As I delightfully accepted (jumping up and down) the invitation to come cook Mexican with Paula, I told her producer, we love her show at home. Not only does it make my boys want to jump into the kitchen but her accent completely cracks them up. That last bit made her producer burst in laughter. Patriz-z-zia, he said, her accent cracks them up? What about yours?
Sometimes we are the last ones to notice some of our most obvious traits and talents. Growing up in Mexico I used to think I was tall, then I moved to Texas. After years of studying to become a political analyst, here I am, cooking my life away.
A couple months after the invitation to visit Paula, guess what started to happen? Even my little gringo boys at home started cracking up at my accent too. "Mami, you don't say feesh, you say fish, not like bee... you know, like dish." Oh well... I am not tall, I am not a political analyst anymore and I do have an accent.
Accents included and all, visiting Paula's kitchen in Savannah was some of the best fun I've ever had. Thinking about it makes me smile so wide, my eyes barely get the chance to see what's in front of them. She is hilarious.
This I can say: I am amazed by Paula. She is as scrumptious, funny and generous in person as she is on screen. As real as real can get, and its even better live. I don't know that many people who enjoy food as much as Paula. She just dives into it, the whole thing, the preparing, the cooking and the savoring. So before deciding the menu, I knew the food had to be as yummy as she is. Now that's a challenge.
To start with, how about a watercress and spinach salad with a creamy avocado dressing and some chopped candied pineapple? Well..., a soft and polite voice from the Best Dishes producers said over the phone, we are not that crazy over salads around here... After many what about this and what about that, and a few responses of Well..., I said...
"Hey! How about some super crunchy fried tacos with the tastiest creamy tomato chicken filling with a side of a homey and flavorful white rice cooked in a rich chicken broth flavored with celery, parsley, lime juice and a Serrano or Jalapeño chili, topped with crisp on the outside and soft on the inside slices of ripe and sweet plantains fried until their sugar is almost caramelized and some chunky, deliciously tart and lightly spicy Pueblo style green salsa to dip it all in?" Lost my breath there! But then I heard: "That's right up our alley!"
One of my boys (my husband) stayed in charge of my other three boys and I went overnight to Savannah. I dragged my comal, which I can't cook without, in one hand and some cooking tools that I'd asked my mother in law to bring from Mexico (you can find some of them here, but it feels more special with the extra effort) in the other hand, so I could share them with Paula.
I couldn't come empty handed to meet such warm Southern host. And what a lovely welcome I got. She made me feel right at home.
Thank you Paula! I will come again whenever you have a craving for any kind of Mexican food. I will be jumping up and down even higher since now I know firsthand what a treat I will be headed for.
For the crispy tacos, Pueblo salsa verde and white rice with plantains recipes click here Paula's Best Dishes. Once show airs on Saturday August 15th at 11:30 a.m. EST. they will be there. I will post some of them here once I come back from camping with my wild boys and thousands of insects. Since I will not be able to see the show when it airs (ugh...), please let me know how it was if you see it!
CRISPY FRIED TACOS WITH SALSA VERDE
Serves 10; Yields 3 cups Salsa Verde
For the Chicken Tacos:
4 pounds chicken breasts, with skin and bones
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 pounds Roma tomatoes, skinned
2 whole cloves
8 black peppercorns
½ cup white onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons corn or safflower oil, plus canola oil, for frying
2 bay leaves
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ cup bread crumbs
10 corn tortillas, heated
½ cup chopped cilantro, for garnish
For the Salsa Verde Pueblera:
1½ pounds tomatillos, husks removed
1 serrano chile, more or less, optional
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
½ cup cilantro leaves, freshly chopped
1 cup white onion, chopped
Grated queso fresco, or Cotija cheese, optional
For the Chicken Tacos:
Rinse chicken breast in cold water and add to a large pot. Cover with water and add 4 smashed garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Shred the chicken when it is cool enough to handle. Set aside 4 cups of chicken.
Put the tomatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until cooked through and soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer the tomatoes to a blender along with the remaining tablespoon of salt, whole cloves, peppercorns, white onion and remaining garlic clove. Puree until smooth.
Add 2 tablespoons of corn oil to a large pan, over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the tomato puree, bay leaves and the shredded chicken and stir. Simmer until the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and bread crumbs and simmer until mixture has thickened again, about 4 to 5 more minutes. Mixture will be moist but not too wet, which will be perfect for filling the tacos.
Preheat the canola oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.
Heat the tortillas on a hot comal or dry skillet over medium heat for a minute. This will prevent them from breaking when rolling into a taco. Put 1 to 2 tablespoons of the filling on each tortilla and roll.
You can insert wooden toothpicks through 2 tacos at a time, so they will fry evenly and hold their shape. Once the oil is hot, dip the taco pairs in the hot oil. Fry until the tacos have crisped and gained a golden color, about 2 to 3 minutes. You may want to flip for another minute to the other side. Remove from the oil and put on a plate or tray covered with paper towels. Arrange the tacos on a serving platter and garnish with cilantro.
Serve alongside Salsa Verde Pueblera.
For the Salsa Verde Pueblera:
Rinse the tomatillos under cold water. Put them in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, until their color has changed and they are cooked and soft but not falling apart, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatillos to a blender along with the chile, the garlic clove and a teaspoon of salt. Puree until smooth. Stir in the chopped cilantro and onion. Taste for salt and add more, if necessary. Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with cheese, if desired.