Chef’s Dish: Lesley Draper talks to Ritchie Fernandez

Grilled Mexican Chicken, as served at El Paso
Grilled Mexican Chicken, as served at El Paso

Mayweather and Pacquiao no doubt stuck to a rigid diet during preparations for Saturday’s fight – one that didn’t include restaurants.

Eating out with a fitness fanatic is never easy... calorie counting is god and fat is the devil’s work, they say. And if you’ve ever seen the weekly meal plan for a pro boxer you’ll know that flavour is not top of the agenda.

Kid Galahad, Brendan Ingle and chef Ritchie Fernandez

Kid Galahad, Brendan Ingle and chef Ritchie Fernandez

But at Sheffield’s El Paso they’ve come up with a mouthwatering solution that packs a punch with foodies, fitness fanatics and also the hordes of boxing aficionados who feature among regular visitors to the Cumberland Street restaurant.

Grilled Mexican Chicken not only keeps calories to a minimum, but also satisfies the tastebuds. And it has become the restaurant’s trademark dish.

Chef Ritchie Fernandez says: “I got the original recipe on holiday in South America. Then I experimented with it and added my own twist.

“The El Paso version truly sizzles with the flavour of garlic, chilli and paprika – it also uses only a small amount of olive oil in the marinade, to keep the calorie count very low. Lean chicken breast is grilled rather than fried, so it ticks all the boxes for the boxers!”

“It ticks all the boxes for the boxers...”

Ritchie Fernandez

El Paso has been popular with the boxing fraternity for years, more so since it expanded from its original home into the former Moorfoot Tavern.

The £250,000 investment, which coincided with the multi-million-pound transformation of the Moor area, brought a four-fold increase in size.

Customers voted with their feet and the new El Paso was a virtual overnight success.

They included world renowned city-based boxing trainer Brendan Ingle, a longstanding regular.

chef Ritchie Fernandez

chef Ritchie Fernandez

“Most of his fighters have come in at one time or another,” says El Paso’s Nasir Iqbal.

“We were also recently invited to do the catering at the opening of Ryan Rhodes’ POW fitness gym, just around the corner.

“We had the honour of cooking for the one and only Sugar Ray Leonard, six times world champion – we really did have boxing royalty sampling our food that day.

“He made a point of admiring the sombrero that has become a popular feature at El Paso for any guest with a birthday!”

El Paso restaurant, Cumberland Street, Sheffield

El Paso restaurant, Cumberland Street, Sheffield

Others at the opening included Ross ‘The Boss’ Burkinshaw, Sheffield’s WBO European bantamweight champion, and boxing VIPs Kell Brook, Jamie Moore and Johnny Nelson.

El Paso has been part of Sheffield’s social scene for 20 years, but it has become even more popular in recent months. It now opens at lunchtime and also offers regular live entertainment at weekends.

Grilled Mexican Chicken, serves 2

Ingredients:

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tsp ginger, finely chopped

1 fresh lime

Pinch of salt and pepper

1.5 tsp fresh parsley

1.5 tsp fresh mint

half a cup chopped tomatoes

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 fresh jalapeno chilli, finely diced

2 chicken breasts

For the marinade:

6 tsp El Paso seasoning (or mix ground coriander, ground cumin and ground paprika)

Hint of ground chilli

Juice of one lemon

Method:

In a small bowl mix three teaspoons of seasoning powder with a hint of ground chilli and lemon juice to make a paste. Add more chilli if required. (Note: reserve three teaspoons of mixture for basting later.)

Butterfly the chicken (cut and opening out the breast) to ensure it cooks evenly.

Place this in a separate bowl with garlic, ginger, lime, herbs, tomatoes, jalapeno and oil. Add marinade and seasoning, mix well, cover and refrigerate for eight hours.

Drain and discard any remaining marinade from the chicken.

Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil and, using long handled tongs, lightly coat the grill rack.

Grill the chicken over a medium heat for six to eight minutes on each side so it is no longer pink.

During cooking time, baste with the remaining marinade for the last three to four minutes.

Serve with mixed leaves and vegetables.

Recipe by Ritchie Fernandez