There are plenty of mistaken beliefs about Mexican food that chef Jared Corona and his family are working to dispel at their Egg Harbor Township restaurant, El Coyote.
"There's a lot of misconception with Mexican food," he says. "A lot of people think everything is (fatty) and it's not. A lot of people do think it's very heavy, and it can be, certain things like enchiladas, because you have a tortilla soaked in sauce and cheese. But it's not really fattening."
To do that, the Co-ronas have some help from Armando and Lili Lino, originally from Puebla, Mexico.
Jared Corona had been working in res-taurants since high school, doing everything from food prep at JJ Combs in North-field to bartending at Rain Forest Cafe and Melting Pot in Atlan-tic City. After he graduated in 2010 from the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, the Coronas were ready to start a family business. Through his job as an insurance salesman, Jared Corona's father, Thomas, heard from a friend about the turn key restaurant on Ocean Heights Avenue seeking a new owner and the family decided to invest in themselves.
Jared would be the chef, experimenting with the menu often to broaden its appeal for guests, while mom Mary takes orders and makes deliveries and Thomas helps out with business matters on weekends. One day shortly after opening, Jared Corona was experimenting in the kitchen with his friend Robert Pappas, executive chef at Bocca Coal Fired Bistro in Margate, with whom he'd become friends when they both worked at Blue Heron Pines, when Armando Lino simply walked in and asked for a job.
"We were just trying to come up with recipes and stuff when Armando came in," Jared Corona recalls. "The next day he brought his wife Lili in and they made a bunch of stuff. We sat down and tried it and we liked everything so..." the rest is history.
Lili Lino makes the staples including the refried beans and Spanish rice with peas and corn served with most entrees. The traditional recipes and sauces - chile relleno, tamales, enchilada and mole sauces and the house salsa - all have been passed down through Lili's family. The less-common dishes, such as Armando Lino's chicken quesadilla with apples sauteed in rum, or Jared Corona's surf and turf burrito with steak, lobster and avocado, and coconut lobster tacos with mango salsa, are newer inventions unique to El Coyote.
"I did a tour of Rastelli's Seafood, right across from Renault Winery and one of the things they were showing me - they had samples - was coconut shrimp. I tried it, and it was good, but I felt (I could do better). That same week my sales rep just happened to have a special on lobster tails and I said, 'It's going to be on the menu.'"
El Coyote stretches the bounds of what's strictly Mexican cuisine, offering five pizza stylings over a thin tortilla crust. Fans of coconut shrimp love Jared Corona's luxurious take on tacos with lobster, while the health conscious have ordered the apple quesadilla so much, it's a menu staple.
"I have been working a long time in the kitchen and I like to read and look at books (for ideas and tips).One day I was eating these apples for lunch. I had a salad with caramelized apples and figs and I thought, 'I'd like to put this on a special'," Armando Lino says. "People love it, especially women and those who are watching their diet or weight because it's light. It doesn't have too much calories."
Mixing fruit with savory proteins such as chicken has proved at hit at El Coyote, where a recent pineapple mango chicken special was so popular, Jared Corona and Armando Lino may add it to the menu's next incarnation. Fruit pairs well with rich seafood such as lobster and shrimp, as well as more savory scallops or mahi mahi.
"I think it just hits all the taste sensations; you have sweet, salt, a little bit of bitter from the cabbage," Jared Corona says. "The lobster itself is sweet and when you add coconut, you get that crunch, and a sweet heat from the salsa, with the crunchy cabbage and the savory sauce."
The trick is to use all fresh, natural ingredients, Jared Corona says. Their guacamole is very popular, so it could seem a good idea to use a pre-mixed dip or base, and making enough mango salsa for all those sweet-savory choices can be a lot of work. But that's no reason to use canned mangos or processed avocados.
"It does taste better, you can tell," or at least Jared Corona can, and he's looking out. "Frozen or canned mangos are much softer and don't have that twang, just a bit overly sweet."
Contact Felicia Compian:
Apple Chicken Quesadilla
•1 pound chicken breast
•4 tablespoons oil, divided
•11/2 tablespoons lime juice
•1 teaspoon adobo
•1 teaspoon paprika
•1/2 onion, sliced
•1 to 1 1/2 gala apples
•1 tablespoon coconut rum
•2 12- to13-inch whole-wheat tortillas
•2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese
Clean and cut chicken breast into 3/4 inch cubes. Mix together
3 tablespoons oil, lime juice, adobo and paprika. Add cubed chicken to mixture and marinate overnight ideally, or for at least
Caramelize onions in a saute pan.
Cut apples into 1/4- inch slices and saute with 1 tablespoon oil and coconut rum.
Cook chicken on griddle or frying pan, adding onion and apples halfway through cooking.
In a large pan, heat tortilla with 1 cup of cheese blend spread evenly over tortilla. When tortilla becomes crispy on the bottom and cheese is melted, place the mixture of chicken, apples and onion on top of tortilla and fold in half. Repeat with second tortilla. Cut each tortilla into 4 even pieces and enjoy with refried beans and rice.
Servings: 2 to 4