Argan oil—which comes from the kernels of the Moroccan argan tree—is the most expensive edible oil in the world, but it’s more widely recognized as a hair and skin care product. Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos of Bellemore, challenged by C.J. Jacobson (Ema) to create a dish with the oil, says, “I didn’t even know it was edible.”
Tasting the argan oil didn’t impress him much. “It tastes like dried Sicilian cured olives. Imagine that meaty fruitiness you get, the salinity, but then this weird—it kind of reminds me of plastic and cardboard with undertones of olive oil,” he says. Papadopoulos compares the smell to Limburger and funky blue cheese and the flavor to petrol and burnt plastic. “Personally, I don’t really care for it,” he adds.
The oil is traditional in Moroccan cuisine, especially in a dip or spread called amlou, where it's mixed with ground roasted almonds and honey. Papadopoulos tried making it himself, but says “it was overpowering to the point that I didn’t want to use it—it had an off-putting taste.” He also talked to his pastry chef about using the oil in an ice cream or sorbet, but “that got really weird really quick.”
Struck by the similarity of amlou to a pumpkin-seed paste that he’s currently serving with octopus, Papadopoulos decided to incorporate the argan oil into that instead. After toasting pumpkin seeds with olive oil, he added garlic, burnt honey, and argan oil and blended everything together into a smooth paste. Instead of octopus, he served it with cod, which he poached in an “exorbitant amount” of argan oil (he used most of a $90 bottle). “Once we finish poaching the fish I’m seriously considering trying to make some kind of shampoo out of it for my beard,” he said.
Cod poached in argan oil
To balance the richness of the cod and pumpkin-seed paste, Papadopoulos made a salad of “sharp, acidic, underripened green things,” including green almonds (immature almonds that he compares in texture to “a juicy grape”), green rhubarb, and green strawberries soaked in sweet muscat vinegar with a little salt. He tossed it with argan oil (“as if we didn’t have enough on the cod”) and garnished the dish with dill, wood sorrel, and spigarello (a cousin of broccoli).
When you taste the finished dish, Papadopoulos says, the first flavor you get is argan oil—which means he wasn't a big fan. “Conceptually, it makes sense—seeds, almonds, fruit—but I’m just not too crazy about it,” he says. “The overpowering taste of the argan oil, it’s hard to cover.”
Papadopoulos has challenged Mark Hellyar, chef at Momotaro, to create a dish with Bumblebee canned tuna. “Bar none, he works with some of the best fish in the city,” Papadopoulos says. “I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to tell him that he has to cook with canned tuna.”