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A toast to agave and its legacy in Southern Arizona

Chefs, experts and guests gather for annual Tucson Agave Heritage Festival; Staff at Maynards Kitchen downtown prepares twist to fish recipe for special dinner
Posted: 10:12 AM, Apr 16, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-16 13:28:53-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) -- — In this 'bite' of the series, chefs across town are getting ready for a big four-day festival celebrating the agave plant and its stamp on culture in Southern Arizona.

Many kitchens are drawing from this heritage to plan their own dinners and events where guests can sip on spirits, and learn some history too.

We want to share a recipe from the menu at Maynards Kitchen & Bottle Shop, which Chef Nick Creamer tweaked for the business' special heritage dinner.

Nick Creamer from Maynards Kitchen

Creamer, executive chef and general manager, is substituting the usual salmon protein for a fresh-water version of a barramundi, which he sources from a farm that raises the fish in Phoenix.

The starting point in this dish requires Creamer to marinate the fish filet in mezcal, derived from agave, as well as (ginger & chiles).

"Anytime I get to talk to a guest and they're like, 'Oh my God, I would never have thought to use this ingredient this way,' that's a win right there," Creamer said.

It's time to get the pan nice and hot. Add some salt and pepper, then put the barramundi in to give it the textbook sear and crust.

In this step, Creamer offered a professional's tip to determine when the fish is well cooked: "That white line there (under the sear side) is always a great indicator to know where I'm at with my fish."


Creamer then finished the sear in the oven so he can focus on our leafy green sidekick to the course.

Sauté shallots, garlic, and cubes of butter; get them translucent and then throw in cold kale into the pan, so the vegetable doesn't wilt quickly.

The barramundi is out of the oven. Since this cut was meant for José and the crew, we washed our hands and tested the fish's doneness.

"That's a nice mid-rare," Creamer said, "and you can feel on the outside were getting closer to a well-done because it's a thinner fish."


Next is an addition that's getting its first mention on Tasting Tucson; Creamer said he and his staff make an in-house 'tepache' glaze; fermented pineapple — mixed with more garlic, rosemary and thyme — to coat our fish.

"That (glaze) will play really nicely with the mezcal and the chiles that are in that marinade of the fish," Creamer said.

Fast forward a little bit, and we get to our reward: the barramundi cooked, laid out on a koji butter sauce, paired with the kale, fingerling potatoes, and garnished with local micro-greens and Korean chili oil.

It's mulit-color and multi-cultural experience.
"You get the creaminess of the butter, the fattiness of the koji sauce, it kind of helps play with the acid from the white wine," Creamer said. "It's gotta play (together). It's a symphony."

Barramundi from Maynards Kitchen

Just as you need many parts in this symphony, it takes a conductor to get a massive party like the Agave Heritage Festival going.

Tasting Tucson said down with Francisco Terrazas inside Maynards' dining room. Terrazas, the festival's program coordinator, has spent the last year curating a whole weekend of experiences; beyond the food, he wants neighbors and visitors to touch and feel the history around them.

"Some of the oldest, discovered, ancestral agave planting beds are maybe a 10-minute drive from where you and I are sitting right now," Terrazas said.
"Even if you're not trying to look at things through the lens of food, there's a lot of different ways that the agave plant is interwoven into the community; whether it's textiles for clothes and rope, whether it's from an artistic perspective."

Terrazas said, at certain events, guests will also even get to try roasted agave.

José Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska where he covered issues ranging from local, state and federal elections, to toxic chemical spills, and community programs impacting immigrant families. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.