Cooks in the Kitchen: Vesta Dipping Grill

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Courtesy of ©Jennifer Olson Photography
Chef Matt Selby

Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver is known for its many sauces. Thirty-six dipping sauces altogether.

We meet Vesta’s chef, Matt Selby as part of our series “Cooks in the Kitchen.” We’re talking with chefs who are divulging their secrets in new cookbooks. His is called “Beyond the Sauce.” Selby is also the culinary brains behind Steuben's in Denver.

Listen to last week's conversation with chef Jennifer Jasinski.

Ginger chili seared tuna with spicy udon noodles with green papaya salad

Serves 4

This tuna marinade has changed very little, if at all, since early 1998. The sides have changed, but the tuna itself is just one of those crowd-pleasers that is hard to touch. We sort of use it as a benchmark or challenge to our chefs and cooks. You can run specials, and you can certainly take a crack at any preparation you want. But it better be better than what it is now to go on the menu.

For the tuna, you want to buy thick blocks, rather than large, almost round thin pieces. Don’t be afraid to make nice with your butchers and fishmongers. They will certainly be open and receptive to the friendly regular over the demanding newcomer!

Green papaya is unripe papaya. It is green both in color and age. It’s used mainly in Thai cooking, but can also be found in other Asian, and sometimes Latino, cuisines. You can find it in Asian markets. If you can’t find it, purchase fresh and ripe papaya, and skip the poaching process. Most of the time green papaya is blanched, and then seasoned with oil and vinegar for a light salad. I did have it raw once, at Fatty Crab in New York. The papaya was cut into large rectangles and served with a dry chili salt and sugar dip.

For the tuna:

  • 4 7-ounce #1 grade tuna fillets, about 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 6 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 8 ounces udon noodles (prepare following package instructions)
  • Dash of Yuzu syrup
  • Salt and pepper

For the sweet chili ginger sauce:
Makes 5 cups

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. ginger
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 bottle sweet Thai chili sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups sesame oil

For the green papaya salad:

  • 1 green papaya
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 head of bok choy
  • 1/4 cup of mint, roughly chopped and tightly packed
  • 1/4 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped and tightly packed
  • 1/2 cup of Kewpie mayo
  • 2 Tbsp. Sriracha
  • 1/2 Tsp. of dashi powder
  • 1/2 of one lime's juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the sweet chili ginger sauce:

Combine all ingredients except sesame oil in a blender. With blender running slowly add sesame oil into sauce until the sauce is emulsified.

Store chilled for up to 30 days.

For the tuna:

One day in advance, combine tuna fillets with sweet chili ginger sauce to marinate overnight.

Cool your udon noodles per packaging instructions.

Heat 2 Tbsp. of sesame oil in a sauté pan. Add cooked udon noodles. Toss to heat through, and then add a dash of yuzu syrup. Toss again, and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat a separate sauté pan and add remaining sesame oil. Heat oil until smoking.

Generously season all sides of tuna fillets with salt and pepper, and carefully place fillets into hot pan. Sear all sides of fillets for 2 minutes for rare tuna. Remove from pan.

For the green papaya salad:

With a pairing knife, peel the green papaya, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon (discard the seeds). Use a mandolin with a wide julienne attachment to slice the green papaya.

Bring the 2 quarts of water to a boil, and season the water with the sugar and salt. Plunge the julienned papaya into the boiling water, and poach for about 6 minutes. Strain the green papaya, and place the julienned papaya in the refrigerator to chill through.

Slice the bok choy into 1/4 inch strips, all the way up the white bulb end. Combine sliced bok choy with chopped mint and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add the chilled green papaya, kewpie mayonnaise, sriracha, dashi and lime juice.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

For plating:

In the center of each plate, place udon noodles. Slice tuna fillets in half, on the bias, and place over udon noodles. Place green papaya salad over top of tuna and serve with three dipping sauces.