recently graced Houston with a class at Central Market’s Cooking School. The El Paso native and co-owner of New Orleans restaurant Johnny Sánchez featured recipes from his latest cookbook, Simple Food, Big Flavor, and the demo was brimming with home cooks eager to whip up an elegant holiday meal that veered far from the standards.

A colorful mix of Sánchez’s humor, energetic banter with the audience, chef tips, and phenomenal fare—we each sampled five dishes—made it a class you didn’t want to end. Wines from Argentina’s celebrated Terrazas de los Andes were paired with the dishes, and that didn’t hurt either. 

Sánchez started with a roasted beet salad crowned with goat cheese and pepitas, which sounds ubiquitous, but being one of the leading contemporary Latin chefs in the world, his recipe (see below) was a riff on the classic.

Guests gleaned salad vinaigrette tips, like shaving garlic instead of chopping it to deliver the biggest flavor punch. “Great dressing is all about the correct ratio of ingredients,” said Sánchez, who likes lime juice for the acid component and agave syrup for balance. For spice, he chooses fresh jalapeños but roasts them first to mellow the heat.

Chef also suggests oiling the beets and then seasoning before roasting “so the seasoning has something to stick to.” The beet goes on: He tears the leafy beet greens into the salad and pickles the stems.

While the first course was light and lively and paired with a tangy young Torrontes 2017, the second course, grilled lobster tail Yucatan-style, was rich and succulent. It married with the silky, full-bodied Terrazas Chardonnay Riserva 2016. Subsequent meat courses, including swoon-worthy ancho Cabernet braised short ribs (recipe below), fragrant with fresh chiles and Mexican spices, were even more complex.

Sánchez poured three different malbecs, including a lush single vineyard Las Compuertas 2013 that was full of peppery spice. “Some feel daunted when it comes to wine pairings,” said Sánchez. “But really, there are no rules. Just have fun.” We’ll drink to that.

Recipes

Beet and goat cheese salad

“I like to serve this bright, rich, delicious salad around the holidays as a side to cut through all the heavy dishes that we love to indulge in. This balances out any meal, it’s an easy dish to make, and will elevate all of your gatherings," says Sánchez.

For roasting

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 medium fresh jalapeño
  • 3 large beets, scrubbed clean
  • salt and pepper to taste

For dressing

  • 1 roasted jalapeño, chopped and seeded (above)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup olive oil 

For salad

  • 1 bunch fresh kale, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 bag baby arugula
  • 4 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • ½ cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Trim roots and stems from beets. Coat the beets and jalapeño with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then place on the lined baking sheet.
  3. Roast the beets and jalapeño for 30 minutes. Remove the jalapeño from the baking sheet and set aside to use in the dressing. Turn the beets over. Continue roasting for another 5 to 10 minutes or until they are fork tender (Note: they may not need additional cooking if the beets are on the smaller side.) Remove the beets from the oven and let cool.
  4. While the beets are roasting, make the dressing: once the jalapeño is cool enough to handle, remove seeds and mince. In a bowl, whisk vinegar, lime juice, Dijon mustard, agave syrup, garlic and jalapeño. Then, slowly drizzle olive oil into the mixture, whisking constantly, until dressing is fully combined. Set aside 3 tablespoons for the beets. The rest of the dressing should be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before serving. 
  5. Peel the skins from the beets and cut into 1-inch cubes. Marinate with three tablespoons of the dressing and let rest in a covered bowl for approximately 30 minutes.
  6. In a large salad bowl combine the arugula, kale and cilantro and toss with some of the dressing. Lightly season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Add the marinated beets, pepitas and goat cheese. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ancho Cabernet braised short ribs from Aarón Sánchez.

Ancho Cabernet braised short ribs 

  • 6 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed
  • 1 cup yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup Terrazas Single Vineyard Los Aromas Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 thyme stems
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Lightly toast the chiles in a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat for approximately 30 seconds on each side, until fragrant, but not blackened. Transfer to a plate and cool. Transfer the chiles to a spice blender and grind into a powder. Set aside.
  3. Cut meat into small portions about 3 inches wide and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy pot with a lid, over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add meat and sear for approximately 3 minutes on each side, working in batches to avoid crowding, if necessary. Sear the meat until each piece has formed a uniformly brown crust on each side. Add more oil to the pot as needed, to prevent burning. As the pieces are ready, set aside on a plate.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium. Using the same pot, add the onion, celery and carrots and cook for approximately 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes, then add the tomato paste and cook for 2 more minutes.
  5. Pour in the wine and beef stock to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the ancho powder (above), cumin, pepper, oregano and thyme and turn the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Return the meat to the pot, cover and transfer to the oven to cook for approximately 3 hours, until the meat is tender.
  6. Carefully remove the meat from the braising liquid and strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer. Taste the sauce and add salt and fresh ground pepper, if needed. Serve immediately with a generous helping of the sauce.

Yield: 6 servings

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