Restaurant News & Reviews

Cracked Crab chef shares secret to ceviche: local king salmon

Cracked Crab chef Mike McGourty is preparing local king salmon as a ceviche appetizer, served with avocado and cucumber slices and crispy tortilla chips.
Cracked Crab chef Mike McGourty is preparing local king salmon as a ceviche appetizer, served with avocado and cucumber slices and crispy tortilla chips.

Chef Mike McGourty credits his native Cape Cod with giving him a lifelong knowledge and appreciation of seafood.

His restaurant involvement began at an early age, when he starting washing dishes at his family’s breakfast and lunch restaurant at the age of 14.

After college, McGourty began training for a career with a national corporate restaurant chain but “knew I’d be miserable,” so he decided instead to hone his skills at fine dining restaurants in Baltimore and the Denver area.

He came to the Central Coast thanks to a chance meeting of his future wife at a music festival in Colorado and is now in his ninth year as executive chef at Mike and Kathy Lee’s Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach.

Q: What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in your menu?

A: Local king salmon, because we’re right in the middle of the local season. In fact, we often don’t have salmon on the menu the rest of the year. Some people wonder why, but people with gardens will understand. It just tastes so much better when you can get it so fresh, when it doesn’t have to travel as much. (The salmon pictured is from Capt. Archie Ponds’ off his FV “Big Easy” out of Avila.)

Q: How are you currently using salmon?

A: We have both an entrée filet and a ceviche appetizer.

Q: How do those particular dishes represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?

A: At Cracked Crab, we’re always looking for the best product, seafood that’s sustainably sourced, and also local whenever we can get it. Whatever the fish, we typically get the whole thing in and break it down ourselves.

It’s easy to think about the filet, but to me it’s a treat to get the leftovers and figure out what to do with them so that we really are using the whole fish. That’s where I have the most fun. In this case, almost all the trimmings from a salmon — even that little bit you can scrape off the skin — can go into a ceviche.

Q: How would home cooks approach salmon in their own kitchens?

A: When you start with a great ingredient like local king salmon, you really don’t need to do much. You don’t want to get too fancy — you want to taste the fish.

For a filet, really just some salt and pepper and lemon juice will do it. For the ceviche, it’s just about a pound of salmon, some diced tomato, onion, jalapeño and chopped cilantro folded in with the juice of one Meyer lemon, the juice of one regular lime and the juice of four Key limes, plus salt and pepper to taste. Then, let it marinate in the fridge for about 12 hours. (The citrus juices will “cook” the salmon.) We serve the avocado on the side, along with some cucumber slices and some crisp tortilla chips. It’s a great, simple summertime dish that would really work with any fresh fish such as local halibut or local white sea bass.

Q: What is your favorite dish to cook at home?

A: My Italian aunt’s lasagna. It’s different than most — instead of just ground beef, you hand roll what seems like 600 marble-sized meatballs to put in between the layers. It’s about a four-hour process, so it doesn’t happen a lot, but wow, with that sauce!

Q: What is your favorite food and wine pairing?

A: Probably pinot noir and a juicy ribeye steak with Cowgirl Creamery blue cheese on top. I really don’t eat a lot of meat, but when I do, I like to go for a big steak.