Thursday, May 28, 2009

La Cocina Mexicana

While I was in Seattle this past weekend I was asked more than once about what kind of food we eat here.

"You know," people would add, "like how is it different from what we think of as Mexican food?"

Well, I'd answer, what is it that you think of as Mexican food?

"Well, like tacos and that kind of thing."

Truth is, we do eat a lot of tacos here. Not the ground beef and iceberg lettuce variety served at your standard fast food chain, mind you, but definitely lots of cooked or stewed fillings stuffed inside of soft, warmed corn tortillas. Just yesterday, for example, I made a taco filling for dinner. I followed a couple of pretty standard Mexican cooking steps.

First I cleaned and disinfected the raw vegetables - always a necessity here. You start with a tiny bottle of iodine-based cleaner, seen below.

See the little drop-man cartoon? You drop about 10 of him and his drop buddies into a giant pot filled with water, wait for the chemicals to disperse, and then soak your veggies for about 10 minutes, like so.

After they've dried, you're ready to begin. I began this particular taco filling by pan-roasting two dozen little tomatillos, known here as tomates verdes. I found them pretty easy to find in Chicago, so we've been cooking with tomatillos for a few years now. They've got a fantastic tangy taste that goes perfectly with a spicy chile to make some of my favorite salsas.

Together with the tomatillos, I pan-roasted a serrano chile pepper. Rick Bayless, author of our Mexican cookbooks, recommends 2-3 serranos, but I tried that once and the sauce was so spicy it was barely edible... so I usually go with 1 or 1.5. When these were done roasting, I threw them into a blender and let them cool while I pan-fried some chopped onion and garlic, stirring them around until the onions were fully caramelized. Then I added those to the blender, too, and pureed the whole thing.

At this point Rick has you cook this wonderful little sauce you've made. Throw a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil into the pan, turn up the heat real high, and then pour the sauce in all at once, stirring it for a few minutes as it sears. Once the color darkens, you cover it, turn down the heat, throw in a cup or so of chicken or vegetable broth, and let it simmer down for a good ten minutes or so. This gives the sauce a deep and complex flavor, one that almost tastes like you've slow-cooked it.

To complete the taco filling, I threw in some shredded cooked chicken and whole bunch of chopped green chard leaves (seen soaking above) and stirred the pot until everything had been coated in the sauce. Voila! (oops, voila is French...I'm mixing cultures here!) Heat up a few tortillas from the tortilleria, break out some cold beers, and dig in.

Chris got home from work just as I was finishing things up. She gasped when she saw what I'd made. "You made my favorite!"

Wow... delicious food and it somehow turns out to be your wife's favorite! This is the life...


Zach & Hannah Parris said...

Even with the chicken...that sounds delicious. Maybe you should send Z some recipes and a few hints about cooking for me :)

Mike and Beth said...

Oh, you are a man after my own heart....Michael cooks for me almost every night....and it is always my favorite!

From Michigan with Love said...

don't sound so surprised! I know you knew it was her favoite! ;-)

Erica said...

we just made some rick bayless roasted tomatillo salsa! (and we saw rick the other night when we were at frontera - i was completely star struck :) )