Way out in the Pacific are the kinds of islands that make us dream. Or sing. Think the musical “South Pacific.” These tropical isles also yield some unbelievably tasty food. At EP & LP in West Hollywood, Chef Louis Tikaram has built a menu around Fijian flavors that also taps his Chinese and Indian roots. Chef Louis recommends diners coming to the restaurant for the first time order the kokoda, a dish that’s similar to ceviche, and is often served with rice. Maybe he will let me borrow the EP & LP cleaver to crack open the coconut.
LOUIS TIKRAM’S FIJIAN SNAPPER KOKODA
This is a traditional Fijian seafood dish that can be enjoyed on its own or part of a shared meal with or without steamed rice. The kokoda should taste sour, salty and spicy with a creamy richness from the fresh coconut milk.
8 oz snapper fillet
1 Roma tomato
1 mature coconut
1 scud* or bird’s eye chile pepper
1 long red chile pepper
A pinch of salt
A heavy knife or cleaver
A coconut scraper
For the coconut milk: Crack open the coconut using the back of a heavy knife or cleaver, aiming at the very center. The coconut should split in half. (You can either discard or save the coconut water for drinking.) Next, use a scraper to remove the white flesh from the inside of the coconut, making sure to avoid the brown membrane.
Transfer the grated coconut flesh to a blender filled with a quarter cup of water. Blend and then transfer the mixture to a fine-mesh cheesecloth. Squeeze out the milk until you have half a cup of coconut milk. Repeat as necessary, then reserve and set aside.
Prepare the snapper: Remove the skin, bones and any veins from the snapper fillet. Divide the flesh into thin strips and reserve in refrigerator.
Meanwhile, cut the tomato into quarters, then deseed and dice the segments into ¼-inch cubes. Finely slice the shallots and the scud or birds’s eye pepper. Then, slice the long red chile pepper in half, length-wise and deseed. Using your knife, remove a thin layer of the chile pepper’s inner flesh so that you end up with long ribbons. Now slice the pepper horizontally into short strips.
Assemble the kokoda: In a medium-sized bowl, mix the snapper with a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of lime juice to partially cook the fish. Add the diced tomatoes, shallot slices, chile peppers and coconut milk. Stir to combine. Taste and season with more lime juice and salt, as necessary.
Transfer to a shallow bowl and serve immediately.
*A note from the chef: My sous chef in Sydney coined the term “scud pepper,” a reference to a scud missile since this pepper is so hot it might blow your head off.