Every few months, my family gets together with a Latin group of friends and their families for a pot luck.
This winter it was our turn. As tradition goes, the host brings the main dishes to the table and the others bring the rest. I eagerly announced my plans to share Mexican casseroles, also called cazuelas, budines or pasteles. The Mexicans couldn’t hide their joy- “Pati! De veras? Budin Azteca? Cazuela de Tamal?!”- and quickly thought of other “very” Mexican sides to pair with them. The Argentines and Costa Ricans tried to understand what “Mexican casserole” meant and whether it was supposed to be any good. The Americans in the group (though they consider themselves Latin) were clearly not excited about it.
No doubt about it, casseroles have had their ups and downs in culinary history. Their weakest stand seems to have been in the United States, after being fashioned into “two-step-many-can” versions in the 1930 and ’40s. But think of all the bright stars in the casserole universe: French cocottes enveloped in mother sauces; British potpies encrusting fillings as wet as British weather; irresistible Italian lasagnas layered with pasta; Peruvian causas with seasoned meat encased in mashed potatos; Greek spanakopitas with an extra-savory cheese-spinach mix covered with phyllo dough; Middle Eastern moussakas stacked with layers of eggplant; and the not-so-well-known, yet gloriously tasty Mexican cazuelas…
Continue reading Make It, Freeze It, Take It: The Mexican Casserole
Make It, Freeze It, Take It: The Mexican Casserole
CHICKEN WITH TAMARIND, APRICOTS AND CHIPOTLE SAUCE
Pollo con Salsa de Tamarindo, Chabacano y Chipotle
4 chicken quarters, or 8 chicken pieces of your choice with skin and bones
1 tsp kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 cups water
1/2 lb, about 3/4 cup, dried apricots, roughly chopped
2 tbsp apricot preserve
3/4 cup tamarind concentrate, store bought or homemade (recipe follows)
2 tbsp sauce from chipotles in adobo, or more to taste
Thoroughly rinse chicken pieces with cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over low heat. Add the chicken pieces in one layer, and slowly brown the chicken pieces for 45 minutes to an hour. Turn them over occasionally, so they will brown evenly on all sides. Pour water over the chicken, raise the heat to medium-high to bring to a simmer.
Incorporate apricots, apricot preserve, tamarind concentrate, chipotle sauce, salt, stir, and keep it at a medium simmer for 35 minutes until the sauce has thickened to a thick syrup consistency and can coat the back of a wooden spoon. You may need to reduce the heat.
Taste for salt and heat and adjust to your liking.
HOMEMADE TAMARIND CONCENTRATE
Concentrado de Tamarindo
Makes about 1 cup
1/2 lb dried tamarind pods with their shell
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
Remove the outer pod from the tamarinds, discard, and place the pulp in a bowl. Cover them with 2 cups boiling water and let them sit anywhere from 2 to 24 hours.
With your hands, clean then tamarinds of the large seeds and strains/threads. Strain in a colander, pressing with your hands or a spoon to get as much pulp as possible.
Place the resulting tamarind juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, add the sugar, and let it simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes. The juice should have thickened considerably, to a thick syrup consistency.
Squeeze in the fresh lime juice, let it simmer for a couple more minutes and let it cool. Refrigerate and store in a tight lid container. The concentrate will keep for months.
Immigrants from Lebanon, Syria and Israel have left a tasty influence on Mexican cuisine over the years; this show will look at how they came to such a far-flung (but fascinating) country and what kind of legacy they’ve contributed–other than Frida Kahlo and Salma Hayek, of course.
AMARALLITO MOLE WITH CHICKEN
Mole Amarillito con Pollo
Serves 6 to 8
2 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 lb or about 8 to 10 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 Roma tomato
4 garlic cloves
2 whole cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
3 tbsp vegetable oil
8 chicken pieces, with skin and bones
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
5 cups chicken broth
3 medium fresh hoja santaor 5 dried, optional
Cinnamon Masa Dumplings, optional (recipe in same episode!)
On an already hot comal or dry skillet set over medium heat, toast the chiles for about 10 to 15 seconds per side. They will become more pliable and release their aroma. Remove the chiles from the pan and place them in a cooking pot along with the tomatillos, tomato and garlic cloves. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, until they are soft and cooked. Transfer to a blender along with 2 whole cloves, ground cinnamon, oregano, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Gently add the chicken pieces skin side down first, and brown on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. Incorporate the onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Pour the reserved pureed sauce on top, add the hojas santas if using, and cook until it has seasoned and thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and keep at a steady simmer on medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the masa dumplings one by one to the pan. Cook for another 12 to 15 minutes, or until the dumplings are cooked and the mole thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Now that Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner, friends are asking me what we will be eating to celebrate…and what I am craving most are Enchiladas Verdes. The perfect yummy family food that stays messy on the casserole.
Even though most native Mexicans know that Cinco de Mayo isn’t a big celebration in Mexico (as a matter of fact, it is mostly celebrated in Puebla), we embrace it outside of Mexico with all our hearts without really knowing why. I guess it is a great excuse to celebrate what we love and miss about Mexico- like the tomatillo. A native Mexican ingredient that is the corner stone of so many dishes.
Continue reading Enchiladas Verdes: in a Tomatillo Sauce
CHICKEN IN A TOMATILLO, CHIPOTLE AND BROWN SUGAR SAUCE
Pollo con Tomate Verde, Chipotle y Piloncillo
Serves 4 to 6
3 chicken leg quarters, or 3 drumsticks and 3 thighs, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cup safflower or corn oil
2 cups white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lbs tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed, quartered
4 tbsp piloncillo, shredded, or substitute for brown sugar
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, plus more sauce if desired
2 cups chicken broth, or water
Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
In a thick and tall heavy skillet or casserole dish, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken pieces. Brown on one side, for about 4 to 5 minutes and then flip and brown on the other side, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Don’t try to flip too soon or the skin will stick to the skillet. Remove the chicken pieces and place in a bowl. You may remove the skin if you wish, I don’t.
Add the onion to the skillet and cook, stirring for about 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, for about 20 seconds. Make room in the pan and add the tomatillos. Let it cook all together, for about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the piloncillo, the chipotles and their sauce and stir well. Once it comes to a simmer incorporate the chicken pieces along with the chicken broth and cook for about 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be chunky and thick, and the chicken fully cooked.
Burritas de Chilorio
3 pounds boneless pork (butt, shoulder or loin with some fat on!) cut into 2″ chunks, or substitute for chicken
1 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
5 dried ancho chiles (about 55 grams), tops and seeds removed
1 1/2 cup of the chile soaking liquid (see below)
1/2 cup white onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
2/3 cup cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
Flour tortillas, warmed, optional
Place rinsed meat chunks in an extended heavy pot. Barely cover with the orange juice and water, add a teaspoon of salt and set over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, bring the heat down to medium and let is simmer for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until most of the liquid has cooked off and the meat is thoroughly cooked, and has rendered most of its fat.
Meanwhile, remove the stems from the chiles, make a slit down their sides and remove their seeds and veins. Place them in a bowl, cover them with boiling hot water, and let them sit and rehydrate for about 15 minutes. Place the chiles and 1 1/2 cups of their soaking liquid in the blender along with the onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, cumin, black pepper, vinegar, and puree until smooth.
Once the meat is ready, place it in a bowl along with any remaining cooking broth. Once it is cool enough to handle, shred it with your hands or using two forks.
In the same pot, heat oil over medium heat. Pour in the chile sause and let it season and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. Toss in the shredded meat along with any of its remaining cooking broth. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt and let it cook, stirring often, until the meat has absorbed most of the chile sauce, which will have thickened, seasoned and changed color to a much darker tone. It will take about 20 minutes. Taste for salt and add more if need be.
Serve with warmed flour tortillas on the side. If you wish, spoon chilorio on tortillas and roll them into burritas or burras. They are wonderful with refried beans and Mexican avocado or guacamole on the side as well.
It seems that many people find chicken boring.
I happen to find it fascinating.
Not only because chicken is friendly enough to let you take it wherever your imagination can go and because it can be the juiciest and crispiest meal, but also, because of that story my mother told me when I was growing up.
When my mom was about 10 years old, my grandmother who came to Mexico from Austria in her early twenties having survived years of war, turbulence and the loss of most of her family, taught my mom a serious lesson: you can survive most hardships in life if you know how to cook, she had said, and mostly, if you know how to cook chicken from scratch.
Cooking from scratch really meant from scratch. No nonsense. So my mom learned how to kill, pluck and cook chicken a thousand ways.
What to cook for the Today Show?
With so many options being juggled in my head, I was growing restless as the date got closer.
As I started exchanging emails with one of the producers, I began to throw ideas: what about different kinds of Salsas, variations of that irresistible cold and wet Tres Leches cake, funky versions of Guacamole, or a sample of fresh Ceviches…?
Or, wait. How about something easy, tasty and flashy like Tequila, Cream and Chipotle Shrimp? It’s so much fun to prepare, I told the producer. You ignite the pan, the flames come up right after the shrimp begin to brown, and then they wind down right before you pour the cream. Your guests feel special and impressed…
I had to agree that we were better off staying away from igniting anything on the set.
Oh, I got it! A chicken dish. Everyone wants a good chicken dish in their recipe box. And one of the tastiest ways to eat chicken in Mexican kitchens, no doubt about it, is Chicken Tinga.
Although it comes from the state of Puebla, it is so popular, that it is eaten throughout the country. So of course there are countless variations.
I have a favorite version. One that I have tweaked through the years until I found a balance of flavors that needs no more tweaking, if you ask me…
Continue reading Chicken Tinga for Today (Show) and Everyday!
I had a blast cooking at The Today Show in New York. I made Chicken Tinga and shared just two ways, out of a thousand, that one can refashion Chicken Tinga into: Tostadas and Tinga’Dillas (Yep! made up the name!).
You can watch my visit on the Today Show here