¡Salsa Espectacular!

¡Esto es un Salsa Espectacular!

Raspberry Pico de Gallo - A slice of Heaven in a bowl
Raspberry Pico de Gallo – A slice of Heaven in a bowl

Open your fridge and look at the door side – Chances are good that what you’ll see there are condiments – in ours, you find mustards, relish, horseradish, harissa, ketchup, mayo, sriracha, and of course, salsa. Those last three illustrate big changes in what folks in this country like and buy most of, in the ever-changing condiment world. In 2011, mayo was King. By 2014, salsa had surpassed all, (for the second time – More on that later), and as of last year, sriracha topped regular old salsa for the win. Interesting, is it not? Think about it and it makes great sense. Sure, the old standbys still star on sandwiches, and as constituents in sauces, salads, and the like – but salsa can do much more than any of those, and, well, sriracha is good with damn near anything.

Of course, salsa is still king, because sriracha is, after all, exactly that – Salsa, and not very different from the predominantly Mexican varieties we’re used to here. I say varieties, but truth be told, us folks up here in El Norte are far from well schooled in the stunning pantheon that is Mexican salsa – And that’s just speaking of Mexico, let alone the rest of Central and South America. Trust me when I tell you that you’re really missing something spectacular if that’s the case for you. Today, we’re out to fix that.

I’ll provide links to several recipes that you’ll find here, and add a few new ones as well. The rest of this is kind of a primer, designed to hopefully show you something new, pique your interest, and get you digging for a variation you can call your own. You’ll also notice I’m not going to describe a whole lot of parings, and that’s done on purpose – What you like salsa on – what kind on what things – That’s your gig, and discovering for yourself is a hell of a lot more fun than reading what I think you should eat, yeah?

Many Americanos assume that the term salsa is purely Mexican, but it’s definitively not. Salsa means ‘sauce’ in Spanish, Italian, and Greek. The term derives from the Latin word ‘salsus’, meaning salted. I think it’s an interesting fact that, while touched with sweet, heat, herbs, and spices, it’s still that salty, savory bass note that defines the salsa rhythm section. Of course, sauces didn’t start out that way anywhere that lacked tomatoes – That makes the salsa we’re used to a true native of Mexico, Central, and South America. It wasn’t until the Spaniards caused all their mayhem in the new world that the tomato made its way over to Europe, and then basically conquered the world.

Salsa began with the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan peoples. The Spanish were intrigued, and termed the piquant blend of tomatoes, chiles, herbs, and spices ‘salsa’ as far back as the late 16th century – Then they took it back home with them. While those three legendary civilizations largely didn’t survive, their salsas did, and continue to flourish throughout the Americas. It’s these Mexican staples that largely flavor things up here in the north.

One version of the stuff, ubiquitously known as ‘hot sauce,’ ( Basically chiles, vinegar, and salt, AKA, what’s in sriracha), caught on quite early here in America – Maybe earlier than you’re aware of – That’s particularly interesting in light of the fact that, by the mid 20th century, a fair number of those chiles and brands were very hard to find, having been driving out by post WWII food homogeneity. Yet the first bottled hot sauce, powered by cayenne chiles, was offered for sale in Massachusetts, back in 1807. In 1849, Louisiana banker Colonel Maunsell White planted the first crop of Tabasco chiles north of the border – Ten years later, Maunsell marketed the first bottles of ‘Tobasco’ chile Sauce, and Edmund McIlhenny plants some seeds obtained from Maunsell on his property – Avery Island, Louisiana. In 1868, McIlhenny poured his aged sauce into used cologne bottles and sent it out as samples, resulting in thousands of orders. By the 1860s, you could buy bird chile powered sauce in New York City. By 1898, a former McIlhenny employee started up B. F. Trappey & Sons, and another legendary sauce was born.

¡Salsa Espectacular!
¡Salsa Espectacular!

In 1917, Henry Tanklage introduced La Victoria Salsa Brava, a traditional Mexican style salsa still in production today. La Victoria’s red, green, and enchilada sauces, along with Old El Paso, (which was formed in 1917, but didn’t start making Tex-Mex stuff until 1969), are the stuff that introduced generations of gringos to Mexica and Tex Mex cooking. It’s reasonable to say that the full circle of originators can be closed with David and Margaret Pace’s introduction of his namesake salsa in 1947. Pace noted that, “In ’47, my sauce bottles exploded all over the grocery shelves because I couldn’t get the darned formula right.” Those were simpler time, without a doubt. By the mid 1980s, the salsa craze was in full swing, and by the early ’90’s, salsa outsold all other condiments for the first time.

Salsa, as most of us know it, is a play on Salsa Roja, a tomato based, cooked salsa, usually containing onion and chile, with hints of garlic and cilantro. It’s what you get when you sit down at damn near any Mex joint in the U.S. As simple as it is, the range of quality and taste is huge. I argue that you can reliably learn much about the restaurant you’re about to patronize by how good that first dish of salsa is – If it’s inspired – nuanced, with obvious care given to balance and the overall flavor palette, you’re about to eat good food. If it’s dull, lifeless, tastes old or made from crappy ingredients, well… I’ve been known to get up and go elsewhere. The lions share of American store bought salsa is salsa roja, regardless of how schmancy it may sound. Other popular roja derivatives include ranchera, taqueria, and brava. Many, many derivations on this theme have been made and are sold, most of which feature various levels of heat, (from mild to truly stupid), roasting of the constituents, or exotic additions. Those are all great, but if you find something you like, what’s far greater is for you to dissect that recipe and make one of your own – That’s what the folks who sell that stuff did, so why shouldn’t you?

Pico de Gallo - Delicious, whatever the root of the name
Pico de Gallo – Delicious, whatever the root of the name

Probably the next most well known version is Pico de Gallo, which literally translates to ‘rooster’s beak.’ There are competing tales for the origin of the name, from the fact that serrano chiles kinda look like a birds beak, to the ‘chicken feed’ consistency of well made Pico, to the early propensity to eat it by grabbing a pinch between dialing finger and thumb – You get to decide on that one… Pico is a Salsa Cruda, raw salsas that need nor want cooking. From a straight mix of tomato, onion, chile, and cilantro, to blends made with corn, fruit, seeds, nuts, or more exotic veggies, they’re a delight and a must make. Our raspberry Pico is stunningly good, and illustrates why you see some kind of acid in most of them – Be it citrus, mango, berries, or a splash of vinegar, that slightly sweet counterpunch and bite makes amazing things happen.

Salsa Verde, is, of course, green. Verdes are usually cooked sauces made with tomatillos, that pre-Colombian Nightshade relative native to pretty much everywhere in the Americas except the far north. Tomatillos have a bunch of pectin, so they gel up nicely and form a rich Sauce that sticks to what you put it on. Mixed with chiles, onion, garlic, and cilantro, they have a sublime, early flavor that goes well with many things.

Salsa Ranchera is a roasted red sauce made from tomatoes, chiles, and a spice blend. It’s typically blended to a smooth consistency and served warm. If you’re making huevos rancheros, it’s a must have.

Salsa Negra
Salsa Negra

Salsa Negra is not well know up here, but it should be. A combination of chiles, garlic, spices, and oil, it’s pungent and delightful, more like a Mexican style harissa or sambal than a salsa roja, and is much more potent. See our recipe below.

Farther south, there are many iconic salsas, some of which we’ve covered, and some you need to check out.

Chimichurri, that delightfully pungent mix of parsley, onion, garlic, and chiles in oil and vinegar, is the most popular thing in Argentina and Uruguay, and for good reason. Here’s a recipe for you to try.

Salsa de Lazano - Costa Rican gold
Salsa de Lazano – Costa Rican gold

In Costa Rica, the ubiquitous table condiment is Salsa Lizano, a smooth, delicate brown sauce that is, frankly, highly addictive. There’s a recipe below.

In Peru, the go to is Peri Peri. Its more like harissa than most South American salsas, mainly because the most fiery and traditional version is powered by African birds eye chiles, which truly do pack a wallop. You can make it with less incendiary stuff, and many folks down there do. Recipe down below for you.

And then, from the Caribbean, Cuba, and the Yucatán, there’s mojo, the heavenly marinade that powers great carne asada – You’ll find that over on this page.

So, there you have it, a salsa map to go wild with. Tonight, I’m gonna do pork tenderloin tacos, with two fresh picos, one corn, one berry – What are you making?

 

Carrot Salsa

1 Pineapple
1 large Carrot
1/2 small Sweet Onion
1-2 Jalapeño Chiles
1/4 small Red Bell Pepper
5-6 sprigs fresh Cilantro
1/2 fresh small Lemon
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste

Peel, core, trim pineapple, and dice 2 Cups.

Peel, trim and grate 2/3 Cup of the carrot.

Peel, trim and fine dice the onion and pepper.

Trim, devein and de-seed the Jalapeño, (or leave all that if you like the heat, and you can always use hotter chiles – I should write this into every recipe, just for David Berkowitz – The DB Rule 😄)

Mince the Cilantro.

Throw all that into a non-reactive mixing bowl. Add the lemon thyme, lemon juice, and zest. Season lightly with Salt and Pepper.

Refrigerate covered for at least an hour, then remove, remix and taste – Adjust seasoning as needed.

 

Salsa Negra

EThis stuff was born to power rice and beans, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s incredible on a whole lot more than that – Put this on roasted Brussels sprouts and suddenly, you live Brussels sprouts…

8-10 cloves Black Garlic (Readily available at many Asian groceries and online, this aged Garlic is more intense, sweeter, and notably darker, hence the name – It is basically slowly caramelized over a long period of time, and it’s amazing. If you don’t have that and the jones hits you, see below)
8-10 cloves fresh Garlic
2-4 fresh Chiles, (Guajillo, Serrano, or Árbol if you can get them, if not, use 1 ounce of guajillo and árbol each, reconstituted)
3/4 Cup Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon distilled White Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1 teaspoon Cumin seed.
Sea Salt

* If you don’t have black garlic, in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add a couple Tablespoons of avocado oil and allow to heat through. Stem and peel a whole head of garlic, and slice big cloves in half. Pack a nice, solid layer of garlic onto the pan and reduce heat to medium low. Keep an eye on things and stir occasionally. Let the garlic cook until it’s deeply browned, aromatic, and soft, then use that for the recipe.

Peel, trim and mince black and fresh garlic.

Stem, seed, and devein chiles, (Or apply the DB rule)

Pulse the Cumin seed in a spice grinder until their roughly broken up, but not powdered.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, add the oil and allow to heat through. Add the chiles and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the chiles start to brown and and are quite fragrant.

Remove from heat and pour into a non-reactive jar or bowl. Add the garlic, vinegar, agave, cumin, and a teaspoon of salt. Mix well, then allow to cool, covered, to room temperature.

Will last for a couple of weeks in clean glass, refrigerated.

 

Salsa Lizano

1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1-2 Chiles, (Guajillo or Serrano are both good)
1/2 small Sweet Onion
2-3 Baby Carrots
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1/2 fresh Lemon
1 Tablespoon distilled White Vinegar
2 teaspoons Blackstrap Molasses
2 teaspoons pickling Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin

 

Peel, trim, and fine dice carrot and onion.

Stem chiles, cut in half, then devein and deseed.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, add the chiles and pan roast for 3-5 minutes until they start to blister and get quite fragrant.

Add the veggie broth, onion, and carrot. Allow to heat through until it simmers, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few more minutes.

Zest lemon half.

Strain the cooked veggies, reserving the broth. Add veggies to a large mixing bowl.

Add Agave Nectar, vinegar, lemon juice and zest, molasses, cumin, and salt to the mix.

Add 1 cup of the reserved broth to the bowl.

Process with a stick blender, (use your regular blender if, gods forbid, you don’t have a stick). Blend to a smooth, even consistency. If you want super smooth, run the processed sauce through a single mesh strainer, otherwise just leave it rustic.

It’ll last a good two weeks in clean glass, refrigerated.

 

Peri Peri Sauce – Peruvian Rocket Fuel

1/2 Cup African Birds Eye Chiles, ( árbol, birds beak, cherry, or red serranos will work fine too)
1 Red Onion
8 cloves Garlic
2 small Tomatoes
1 small Red Bell Pepper
1 large Lemon
3 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
2-3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
2 teaspoons Smoked Paprika
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
2 Bay Leaves, (Turkish or California, as you prefer)

Place whole chiles, onion, bell Pepper, chiles, and peeled garlic on a rimmed baking sheet under a high broiler. Broil for 2-3 minutes, until veggies start to blister, then turn – Repeat until all sides are done, remove from heat. Once the veggies are cool enough to handle,

Stem, seed, and devein chiles and bell pepper, mince garlic, fine dice onion, chiles, and pepper.

Set up to blanch tomatoes- One pot of boiling water, with an ice water bath next to that. Pop the tomatoes in for about 30-45 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and immerse them fully into the ice water bath until fully cooled.

Remove tomatoes, peel of skins, and rough chop.

Zest and quarter the lemon.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, add all prepped veggies, agave nectar, paprika, salt, pepper, oregano, and bay leaves. Mix well, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to just maintain that, and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Add cooked ingredients to a blender vessel, then add lemon juice, and vinegar, then process blender until the sauce is nice and smooth.

Finally, while processing add a slow drizzle of oil, allowing the sauce to take it up at its preferred rate.

You may run it though a single mesh strainer, or leave it rustic.

It’ll last a good week refrigerated in clean glass.

Try it on chicken, pork, or burgers.

 

 

Puerco Pibil – Yucatán Magic.

My friend Shane is a fine cook in her own right, especially so since she lives on a moored boat in the Skagit river and has a teeny, tiny little kitchen. The other day, she posted about ‘A splash of tequila for the puerco pibil and one for the chef,’ and a lightbulb went off. It’s been a long, long time since I’d prepared this delightful Yucatecan specialty.

The heartbeat of this recipe is the marinade and the low and slow cooking method – Things as old as the land it springs from – the word Pibil may well stem from the Mayan noun for roast, but it’s come to mean the specific marinade used for this dish. The pinnacle of the art is Cochinita Pibil, a suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves and cooked low and slow in a pit dug in the ground, with hot rocks as the heat source – Very similar to traditions from the Caribbean, and Pacific Islands, among other hot spots.

The rocket fuel here is a highly acidic marinade, Pibil, focused on bitter orange, (AKA Seville orange) – That’s pretty legendary stuff, and for good reason – It originated in Southeast Asia, but has taken root all around the world as cooks have discovered its legendary qualities and transplanted variants across the globe. Bitter orange is the go to source for British marmalade, as it has very high pectin content and sets quite firmly. Bitter orange came to the Yucatán via the Spanish, stayed and spread somewhat – It’s found throughout the Caribbean, Florida, and other parts of the American Deep South. Up here in Washington State, not so much, as with a lot of the temperate north. You can get marinades and such that call themselves bitter orange, but frankly, that stuff is kinda like blended scotch – Two cups of Glenlivet in a barrel of grain alcohol. Finding pure bitter orange juice is harder and rarer, so we’re forced to approximate, which thankfully isn’t too hard to do.

Annatto de Achiote
Annatto de Achiote

The other vital leg to pibil is Annatto, the seed of the Achiote tree, also known as the Lipstick tree. Annatto is widely used as a food coloring – It’s what makes cheddar yellow in many iterations, but that’s selling it short. Annatto is subtle, but necessary in a whole bunch of Mexican recipes, and for good reason – I’ve heard it described as smelling like cinnamon or nutmeg, but I’ve never found those notes – What it imparts to me is a base earthiness, with hints of nuts and pepper – It’s hard to describe, but the fact is, if it’s missing from a recipe to which it’s seminal, like pibil, then you know right away, and the recipe just ain’t right.

The other musts for this recipe are a proper marinating phase, and a relatively low and slow cook, both of which are easy to do, either inside or out. Here’s our take on this classic dish. Note that we leave you wide latitude in the heat constituent – As with many things, there are plenty of recipes out there touting hefty amounts of seriously hot chiles for pibil, and frankly, that’s not how it’s typically done down south. If you want to make it nuclear, go for it, but know that the true beauty of pibil is the marriage of all the ingredients, without one swamping the rest – And for the record, I used fresh Fresno chiles and they were lovely.

One final note – Annatto is, as described, a colorant, and a pretty potent one at that – It will color your skin, your sink, your counter tops, and anything else it gets in contact with, so be cognizant and careful.

Puerco Pibil de UrbanMonique

2 Pounds Pork Roast, (Butt, Shoulder, Loin are all fine.)
1 Small Lemon
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
2 cloves Garlic
2+ whole Chiles (anything from Anaheim to Habañero)
2 Tablespoons Anatto seed
1 teaspoon whole Black Pepper Corns
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seed
2 Whole Cloves
3 Allspice Berries
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons Tequila

As we always note, it’s best to use whole spices, and I trust that you are – If not, just roll with it.

Zest the lemon and add that and the juice to a non-reactive mixing bowl.

Add the orange juice, vinegar, and tequila.

Combine all dry ingredients in a spice grinder, or mortise, and process/grind to a fine, consistent powder.

Add all dry ingredients to the wet and blend thoroughly.

Pibil - Yucatán rocket fuel
Pibil – Yucatán rocket fuel

Cut pork into roughly 1/2″ chunks, and transfer those to a one gallon ziplock bag.

Cut your pork to roughly 1/2" chunks
Cut your pork to roughly 1/2″ chunks

Pour the marinade into the bag and seal, then shake to thoroughly coat the meat.

Marinate for a minimum of four hours and as long as six – Don’t exceed that, as the degree of acidity in the pibil can and will make mush of your meat if you let if work too long.

Preheat oven to 300° F

Preferably, you want cast iron, or enameled cast iron for the cooking vessel. Choose something that will not let the meat spread out too much. Pour the meat and marinade into the dish/pan and tamp it down lightly. Cover with foil.

Choose a cooking vessel that's not too big.
Choose a cooking vessel that’s not too big.

Bake for 90 minutes and then check temperature and texture. When your meat is 160° F and fork tender, remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes, covered.

Low and slow Puerco Pibil
Low and slow Puerco Pibil

Serve as tacos, or loose with rice, beans, quick pickled onions, fresh cotija cheese, or whatever else floats your boat.

Gotta have the accoutrement
Gotta have the accoutrement
Tacos de Puerco Pibil
Tacos de Puerco Pibil

Restaurant Style Rice & Beans

M and I don’t eat out much, predominantly because we cook better than most restaurants. That said, there are times when you just get a serious hankering for the real thing, and when that happens to us, more times than not, it’s for good Mexican or Tex Mex. The bug hit us Saturday night, and we went to our small town, truly fabulous joint – Chihuahua’s in Ferndale, Washington. Chihuahua’s is a gas for several reasons – First off, they have an eclectic menu of genuine regional Mexican gems, interspersed with more typical Tex Mex offerings, (Which I unabashedly dig, by the way.) Secondly, they own the whole block, and the sprawling interior seats 300 folks – A quirky, kitschy, great place to eat, people watch, and enjoy a seriously good house made margarita, (Order the Denver). Third, the Hernandez family and staff are seriously dialed in for making a great dining experience happen – they’re connected with radios and discrete ear pieces, so within seconds of sitting down, warm chips and fabulous house made salsa appears like magic, somebody comes for your drink order, and food is always delivered hot and fresh. Hit up your server for mas serviettas y salsa, and they appear almost before you’re done asking. If you’re ever in the area, go there, and order the slow cooked pork shanks with the green sauce – To die for!

All that said, what I truly love are the retried beans and rice. You can get charro beans, as M always does, but I love the refrieds – Silky, perfectly seasoned, and the rice – Slighly dry, with great flavor and bite. Salsa may be the first judge of a good joint, but truly great restaurant style beans and rice seal the deal. Here’s how to make your own at home that’ll rival your fave spots, even Chihuahua’s.

For real deal restaurant style refrieds, there are some critical caveats. First off, you’ve got to use fresh, dried beans. Pintos are far and away the go-to restaurant bean, but you certainly can use black, red, or even white if you like – and of course, what you have on hand certainly has bearing on what you use when the spirit moves you. Secondly, texture is as important as seasoning – You need that silky, smooth consistency. To get it, you need an immersion blender, period. Yes, you can use a blender, but the mess, additional time required, and over all hassle factor. Thirdly, you need a little bit of lard, the pièce de résistance of a great refried recipe. Finally, we don’t always have time, energy, or materials to make beans from scratch, so I’ll include cheat recipes for canned refrieds as well, and trust me, they’ll come out great.

Speaking of lard, leaf lard is king in the world of pork fat; if you’ve not tried it, you need to. Leaf lard comes from the super soft fat around the kidneys and loins of the pig, and it maintains that softness when rendered – It spreads readily at room temp, and has a subtle hint of porkiness that adds that certain je nais se quois to your refrieds, (and anything else your heart desires). It’s not overtly piggy tasting at all, which is why bakers also dig it for making super flaky pie crusts. Leaf lard used to be hard to find, but is now readily available – Ask a local butcher, or find it online through many sources, (And plain old lard will certainly do, as that’s what’s usually used, anyway.)

For rice, any decent long grain white will do – The Magic is in the cooking method, although having good quality, fresh stuff is a must.

Cooking is all about options, and you need them with something as apparently simple as retried beans. Ideally, we’d soak beans overnight, and then slow cook them for hours before transformation to refried. Barring that, a good slow cooker allows you to combine those steps, and let it work for 8 or 9 hours while you’re at work. The low and slow is what most good restaurants do, and you’ll want to give that a whirl. What we’ll do here is explore some cheats that’ll get you stellar results with less of a time commitment. Just as we’ve shown you for soups and stews, proper ingredients, seasoning, and layering of flavors can make almost anything taste like you’ve slaved for hours, and refried beans are no exception. If you go the low and slow stove top, oven, or slow cooker route, everything goes in the pot and then let ‘er rip. The primary cheat version will reduce everything down to three or four hours, tops.

This recipe will make way more than enough beans for a single meal, and that’s a good thing – When you make great stuff, make extra. You can and should freeze some, either in a vacuum sealed bag or ziplock with the air sucked out – They’ll be good for 90 days, easy.

Mise en place for the beans
Mise en place for the beans

Restaurant Style Refried Beans

3 Cups dried Beans, Pintos preferred (others just fine)
4 Cups Chicken Broth
2 Cups water
1 Cup diced Yellow Onion
1/2 Cup diced Red Bell Pepper
1/2 Cup Crema (Sour cream is fine)
2 cloves minced fresh Garlic
1 Tablespoon Lard
2 teaspoons ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Franks Hot Sauce
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Rinse beans and remove any floaters. Check them for little rocks too – Not uncommon in dried beans.

Cover beans with at least 3″ of water, in a large sauce pan over high heat, and bring to a boil.

Boil beans for one minute, then cover and remove from heat. Allow beans to steep in hot water for one hour.

After a one minute boil and an hour soak - Just look at that liquor!
After a one minute boil and an hour soak – Just look at that liquor!

Add beans and liquor to a stock pot over medium high heat.

Add all other ingredients, except crema, and stir to incorporate. Bring beans to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer beans for 1-2 hours, until they’re fork tender. Be prepared, the aroma will make your stomach growl…

They take less than half the time of low and slow, but nobody will know
They take less than half the time of low and slow, but nobody will know

You’ll have enough beans for several meals. See above for freezing.

Transfer two cups of cooked beans to a large mixing bowl. Process the beans with a stick blender until they’re smooth and creamy.

In a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, add a tablespoon of lard and allow to melt and heat through.

Add the processed beans and stir to incorporate. When the beans start to bubble, turn off the heat, add crema or sour cream and whisk to incorporate and heat through.

Real deal refrieds, rich and creamy
Real deal refrieds, rich and creamy

Serve piping hot, garnished with shredded cheddar or jack cheese.
No time for all that? No problem – Here’s the super fast cheat that’ll yield surprisingly good results.

Big Time Cheat Refried Beans

1 16 ounce can Refried Beans
1/4 Cup Crema or Sour Cream
1/2 teaspoon granulated Garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated Onion
1-3 teaspoons of Franks Hot Sauce
Pinch of Sea Salt
Couple twists of ground Black Pepper

In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 teaspoons of lard. Add beans, garlic, onion. Hot sauce, salt and pepper. Whisk with a fork to incorporate,and allow to heat through until bubbling.

Turn off the heat, add crema or sour cream, whisk to incorporate

Serve piping hot, garnished with shredded cheddar or jack cheese.
Great Mexican restaurant rice is never heavy or soggy – It’s light, fluffy, and nicely seasoned, and that’s what you’ve got here. Slightly on the dry side, and with a notable, nutty taste, the secret lies in the cooking method as much as it does the ingredients. Here’s the drill.

Real Deal Mexican Restaurant Rice

1 Cup long grained White Rice
1 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce
1 small cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground Coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
4-5 twists fresh ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Lard

In a large sauce pan over medium heat, add the lard and allow to melt and heat through.

Add the rice to the hot pan and sauté the rice, stirring gently and steadily, until the rice turns light brown.

Add ground coriander, garlic, salt and pepper – continue sautéing until the rice is golden brown.

When the rice is golden brown, it's time to add stock and tomato sauce
When the rice is golden brown, it’s time to add stock and tomato sauce

Add chicken broth and tomato sauce and stir to incorporate.

Bring the heat up to medium high and allow the mixture to boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.

Restaurant style rice, savory and nutty
Restaurant style rice, savory and nutty

Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

Serve piping hot.

T Bone Tacos with rice and beans
T Bone Tacos with rice and beans

Carne Polaca – A Polish Swing on Mexican

T’is the football playoff season here in the States, and as such, the occasion calls for appropriate eats. It’s traditional to cook stuff that’ll feed a bunch of folks, and that’ll fill them up right as well. In many parts of Mexico, there’s such a dish, and it might even be made for a football match, although they mean what most of the world means when they say football, (and that’s soccer, of course). Doesn’t matter which game you’re glued to, ’cause Carne Polaca is guaranteed to please. Here’s the scoop on a very popular dish south of the border that you’ve likely never heard of – Carne Polaca – a Polish swing on Mexican.

How did a polish influenced dish make it to Mexico? The answer is broader than that, because versions of this dish reside all through South and Central America, as well as Mexico. That shouldn’t be a surprise, frankly. At something over 22 million souls, the Polish diaspora is one of the largest in the world, and that very much includes points south of the border. Most of this emigration occurred because of long term and repeated persecution by more powerful neighbors, though it has continued into the 21st Century, when Poland’s inclusion in the E.U. lead to a large scale migration of young folk headed elsewhere for work. Poles arrived en mass in Mexico during the mid 19th century, and again post WWII, settling mostly in the states of Chihuahua, in central northern Mexico, and Nuevo León in the northeast. The mid 19th century bunch also settled in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Naturally, they brought their cooking with them, but believe me when I tell you that they also loved what they found to work with in their new homes.

Many assume ‘Polish food,’ to be a backhanded homage, as if it were describing something inordinately simple or dull – Neither could be farther from the truth. Because the country often changed hands over the millennia, Polish cuisine is incredibly diverse. Influences run from neighbors like Czech, German, Austrian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Ukrainian, to more widespread roots in French, Turkey, and Italy. There is, internally, rich variety among the regions of the country, and the influences there naturally dovetail with their respective neighbors and traditions. Bagels originated in Poland, as did donuts, as did Kolacz, AKA kolaches. Polish food has always been centered on meats, from a wide variety of game, to beef, pork, poultry, and fish. Side dishes are hearty, focused on local crops and traditional favorites. Spice is everywhere, and used liberally – Paprika and other chiles, dill, cloves, garlic, marjoram, caraway, beetroot, and pepper all get liberal use. Sauerkraut is widely popular, as are a cornucopia of traditional sausages and cheeses. Kielbasa, golabki (stuffed cabbage rolls), and pierogis have all made their way across the globe from their homeland. So, a dish called Polish meat in Mexico isn’t so farfetched after all.

Recipes in English for carne Polaca are few and far between – In fact, I found exactly one, (sort of), so I stuck with the ones in Spanish. While quite a few recipes I checked out did indeed come from the northern border states where Mexican Poles are more concentrated, there were versions from as far afield as Tabasco on the Yucatán peninsula, to Colima on the Pacific coast. Carne Polaca is hugely popular as a party and family gathering dish, and there is significant uniformity as to ingredients and the process of making it. That said, what you won’t find, or at least I couldn’t find, was much of anything about the roots or history of this dish, as popular as it may be. As such, I shifted my sleuthing to traditional polish food, and found what I believe to be the answer – Bigos – Polish Hunters Stew.

Bigos is huge in Poland, a national dish and a tradition pretty much everywhere. It is an ancient dish, full of all things prized by hunter-gatherer societies. Like Burgoo here in the states, almost every polish cook has a version, (and theirs is best, just ask ’em). In essence, Bigos is a meat stew featuring cabbage as a main ingredient, heavily sauced and spiced, just as is carne Polaca. What goes into Bigos is what’s available. It’s often touted as a great thing to make when you need to clear out your freezer, smokehouse, or pantry. As such, there really isn’t a standard recipe, although there are some commonalities. The cabbage used may be fresh or fermented, (sauerkraut). Onions are common, sautéed until lightly browned. Spices include salt, pepper, juniper, and bay. Cloves, garlic, mustard seed, nutmeg, paprika and thyme are also mentioned quite often. This is particularly of interest given that almost every Mexican carne Polaca recipe includes quite a bit of ketchup, and many of those latter ingredients are common therein. There is often a sweet note to Bigos, as well, and that is also most definitely present in ketchup. All things considered, it’s a solid bet that Bigos is the root of carne Polaca, and that’s good news for us.

So here is our swing at a very tasty dish, indeed. You can do this with any protein you like, served over chips as a kind of dip, or with fresh tortillas taco style. It gets better the next day, so lends itself well to making burritos or chimis. What we came up with uses no ketchup, and that’s much for the better, truth be told. The tomato element we provide has the spice notes of good ketchup, with less sugar, and other stuff you may not want, and is truer to the roots of the dish.

Carne Polaca de UrbanMonique

2 Pounds Chicken Thighs
2 12-14 Ounce cans Whole Peeled Tomatoes
16-24 Ounces Chicken Stock
1 small Onion
1 head Green Cabbage
1 bunch Cilantro
1/4 Cup Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1 teaspoon yellow Mustard
2 cloves Garlic
2-5 Chipotle Chiles
1 small Lemon
2 whole Cloves
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
1/2 teaspoon Celery Salt
2 California Bay Leaves
Sea Salt
Ground Black Pepper
If you’re using dried chipotles, reconstitute them in a small bowl of warm water. If you’re using canned or crushed, you’re good to go.

Peel and trim garlic.

Preheat oven to 250° F.

In a Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of oil and allow to heat through.

Braise 2-3 minutes a side
Braise 2-3 minutes a side

Add chicken thighs to hot oil, season with sea salt and pepper, and braise them, about 2 minutes per side.

Ready for a low and slow oven
Ready for a low and slow oven

Add chicken stock to the Dutch oven, to almost cover the chicken. Add bay leaves, garlic, and cloves, allow the stock to simmer.

When you’ve reached a low simmer, cover the Dutch oven and slide it into a middle rack in the oven.

Zest lemon and cut in half.

Open tomatoes and carefully pour the liquid into a small mixing bowl. Pour the tomatoes into an oven-proof dish, (not too large, you want the liquid concentrated.)

 

To the bowl of tomato juices, squeeze half the lemon, then add a tablespoon of oil, the vinegar, agave nectar, mustard, allspice, and celery salt. Whisk with a fork to incorporate.

Add the blended liquid to the tomatoes, and slide them into the middle rack beside the chicken.

Tomatoes ready for a slow roast
Tomatoes ready for a slow roast

Allow chicken and tomatoes to stew for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the chicken is fork tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.

Slow roasted and savory
Slow roasted and savory

Hand shred chicken and set aside. Reserve the jus and freeze for future projects.

Hand shredded chicken
Hand shredded chicken

Add chipotles and juice from remaining half lemon to the tomato blend and process with a stick or regular blender to a smooth consistency.

The sauce, processed
The sauce, processed

Peel, trim and rough chop onion, cabbage, and cilantro.

The veggie mise en place
The veggie mise en place

In the Dutch oven over medium high heat, add two Tablespoons oil and allow to heat through.

Add cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lemon zest to the Dutch oven. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, until onions are lightly browned.

Sauté the veggie blend until the onions are lightly browned
Sauté the veggie blend until the onions are lightly browned

Add chicken to the Dutch oven and stir to incorporate.

Add tomato blend and stir to incorporate.

Carne Polaca de UrbanMonique
Carne Polaca de UrbanMonique

Allow the mix to cook on a low simmer for about 10 minutes.

Tacos de Carne Polaca
Tacos de Carne Polaca

Serve over warm tortillas, taco style, or with tortilla chips, or whatever way floats your boat.

We’re here to tell you that this stuff is bloody amazing, and even better the next day – We went with taco salads on day two.

Mojo, the marinade that made carne asada famous

It’s a sure bet that, if you eat enough Mexican, Tex Mex, Caribbean, or South American food, you’ve enjoyed some form of carne asada. Certainly then, you’ve swooned over the rich and pungent blends of flavors presented by something that looks so simple, but tastes so complex. The answer lies in Mojo, the marinade that made carne asada famous. The literal translation of the South American name for the dish is roasted meat, which tells us right away that the cooking side of things isn’t complex. All that magic comes from the mojo, and fortunately for us, it’s not only easy to make, it’s downright a gas.

Carne asada de UrbanMonique
Carne asada de UrbanMonique

Before we dive fully into Mojo, let’s spend a few looking at the history of carne asada – It’s as old as fire and cooking vessels, really. No one can lay claim to originating the dish, (although that hasn’t stopped many from trying). In addition to straight asada, there are popular variants that have much to do with how the meat is handled for service – Shredded or ground, as opposed to cooked whole and sliced, for instance. Shredded or pulled beef is found in American barbecue, ropa vieja in the Caribbean, and carne deshebrada in Mexico. One of the few variants with a fairly clear origin is carne asada fries, a sort of Tex-Mex swing at poutine, with carne asada and typical fixins replacing the gravy – Lolita’s in San Diego lays claim to that one, by the way. The versions most Americans are accustomed to stem from northern Mexican cuisines, although there are popular southern variants as well.

Mojo de UrbanMonique, a great all purpose marinade
Mojo de UrbanMonique, a great all purpose marinade

Specific cuts of beef are commonly associated with carne asada, and they’re not exactly the rock stars. These include skirt, flank, and flap steak, the stuff the folks doing the boogie up in the hill vertainly did not buy for themselves. That stuff was considered refuse, and the genesis of great meals formed around such marginal cuts is another example of the disenfranchised making due with while the rich folks wolfed down filet mignon. Yet here in the 21st century, popularity has turned all that on its head – When we shopped for this post, skirt steak wasn’t available, and both flank and flap were commanding $10 a pound – TEN BUCKS A POUND!! Remember what happened with short ribs, or veal bones, a while back? Same gig – Popularity breeds stunning expense, straight out. The moral of the story is to be flexible – When we spied eye of the round cut thin as steaks for $5 a pound, it was game over, and ‘authenticity’ be hanged – It’ll all eat just fine – Boneless chuck, the bargain basement of beef cuts, makes perfectly wonderful carne asada.

Mojo de UrbanMonique - Leave it rustic, or blend, as you prefer

Now, on to that mojo. If you have a carniceria nearby, you can bet they offer carne asada, either in whole steaks, sliced, or chopped. You’ll likely find it either preperada, (marinated) or not, and if you get their marinade, what you’ll get can run the gamut from simple salt and oil, to quite complex mixes that rival a mole – The marinade is where the real poetic license lives with carne asada. What you create is up to you, (and we’ll provide plenty of options herein to get ya started.)

As common and as diverse as spaghetti sauce, there are dozens of popular, commercial mojo variants, let alone the tens of thousands rendered by home cooks everywhere. The Spanish word Mojo derives from the Portuguese, Molho, which simply means sauce – a clear indicator of its ubiquity. There is general agreement that mojo originated in the Canary Islands, the archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. Canarian cuisine is a fascinating amalgamation of the native islanders, (sadly, now largely extinct), Spanish, Portuguese, and African roots. Their cooking emphasizes freshness, simplicity, and powerful flavors, many of which derive from various mojos. Literally every Canarian family has at least two signature mojos, passed down from generation to generation. The signature island dish, Papas Arrugadas, (wrinkly potatoes), is demonstrative of all that. Whole potatoes boiled in salt water, and served with red and green mojo – And in an interesting twist of serendipity, the potato isn’t native to the Canaries – They came from South America, of course.

Canarian Mojo with Papas Arrugadas
Canarian Mojo with Papas Arrugadas

In its simplest form, mojo contains olive oil, chiles (pimienta in the Canaries), garlic, paprika, coriander (either fresh or seed), and cumin. As mentioned, there are two primary branches of Canarian mojo, red and green. The red, fueled by dried or fresh chiles and paprika, is most often paired with meat, while the green, made with green peppers, cilantro, or parsley, compliments fish courses. There are many other iterations, some using local cheese, (mojo con queso), garlic, almonds, and fresh herbs – Check out that almond Mojo recipe and you’ll see what I mean about rivaling moles. One could easily spent a happy year working through all these lovely things, and one of these days, I just might.

The flow of humanity in the 16th through 19th centuries, both forced and chosen, brought mojo to Europe, then South America, the Caribbean, and eventually, North America. Mojo not only thrived, it grew in leaps and bounds. Were I forced to define a generic, accurate version that we here in the Estados Unidos are familiar with, it would certainly include chiles, citrus, garlic, oil, and vinegar – A Mexican vinaigrette, in essence. Proportions are pretty broadly interpreted, with the main aim being making enough to generously coat and marinate your proteins.

Established Mexican, Caribbean, and South American variants also run the gamut from super simple to dizzyingly complex. What this means to the home cook is that, in all honestly, you can’t go wrong – Combine stuff you love and that plays well together, and you’re in like Flynn. I’m going to offer several variants, including fairly faithful renderings of styles you’ve probably tried and liked – As I always note, use these as a springboard for personal creativity, and know that you’ll likely never do the exact same thing twice – The real beauty of Mojo is as a last minute inspirational meal – You’ve got this, that, and the other thing in your stores, so what do you do with them? You do this.

The basics for a Mexican style mojo
The basics for a Mexican style mojo

NOTE ON WHAT TO MAKE: Tacos, burritos, chimis, or taco salads, with fresh pick de gallo and warm tortillas, are almost a must for your first meal if you’re marinating proteins, but keep in mind, this stuff has North African and Iberian roots, so get bold and go that direction if you feel so inspired. And you can always sauté the meat with something new, change the spicing, and make something totally different.

Carne Asada Hash, the perfect next morning leftover
Carne Asada Hash, the perfect next morning leftover

NOTE ON MARINATING: Any marinade containing citrus, other acids like Vinegar, or other fruits like papaya, kiwi, pineapple, fig, or mango will break down the connective tissues in proteins as they marinate – There’s an enzyme called protease, (papain in papaya), that does the trick. That’s great for tenderizing tougher cuts, and it’s the secret as to why marginal stuff like skirt stake or flank steak can come out so tender. That said, be careful with the duration – There are a lot of recipes out there that advise marinating overnight, and that’s taking things too far – Going over 6 hours risks mushy meat, and nobody likes that texture. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as long as 4 or 5, and you’ll get great flavor infusion and a proper degree of tenderization.

Tacos Carne Asada
Tacos Carne Asada

NOTE ON GRILLING: Anything you marinate in Mojo will taste best grilled. And if you can, do so with wood or charcoal, although gas works just fine too. With the thinner cuts or proteins commonly used for carne asada, you’ve got to keep an eye on things – We’re talking a 2 minute punk rock song per side, as opposed to the common, classic rock 3-4 minutes a side measure. A lot of restaurants grill carne asada to well done, but you do not need to do that. Grill to medium rare, then allow a good 5 to 10 minute rest before you carve. If you use the more rustic cuts of beef, like skirt, flank, or flap steaks, carve 90° to the grain, at a 45° angle for each slice.

NOTE ON OIL: You’ll see I call for Avocado Oil on several Mojo recipes. I like it for it’s rich, buttery feel and neutral taste, as well as its exceptional smoke point. You can certainly use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in any of these recipes, but you really owe it to yourself to try avocado oil in the near future.

First, the classic Mojo roots.


Canarian Green Mojo

1 Bundle fresh Cilantro
3/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 fresh Lime
3 cloves Garlic
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

Rinse and dry all produce.

Remove long stems from Cilantro, discard and mince the leaves.

Peel and stem garlic, and mince.

Juice lime, and set aside.

If you’re using whole spices, add salt, pepper, and cumin to a spice grinder and pulse to an even consistency, (3 or 4 pulses should do it.)

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Serve with fresh crusty bread, potatoes, fish, or veggies.

 

Canarian Red Mojo

1 large Red Sweet Pepper
2-4 fresh hot chiles, (chef’s choice, they don’t have to be red – Jalapeño, Habanero, Serrano, and Cayenne all work)
3 cloves fresh Garlic
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin

Rinse all produce and pat dry.

Stem, seed, and devein the Pepper and chiles, (leave veins in chiles if you want more heat.)

Fine dice Pepper and chiles.

Mince Garlic.

Process Cumin to a powder if you’re using whole.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Serve with fresh crusty bread, chicken, pork, or beef.

 

UrbanMonique Signature Mojo – This is a great all purpose Mojo, with a couple of our signature twists.

Prep for making mojo is simple and quick
Prep for making mojo is simple and quick

2 small Limes
1 navel Orange
1-3 Jalapeño Chiles
1/2 bunch fresh Cilantro
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Live Cider Vinegar
Pinch of Sea Salt
3-4 twists fresh ground Pepper

Rinse and pat dry all produce.

Zest and juice the citrus, and reserve both.

Peel, stem, and mince the garlic.

Stem, de-seed, and devein the jalapeños, (leave the veins if you like more heat).

Remove long stems from Cilantro and mince the remainder.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Also does great with tofu, veggies, or fish.
And finally, here are a few Mexican and South American variants.

 

Quick Cervesa Mojo – Great for folks that don’t like heat.

1 bottle Negra Modelo Beer
1 small lime
1 bunch Green Onions
3 cloves fresh Garlic
Pinch of Sea Salt
A few twists fresh ground Pepper

Open beer and pour into a bowl, allowing it to loose its fizz and flatten somewhat, (About 5-10 minutes)

Zest and juice lime, set both aside.

Peel, stem and mince garlic

Trim and peel green onions, then leave them whole, as trimmed.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. Leave the sauce rustic, do not process it.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for an hour, then remove the steaks and the onions and grill both as desired. Goes great with the rest of the Negra Modelo six pack.

 

Taco Truck Mojo – There is no standard recipe, but this will put you in the running…

2 small Limes
2-4 hot Chiles of your choice
3 cloves fresh Garlic
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon dark Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons Smoked Sweet Paprika
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon White Pepper

Rinse and pat dry produce.

Zest and juice Limes, set both aside.

Stem, seed, and devein chiles, (leave veins in if you want the heat). Fine dice chiles.

Peel and stem Garlic, then mince.

Process spices to a consistent rough powder if you’re using whole.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Process with a stick blender to a smooth, even consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as many as 5 hours. Grill proteins as desired, and baste with the marinate as you’re grilling.

 

Garlic Papaya Mojo

1 fresh Papaya
1 small Green Bell Pepper
3-4 Green Onions
1 small fresh Lime
3 cloves Fresh Garlic
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon live Cider Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
Pinch of Sea Salt
A couple twists fresh ground Pepper

Peel, seed and rough chop papaya.

Zest and juice Limes.

Stem, seed and devein green pepper, then dice.

Peel, stem green onions, then cut into 1/4″ thick rounds.

Peel, stem, and mince garlic.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Process with a stick blender to a smooth, even consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as many as 3 hours – don’t exceed that too much, as the papain enzyme in papaya is formidable stuff. Grill proteins as desired, and baste with the marinate as you’re grilling.

Chiles Rellenos de Oaxaca

On a chilly, rainy Saturday morning, M and I set out for the local farmer’s market in Bellingham. On arrival, we found a thriving and well attended scene – it’s a thing I love about towns like this – Rainy weather does nothing to dissuade Bellinghamsters from their appointed rounds, any more than snow and cold did the Concordians of my youth.

Rain doesn't stop Bellinghamsters
What struck us as particularly vibrant was the surprising number of small farms represented, most of which were organic. The fall bounty of chiles, tomatoes, sausage, and cheese set my dinner plan in mind – Chiles rellenos de Oaxaca. We made our leisurely rounds, then headed home to cook.

Great produce at the farmer's market
You’ll find some variant of the Chile Relleno, ‘stuffed peppers’, all over Mexico. Most often, the chile used will be Poblanos, and rest assured that the people who share the same name, (folks from the State of Pueblo), lay claim to the origins of that famous dish. That said, the amazing number and breadth of relleno variants indicates that pretty much anywhere chiles grow, they are and have been stuffed for a long, long time.

Oaxacan Chiles
The typical chile relleno is stuffed with cheese, coated in an egg batter, and fried. You’ll see that throughout Mexico, and of course, up here in the states as well. The Oaxacan version, however, is a bit more robust – It is, technically, a chile relleno de picadillo, meaning stuffed with cheese and shredded or minced meat; everything from goat and lamb, to pork, beef, or chicken is used, as is chorizo, that singularly delightful Mexican fresh sausage. The other hallmark of Oaxacan rellenos is the range of chiles used; they grow a dizzying variety down there, and whatever looks good and is in season is as likely as not to end up stuffed. That’s a good thing for us all to embrace, frankly – Each chile brings a different level of taste, heat, and color to a dish, and variety is indeed a wonderful thing.

Fresh chorizo
Chorizo, or chouriço, is not indigenous to Mexico; it is an import from the Iberian Peninsula, where both Spain and Portugal lay claim to its origins. While the Spanish version uses smoked pork, the Mexican is made with fresh. There are as many varieties of chorizo as there are chiles, frankly, so defining The Real Recipe is a bit of a crap shoot. I’ve got a favorite recipe that I use, and I’ll share that here. I make Chorizo as a loose sausage, and you can too; it’s much simpler that way. If you’d rather buy and you’re from this neck of the woods, I’ll tell you that the Haggen’s version has been declared muy authentico by trusted Mexican friends, and after testing that claim, I agree wholeheartedly – It’s surprisingly good stuff. As promised, here’s my version.

Fresh Chorizo

2 pounds fresh ground local Pork
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1-2 teaspoons flaked or ground Chipotle Chile
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon flaked Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black Pepper
3-5 Tablespoons Ice Water

Chill a large stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes prior to building the chorizo. Pork should be refrigerated right up to the point of assembly.
Combine all ingredients in the cold bowl and mix by hand until you have a homogenous blend. You should end up with a nice moist, deeply red sausage.
Transfer sausage to a airtight, non-reactive container and place it in the freezer for about fifteen to twenty minutes.
Remove from freezer and refrigerate until ready to use.
If you’re not using the chorizo right away, wrap tightly in plastic, then aluminum foil and freeze.

Fresh Queso Blanco
The cheese used for this dish simply must be fresh queso blanco. This soft, non-aged white cheese also has its roots on the Iberian Peninsula, but has been wholeheartedly adopted throughout the Americas. Queso blanco is remarkably easy to make; if you’ve never given it a try, you really must. The caveat here is that ultra-pasteurized milk simply will not produce good cheese. You need something fresh and as local as possible – Since there’s no aging involved, and no culture added, this cheese will directly reflect the milk you make it from, (although you certainly can add herbs, veggies, etc if you like). While the ability to press this cheese will make a more consistent product, you really don’t need a dedicated press. Here’s how it’s done. Here again, you can find fresh queso blanco at many grocery stores these days, too.

You’ll need;
Non-reactive stock pot,
Steel mixing spoon,
Instant read thermometer,
Metal colander
Decent cheesecloth

Queso Blanco
1/2 gallon fresh whole milk, (no ultra-pasteurized)
6 teaspoons Live Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
Salt to taste

In a stock pot over medium low heat, add the milk.
Stir occasionally and monitor temperature until milk reaches 185° F, about 10 minutes or so.
Reduce heat to low and add 2 teaspoons of vinegar, and stir gently. You will see curds begin to separate from the whey; going forward, stir very gently – The curds retain moisture, which you want, so stir them, don’t batter them.
After a minute or so add 2 more teaspoons of vinegar and stir.
Repeat with the last 2 teaspoons of vinegar after another minute or two.
Let the curds and whey rest for five minutes.
Once you’ve got well formed curds, continue to stir gently to keep the curds from clumping, (called matting in the cheese making parlance)
Spread cheesecloth over your colander. If you’d like to make ricotta with the whey, put the colander inside a mixing bowl; if not you can discard it.
Gently pour the curds into the lined colander. Add salt,(and any herbs or veggies), and mix gently by hand.
You can now hang the cheese in the cloth for 10 to 20 minutes if you prefer a dryer cheese. If not, (and thereafter if you do), it’s time to press the cheese. I’ve got a press, so that’s what I use; I realize 99% of y’all don’t have one, so here’s what you do:

Pressing the queso
Return the cloth wrapped cheese to the colander. Place a flat plate small enough to fit well within the colander on top of the cheese. Place a stock pot on top of the plate. Water weights 8 pounds a gallon. Start with one gallon of water and let the cheese sit for 20 minutes. Add 2 more gallons of water and continue pressing for 2 hours.
Remove cheese from cloth, wrap it in waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use. Fresh queso will last for 3 to 4 days refrigerated.

And finally, the rellenos.

Chiles Rellenos de Oaxaca for 4, (or a hungry two, or leftovers…)
4 Poblano Chiles
1/2 Pound Chorizo
1/2 Pound Queso Blanco
1 14.5 ounce can Tomatoes
1/4 Cup diced Sweet Onion
2 tablespoons minced, toasted almonds
2 cloves minced Garlic
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Cinnamon
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to season
Olive Oil
Canola Oil or Lard for frying

For the Batter
4 Egg Whites
1 Tablespoon Wondra Flour
Pinch Sea Salt
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour for dredging

To a sauté pan over medium heat, add chorizo and cook until lightly browned and no pink shows.
Add minced almonds and continue cooking until they’re lightly toasted.
Remove chorizo blend from pan into a small bowl.
Add diced queso to chorizo/almond mix, and incorporate. Set aside.

queso-chorizo blend
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the sauté pan and scrape all the little chorizo remnants loose.
Add onions and sauté until they start to turn translucent.
Add garlic and sauté until raw garlic smell dissipates.
Add tomatoes to sauté pan and heat through, stirring to incorporate, until sauce starts to simmer.
Add cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally.
Heat oven to Broil and place a rack on a high setting.
Place chiles on a baking sheet and broil until the skins begin to blister, turning steadily to get all sides evenly seared.
Remove chiles from oven and set onto a plate to cool.
Set oven to bake at 300° F and set a rack to a middle position.
When chiles are cooled enough to handle, carefully cut the stem and seed cluster free from each chile and discard.
Carefully stuff each chile with equal volumes of the chorizo/queso mixture. Set stuffed chiles on a plate.

Rellenos ready to stuff
Add 1/2 cup oil or lard to a frying pan over medium high heat to 350° F.
Set 1/2 cup of flour onto a plate or shallow dish for dredging.
Beat egg whites, with a pinch of salt added, to a stiff peak, then add a tablespoon of flour and beat to incorporate.
Carefully roll chiles in flour, one at a time, then roll them through the egg whites to coat.
Carefully place chiles in hot oil and fry until golden brown, turning carefully onto each side, about 3 to 4 minutes total.
Carefully place chiles on a baking sheet and slide that into the oven. Bake chiles for 15 minutes at 300° F.
To serve, ladle a generous dose of tomato sauce into a bowl, and add a relleno to each.

Chiles rellenos de Oaxaca
Top with sour cream and fresh chopped cilantro.
I’m certainly not going to tell you how to eat your dinner, but I will say this – The real joy of this dish is to break up the relleno in the tomato sauce until you’ve got an even, kind of chili-like consistency – Doing that lets all the ingredients blend together in each bite – And it is amazing, indeed.

Tacos Birria

Birria, real birria, is a sublime beauty. Like so many fantastic regional Mexican sauces, there is a perceived, daunting complexity to the making, but birria is far easier than it looks or tastes, and it rewards with stunning depth and complexity. If you’ve ever enjoyed a really good red or black molé, the effect is similar.Birria hails from the state of Jalisco, which is more or less in the middle of the country on the Pacific side; it runs inland for nearly half the country’s width, some 30,000 square miles of beach, mountain, forest and plain, with altitudes from sea level to over 14,000 feet. Many things considered ‘Mexican’ by us gringos come from here, from mariachi and ranchero music to birria and tequila.

The popular nickname for people from Jalisco is Tapatio, a name hot sauce fans everywhere will instantly recognize. That, the competing hot sauce Cholula, and la Rojeña distillery, home of Jose Cuervo, are easily the most widely known constituents of Jalsciense food and drink, but there’s much more. Fish from ocean and lake, wild game birds, corn, beans, and a dizzying array of chiles are just the start. The Spanish introduced stock animals, dairy, and additional fruit and vegetables. All that bounty has lead to a rich and varied cuisine that blends the old and new in an ever-evolving melange. For classics, posole, menudo, and guacamole all have their roots here, as does birria.

Birria is arguably the state dish, served for special occasions and holidays. It, like posole and menudo, are also celebrated as hangover cures, (and you could do far worse for a morning after repast). Basically a stew, birria is most often found served in tacos, with pickled onions and lime from street carts, birrierias, throughout Mexico. Like any other long standing, legendary dish, the ‘correct’ preparation of birria varies widely. Traditionally, the meat is goat or mutton, marinaded in adobo spices, then married with chiles, tomatoes, onion, and spices. Here in the states, neither of those proteins is widely available, so the dish is made with beef or pork ribs, or even chicken.

Below you’ll find our take on birria; it’s pretty true to the original. If you go with beef ribs as we did, find a big package of the rough looking, inexpensive stuff – The long, slow boil will tenderize any cut, so don’t spend big bucks on short ribs, which are popular these days, and as such, stupid expensive.

I offer preparations for both homemade adobo and achiote paste as well. My understanding is that the latter is actually a Yucateco specialty, (From the Yucatan Penninsula), but it would not be much of a stretch for there to have been a cross-country trade in such things. Both of these are amazing when homemade – night and day from anything store bought.

When you’re ready to shop, locate a Mexican grocery or carniceria near you and make a visit. You will likely find all the spices and chiles you need there, (most of which are really inexpensive and already ground), and bitter orange juice, too. A carniceria will likely have great ribs as well. Don’t forget fresh tortillas either – 4″ or 5″ corn are best.

Again, this may look daunting, but I assure you it’s not. Assemble all the pieces on your kitchen table, stage ingredients, and enjoy the journey – It will be absolutely worth the effort. Make the adobo, achiote, and pickled onions ahead of the birria, so you’ll have plenty of time to build that at a leisurely pace. Several of the prep steps can be done the night before as well, so break things up if it seems like it’s too much in one swell foop. I strongly suggest you print this whole thing out and read it through it a time or two before you cut loose; it’s not hard, but there are quite a few moving parts…
Classic Adobo:

1/4 cup sweet paprika.

3 tablespoons ground black pepper.

2 tablespoons onion powder.

2 tablespoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

2 tablespoons ground cumin.

1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder.

1 tablespoon garlic powder.

Blend all ingredients throughly and place in an airtight spice jar. Adobo can be used as a dry rub, or moistened to a paste with bitter orange or grapefruit juices; each of the wet variants brings a whole new angle to the marinade. Apply to your chosen protein and allow to rest, refrigerated and uncovered, for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

  

Achiote Paste
2 tablespoons annatto seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon black pepper or 1 teaspoon chipotle pepper

5 allspice berries

1 teaspoon salt

1 pinch nutmeg
NOTE: Annato is a colorant used to make cheese yellow, among other things; it will stain anything and everything porous it touches, (including your hands), so handle with care.

Put all ingredients into a spice grinder, and pulse until you’ve achieved a uniform, fine powder.

Transfer to a small mixing bowl, and add a tablespoon of cold water; mix into a thick paste that holds together well – For this recipe, 1 to 2 tablespoons of water is plenty.

You can place the paste into an ice cube tray, cover, and freeze it, and it’ll last a good 6 months; just pop out a cube when you need some. Refrigerating in an airtight container will last a good 90 days.

To use the paste as a marinade, blend a tablespoon of paste with 6 to 8 cloves of roasted garlic and 1/2 Cup of bitter orange juice, (also called Seville orange juice by some purveyors), or grapefruit juice.

Smear onto chicken or pork and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Tacos Birria

3 Pounds Beef Ribs

5 mild Hatch or Anaheim Chiles

2 dried Pasilla Chiles

2 dried Ancho Chiles

1 12 oz. can Tomatoes

1 small Sweet Onion

4 cloves Garlic

12 black Peppercorns

1 tablespoon Achiote Paste

1/2 teaspoon Cumin Seed

Sea Salt

Freshly ground pepper
12 to 16 small corn tortillas.

Pickled sweet onions

Fresh Lime wedges


Pickled Onions

1 small sweet Onion (Red or yellows are fine if you prefer more bite)

3/4 Cup White Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Bakers Sugar

1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
Refried Black Beans

1 12 ounce can Black Beans

1 Cup Chicken Stock

1-2 cloves Garlic

2 Tablespoons Butter

1/4 Cup Cream

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Combine beans, stock, and smashed or pressed garlic in a pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer while building the birria.

Drain beans and transfer to a skillet over medium heat. Smash beans with a fork or potato masher to a nice, rough consistency.

Add butter and whisk with a fork to incorporate.

Add cream and whisk to incorporate.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low.
M’s Mexi Rice

1 Cup long grain white Rice

1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock

1 Tablespoon Butter

1/2 teaspoon Chipotle powder

1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/2 teaspoon Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Combine rice, butter, and seasonings in a pot over medium high heat. Sauté the rice for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add stock bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce heat to low.

Simmer covered for 15 to 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed and rice is fluffy.

Remove from heat, leave covered and set aside until service.
The Birria

At least 4 hours prior to cooking, and up to overnight, prepare a wet adobo rub per instructions above. Evenly coat your meat, and allow to marinate, refrigerated and uncovered.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, add the ribs in tight layers. Season with a tablespoon of sea salt and cover with fresh water until you’ve got a couple inches over the highest ribs.

Bring the pot to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low.


Skim the fat and foam that comes to the surface.

Boil ribs for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, skimming as needed; if the water gets down to rib level, add a bit more to keep them covered.

Rinse, peal, and thinly slice one of the sweet onions. In a mixing bowl, combine vinegar, sugar, salt and oregano, whisk to incorporate. Toss onions into the bowl and make sure they’re fully covered by the brine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

If using whole dried chiles, put them in a small bowl and cover completely with water. Allow to soak for 30 to 60 minutes, until the chiles are soft and pliable.


Rinse, stem and seed Hatch or Anaheim chiles. Rinse, peel and quarter the remaining onion. Peel the garlic cloves and leave whole. Roast all those ingredients on a baking sheet under a broiler, turning once or twice, until chile skins are blistered. Remove from oven and hot baking sheet, and set aside to cool.

Prep Adobo and Achiote paste, per above.

When rib meat is tender and starting to separate from the bones, use tongs and transfer ribs to a colander for a 15 minute rest.

Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the rib broth, pour the rest off and return the pot to the stove, with the burner off.

Add peppercorns and cumin seed to a spice grinder and pulse to a smooth powder.

Remove reconstituted chiles from soaking water, then stem and seed them.

In a blender or food processor, combine all chiles, the roasted onion and garlic, tomatoes, pepper and cumin, and achiote paste. Pulse to a smooth consistency. Add a cup of the reserved broth and pulse to incorporate; you can add more broth if you prefer the sauce a bit thinner.


Place a single mesh strainer over the stock pot and run the sauce through, gently pressing by hand. Turn heat to medium. When the sauce starts to bubble, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly.

Heat tortillas, wrapped in foil, in a warm oven.

Separate the rib meat from bones and fat, and hand shred.

Add the meat to the sauce, reduce heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes longer.


Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.


Serve three or four tacos, garnished with pickled onions and a couple lime wedges, refrieds, and rice.

Salut.