Tamarillo, also known as the tree tomato, is native to Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia and is widely grown in New Zealand as a commercial crop. But it’s not easy to buy the fruit in Chicago, says Gabino “Bino” Ottoman of the Ruin Daily, who was challenged by Carlos Cruz (Saint Lou’s Assembly) to create a dish with it. Ottoman did find one store in Humboldt Park that sells pureed tamarillo, and Cruz was able to supply him with frozen whole fruit. “[Carlos] thought he was getting me because no one’s really heard of tamarillo, but I worked at Le Bernadin [in New York], and there’s way more Ecuadorians there than there are in Chicago,” Ottoman says. “Every summer they would get sent Ecuadorian tree tomatoes from their families and make tamarillo agua fresca for the whole restaurant. I stole that idea for this.”
Ottoman describes the flavor of tamarillo as “like a tomato and a lemon, a little butterscotch at the end. It’s really weird. It’s this pear-looking thing, and it’s just goo in the middle, with big seeds.” For his agua fresca he used lemon juice, simple syrup, and tamarillo puree, shaking the ingredients with ice before pouring them into a glass. He also used tamarillo juice for a variation on the Ruin Daily’s house-made beef jerky, substituting it for the orange juice he’d normally use in the recipe. After marinating thinly sliced sirloin in a mix of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, and tamarillo juice for 24 hours, he arranged the meat on trays and left it to dehydrate at 145 degrees for five hours.
Ottoman decided against making a composed dish, he says, because “we do simple things here. I just wanted to do something simple and straightforward.” The tamarillo agua fresca tastes like “weird tomato lemonade,” he says, while in the jerky the tamarillo adds “acidic bite and round butterscotch flavor. It’s good.”
Ottoman has challenged Adam Wendt of the yet-to-open Wicker Park restaurant the Delta to make a dish showcasing yellow onion.
5 lb beef coulotte (top sirloin)
3 qt soy sauce
1qt Worcestershire sauce
1 pt maple syrup
1 pt tamarillo juice
4 tbs freshly ground black pepper
Slice beef against the grain into 1/8-inch slices. Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl. Add meat to marinade, mix well, and let sit for 24 to 48 hours. Spread meat on dehydrator tray and leave for 4.5 to 5 hours, until dried but still tender.
Tamarillo agua fresca
1 qt tamarillo juice
3 qt water
3 cups demerara sugar
Mix all ingredients until sugar is dissolved and serve with ice.