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Image: Stefan Milne

Often a chef creates a dish based on the protein—fish, meat, egg, tofu—since it tends to take first billing on the menu. But culinary creation can also come by more humble means. Derek Ronspies, chef and owner of Fremont pork palace Le Petit Cochon, begins this black cod–centered plate with a seemingly ancillary ingredient: the tomatillo.

Ronspies had tomatillos sitting in the refrigerator and needed to use them. So he went about combining them with a slew of other seasonal ingredients. At the beginning of fall there’s still plenty of late summer abundance around—cucumbers, cabbage, cherry tomatoes (preserved in oil), poblano and habanero peppers, nearly all of which came from Alvarez Farms, which Ronspies likes working with on a personal and professional level: “Eddie [Alvarez] is really cool and their produce is some of the best in Washington.”

But that black cod can’t be ignored. Though it’s is available much of the year, in Seattle it’s a sign of the cold, perhaps because as good salmon falls away, black cod is there to take its oily place. This white bottomfish—aka sablefish, aka butterfish—isn’t actually a cod. But it’s beloved by chefs and diners because it’s local and sustainable and texturally lush and flavorsome, beloved by cooks because it’s high fat content makes it hard to overcook.

Here Ronspies offsets the Neah Bay fish’s richness with layers of Mexican-leaning heat and acidity: he grills the cucumbers and combines them with the tomatillos into a salsa, chars the poblanos and purees them with butter. Add to this a "Mexislaw" made with Willowood Farm’s red cabbage, a fried masa cake, a couple oil-cured cherry tomatoes, radish slices, cliantro, and a hot comet arc of Cochon sous chef Kyle Fong’s signature hot sauce. He ferments Alvarez habaneros and blends them with sour cream; the resulting sauce’s name—Assfire Crema—needn’t be explained.

The dish ran last week, to be replaced by whatever ingredient-based creation comes next: “That’s pretty much how we do it. As ingredients run out, something new comes on.”

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