This summer, local flavors and contemporary techniques converged in modern coastal Mexican cuisine at UNICO 20°87°, an adults-only all-inclusive resort on the Gulf of Mexico shore. The two-month-long Superbia Summer event featured bar and restaurant takeovers from Michelin-starred chefs.
As a courtesy of the resort, I got a firsthand taste of the gastronomic creations of Chef Kiko Moya, who has been awarded best chef of the year in Spain for his restaurant L’ESCALETA in Alicante, Spain. This second-generation family restaurant has been awarded two Michelin stars and three Repsol Guide Suns (a coveted Spanish culinary award).
Five distinct restaurants inhabit UNICO 20°87°, each with a menu inspired by local provenance of Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula. For the week I visited, Moya took over Cueva Sieta, or “the Mexican restaurant” as the staff charmingly referred to it. Spanish and Mexican cuisines mingled to create a unique tasting experience featuring fresh seafood such as mero (grouper) and prawn, along with indigenous herbs and flavorful spices.
“It’s been a great experience because I can show my technique, and they can show their native cuisine,” Moya says.
L’ESCALETA received its first Michelin Star in 2000, when Moya’s father and uncle were at the helm, and its second in 2016 after it had been passed down to their sons: Moya and his cousin, the restaurant’s sommelier. Moya believes the work of a chef today is to show your guests your environment, which is why he chooses to work with local farmers to bring the highest quality ingredients to his kitchen.
Bring a taste of the Gulf into your home before summer’s end with this simple ceviche recipe from Sous Chef Ivon Antunez of Cueva Sieta at UNICO 20°87°, who helped Chef Moya re-create the L’ESCALETA experience. Ceviche is a traditional Latin American dish typically made with fresh seafood that is cured in citric juices. The acid from lime juice changes the structure of the proteins in the fish, essentially “cooking” it without using heat.
I think this dish perfectly highlights Mexico’s proximity to the sea with its fresh seafood, bright citrus flavors and fresh vegetables. It’s a light, refreshing food experience that also leaves you satisfied.
When making ceviche, the most important thing to get right is using fish that is as fresh as possible. This recipe uses grouper, which is abundant in the Gulf of Mexico. But if fresh grouper is not available where you live, another white fish with mild flavor will also work. Alternatively, try shrimp or octopus in place of fish. The grilled pineapple in this recipe adds a nice sweet flavor that mixes well with the citrus. Replace the pineapple for mango to try another sweet fruit if you wish.
Ceviche with Grilled Pineapple
Juice from 1½ limes, or enough to cover the fish
½ sliced white onion
1 chopped cucumber
2 cups diced grilled pineapple
1 pound grouper, cut into ½-inch cubes
Arugula for garnish (optional)
Cilantro for garnish (optional)
Sliced habaneros for garnish (optional)
1. In a large stainless-steel bowl, marinate the fresh fish in lime juice for 5 minutes, until the fish appears white. If you’re using shrimp, marinate for 3 to 5 minutes, until shrimp turn pink. If you’re using octopus, marinate for 90 minutes.
2. Add 3 pinches of salt.
3. In another bowl, make salsa by combining onion, cucumber and pineapple.
4. When the fish is done marinating, combine the two components.
5. Add arugula, if desired, and more pineapple, lime juice and salt if needed.
6. Garnish with cilantro leaves or habanero slices if you want some heat.
7. Serve in a shallow dish along with some crispy tortilla chips and a cold cucumber seltzer water.
8. Relax and enjoy!