By Executive Chef Paul Marks
My wife and I recently visited Costa Rica for two weeks of relaxation. We flew into San José at night and had to drive ourselves to the hotel. Apparently, Costa Rica likes to skimp on the street signage. Literally, the directions were to make a right at the market, and when you see the yard with the big black dog, make a left, and at the sugar cane field—you get the picture. We decided if we ever arrive again after dark, we are taking a cab. It will be better for our marriage.
We started with a visit to a natural hot spring for the day. Eco Termales is located right in the rain forest on the slope of the Arenal Volcano. They do not cater to tours and are very private, but if you call them up you can make a reservation. You pull up to a wooden gate set back from the main road, push an intercom button and verify your reservation. When the doors swing open you drive down a long drive of tropical foliage studded with cocoa and ginger. It felt like a fantasy.
We walked down into a Jurassic Park-like setting with steam rising through the foliage around the stone steps. They had eight pools ranging from 94 to 108 degrees with a cold water plunge pool. The pools are set up so cascading water pounds on your shoulders while you relax on stone benches. The minerals were absolutely invigorating.
Culinarily speaking, Costa Rica offered freshness. The fish were caught that day, the beef was grass-fed and the fruit was amazing. When we travel to another country, we always try to eat the local cuisine. However, six days into a trip with black beans, rice and plantains at every meal, we finally gave up. One day we were at a small restaurant in Jaco and my wife took a leap of faith and ordered what was listed on the menu as a Costa Rican club sandwich. I warned my wife that they don’t have deli meats and I haven’t seen any recognizable bacon. But her instincts proved true because this sandwich was absolutely decadent.
It was a freshly baked French baguette spread with a lemon mayo, thinly sliced grilled tenderloin, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, thinly sliced grilled chicken breast, red onion and Serrano ham. We had to order another one, since I ate half my wife’s lunch. It was so good I took notes and included the basic recipe.
Costa Rican Club Sandwich
Makes 2 sandwiches
1 lemon (zest and half the juice)
6 tablespoons light mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
1 six-ounce chicken breast
1 six-ounce beef filet
2 soft French sandwich rolls
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 thinly sliced sweet onion
1 sliced tomato
6 slices of Serrano ham
Mix zest and juice of lemon into mayo, let sit. Rub the filet and chicken breast with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill both over medium heat until chicken breast center reads 160 degrees and the filet about 130-135 degrees. If cooked too rare, the filet will bleed on the bread. Let meat rest on counter for 10 minutes. Slice both very thinly at an angle against the grain of the meat.
Slice French rolls lengthwise into three long strips, brush lightly with the olive oil and grill brown and crunchy. Spread lemon mayo on bread and layer with sliced onions, beef and tomatoes. Put the middle portion of the roll on top of the tomatoes and layer with the Serrano ham, pickled peppers, chicken, lettuce and top with the last piece of bread.
In Costa Rica, this would be served with fried plantains. Try it with plantain chips or blue cornmeal chips, and sliced avocado drizzled with the rest of the lemon juice and salt and pepper.