Tag Archives: Mexican

Chili Verde

Green chili is not well known in the Eastern US; I first encountered it on a business trip to Santa Barbara, California many years ago. The dish contrasts the natural sweetness of pork with the citrusy tartness of tomatillos rounded out with the moderate heat of jalapeños. Served over Mexican-style rice with a bit of queso fresco, a dollop of sour cream, or a sprinkle of shredded Monterrey jack or cheddar it makes a simple, satisfying one-dish meal. Or you can dress it up with some frijoles de la olla and perhaps a bit of guacamole for a festive meal. For variety, add a bit of pickled nopales or pozole. This is basic peasant food which is as good as it gets for my taste.

As presented this recipe serves two generously.

Ingredients

Garlic

2 or 3 cloves to taste

Jalapeño chilies

2 or 3 to taste

Onion, coarsely chopped

1

Tomatillos

1 28-ounce can, drained

Mexican oregano

15 ml (1 Tbsp)

Oil or lard

30 ml (2 Tbsp)

Pork sirloin or shoulder cut into 25 mm (1 inch) cubes

400 – 500 g (about 1 pound)

Pork, vegetable, or chicken stock

150 ml (2/3 cup)

Salt and pepper

To taste

Method

Place the unpeeled garlic cloves into a cast iron Dutch oven over moderately high heat and roast, turning from time to time until slightly blacked and soft. When cool enough to handle, peel and set aside.

Blacken the jalapeños under a hot broiler or, as I do, with plumber’s torch. Wrap in a towel and let cool. Using the towel, rub off the charred peel. Halve each pepper lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and placenta (pith). Chop coarsely and set aside.

Place the garlic, jalapeños, onion, tomatillos, and oregano into a food processor. Process to a smooth puree. Set aside.

Heat the oil or lard in the Dutch oven until just smoking. Add the pork cubes, working in batches if need be to maintain a single layer. Brown thoroughly on all sides and remove to a bowl.

Add a bit more oil to the pan if needed to have a light coating on the bottom and reheat to nearly smoking. Dump in the tomatillo puree all at once. Stir while it sizzles, scraping up any meat stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the reserved pork and stock, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer until the meat is thoroughly tender, about 30 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot over rice.

Tinga de Pollo y Papas

Most of what we in the United States think of as Mexican food is derived from the post-conquest cuisines of the border states of Chihuahua and Sonora. The Spanish influence is seen in the heavy use of cheese and meat which were virtually unknown in pre-Columbia Mesoamerica.  Farther south in Puebla and Oaxaca the food retains more of its traditional character. Chef and cookbook author Rick Bayless champions this distinctly more interesting cuisine. This recipe, which I adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen (New York: Scribner, 1996), pp 322-323, is an example from Puebla. Traditionally, tinga does not contain potatoes but Bayless’s use of them gives the dish an interesting texture and flavor. And, after all, potatoes are in the same botanical family and originated in the same area of South America as do tomatoes. In Mexico City, tinga is served on crispy tostadas topped with queso fresco and a slice of avocado. I usually present it with a plate of warm corn tortillas, shredded sharp cheddar, and avocado if I have some.

Ingredients

Garlic, unpeeled

3 or more cloves

Canned chipotles en adobo

2 or more to taste

Tomatoes, diced or whole

1 14-ounce can

Chicken fat, oil, lard, or combination

30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons) divided use

Chicken thighs, skinless*

2

Boiling potatoes

3 or 4 medium, about 250 grams (½ pound)

Onion, yellow or white

1 medium, about 125 grams (¼ pound)

Dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 teaspoon

Salt

To taste

Tortillas, corn or flour, to serve

3 or 4 per person

Avocado slices and cheese, to garnish

To taste

* bone-in are best.

 Method

Put the garlic cloves, unpeeled, in a small dry skillet over medium heat, turning from time to time, until they have softened. When cool enough to handle, remove the peels and put into a food processor or blender along with the chipotles and tomatoes with their juice. Process to a smooth puree.

Warm 15 milliliters (1 Tablespoon) of the fat in a heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat. When nearly smoking, pour in the puree and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium-low and submerge the chicken thighs in the sauce. Cover and simmer until the meat is done, about 25 minutes. Remove the thighs to a plate, leaving as much sauce as possible behind. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones in large shreds.

Using the coarse grating disk of the food processor or a hand grater, shred the potatoes. Roll them into a kitchen towel and squeeze out as water as possible. Thinly slice the onion. Add the remaining fat to a large non-stick skillet (I use a 12” one) over medium heat. Cook the potatoes and onions, tossing or stirring regularly, until well browned. Pour in the sauce, sprinkle on the oregano, and fold in the chicken. Heat through and season to taste with salt.

Turn the finished tinga into a warmed serving bowl. Present with warmed tortillas and garnishes.

Review: Garage Taco Bar

CaptureThis latest addition to the downtown Binghamton restaurant scene is located in a former auto repair shop. Friends of mine spoke highly of the work on their cars there. I do not expect similar comments about the current occupant. The décor is supposed to have a garage theme but that is pretty much limited to the front end of an old Chevrolet on the wall behind the bar and a few dozen wheels above it. The rest of the space, filled with retro Formica-topped tables, reminds me of my high school cafeteria. In nice weather, the garage doors open onto a patio furnished with picnic tables giving the place an improvised look. And, like most restaurants today, the sound level was just below the threshold of pain.

Unless you are seated at the bar, you order your food at a counter where you are given a number to place on whatever table you choose to sit at. Presumably your meal will be delivered to you. At the bar, you order from your bartender. And then you wait…and wait…and wait. Finally, your food arrives—in one or more rectangular cardboard bowls accompanied by a plastic spork.

Since the Garage calls itself a taco bar, one would expect it to have tacos. But at 8 PM on a Tuesday evening two of the five flavors of tacos, carne asada and carnitas, were sold out leaving pollo asado, frijoles y queso, and tofurizo. Tacos are served as a “dinner” of two with a side from a modest list and your choice of salsa, all for $8.  I ordered the first two with a side of Mexican rice…and I waited…for about twenty minutes even though the place was perhaps 10% full. For a signature dish, the tacos were a huge disappointment. They were flour tortillas hard in spots, soft in others, filled, respectively with perhaps a tablespoon of finely shredded chicken with no discernable flavor and a like amount of bland cheddar with a few canned black beans. The rice was yellow and served with one cilantro leaf which I suppose made it “Mexican.” Since I like really hot food, I opted for the hot salsa. It was basically chopped habaneros with too much heat and not enough flavor. I would have asked to try the medium hot salsa had I been able to get the bartender’s attention. I passed up a couple local brews for a Mexican beer, Modelo, on draft. That was a mistake. The beer was cold enough, but sour and reminiscent of American mass-market swill.

I have in the past criticized local restaurants for overly large servings but the Garage Taco Bar is at the opposite extreme. Their dinner is barely enough to be an appetizer and rather overpriced for what you get. I would pay a bit more to have tacos worthy of being a meal. And I would really like a choice of corn or flour tortilla and perhaps of hard or soft tacos. In fairness, the Garage has only been open for a couple of weeks so perhaps in time the food will improve and be prepared in a more reasonable length of time. Meanwhile, if you have a yen for Mexican fast food I recommend Chipotle or Moe’s.

Garage Taco Bar

211 Washington Street

Binghamton, NY 13901

(607) 217-7464

Mexican-Style Smoked Leg of Lamb

This year Cinco de Mayo coincided with Orthodox Easter so it seemed apt to prepare an iconic Greek holiday food in a style reminiscent of Mexico, noting that I make no claims of authenticity on either count. One traditional Mexican preparation of a leg of lamb, or goat, is barbacoa en adobo, literally barbeque in sauce, in which the meat is marinated in a spicy chili paste, placed on a bed of vegetables, wrapped in banana leaves, and slowly roasted for hours. In Greek cuisine a leg of lamb is also marinated but usually in yogurt and lemon but it is grilled or roasted directly over hot coals, often with an aromatic wood added to provide a smoky flavor. In my version, which I admit leans more heavily in the Mexican direction, I use a marinade similar to that used in barbacoa and cook the meat over indirect heat in a charcoal smoker grill with mesquite chips. If you would like to try real barbacoa en adobo I recommend the recipe by Pati Jinich at Pati’s Mexican Table which was also featured in The Washington Post. For guidance on smoking a leg of lamb on a backyard grill I turned to a recipe by the late Papa D. posted at food.com.

Ingredients

  • 3 dried guajillo chilies
  • 2 dried ancho chilies
  • Boiling water, about 3 cups (750 ml)
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) lime juice, optional
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon (2 ml) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt, or to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) sugar
  • 1 leg of lamb, preferably bone-inesquite chips for smoking

Method

In a large, dry, preferably cast iron, skillet over medium heat toast the chilies, being careful not to burn—especially the guajillos which burn easily. Place the chiles into a medium saucepan along with boiling water to just cover them. Simmer for 10 minutes then set aside to cool somewhat. With a pair of tongs, lift each chile from the water, stem end down, remove the stem and seeds, and transfer to a blender. (Note: do not make the mistake I made of thinking that a food processor will work for this otherwise you will have as big a mess as I did.) Strain the cooking liquid into the blender and add rest of the ingredients. Puree until smooth. Wipe out medium saucepan and empty the puree into it. Simmer, uncovered, until it thickens, about 20 to 30 minutes. (Note: traditionally the sauce would be seared in lard or oil before simmering.) Set aside to cool. Trim the leg of lamb of excess fat and, with a sharp knife, remove the membrane (silver skin) being careful not to let the muscles of the leg separate. Place the meat on a large piece of plastic wrap and season the top side with salt and pepper then rub on a generous amount of the marinade. Turn it over and repeat on the other side. Wrap the leg with the plastic using additional large pieces as needed. Put into a suitable pan and refrigerate overnight. Take the lamb out of the refrigerator four or five hours before you plan to serve it. Let it warm up at room temperature for about an hour. Put a quantity of mesquite chips in a bowl of water to soak while you prepare the grill for indirect heat. I put burning charcoal with a few pieces of mesquite on either side of an aluminum drip pan on the fire grate. Place the lamb on the grill and smoke it until it reaches about 150°F (65°C)—from two to four hours depending on how hot your fire is. Ideally you should keep the temperature around 200°F (95°C) but I found that impossible to do on my Weber grill so my lamb was done in about two hours. Let the lamb rest, tented loosely with foil, for a half hour before serving. I served the lamb thinly sliced with warmed tortillas, Mexican rice, beans, and the usual taco accompaniments.

Chicken Pozole

Ever since I was a boy and my mother put it into her pea soup I have loved hominy. It has been a Mesoamerican staple for more than 3,000 years. Pozole, a stew built around hominy, is probably nearly as old. You can use canned hominy for this dish but I like the firmer texture that comes from cooking the dried product. The latter is also much less expensive. I use a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time for a couple hours to less than 30 minutes. And I do not bother soaking it. However, it you do not use a pressure cooker soak it overnight. I serve this as meal all by itself but you could ladle it over Mexican-style rice if you wished.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup, about 6 ounces, dried hominy (or 2 14½-ounce cans)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 bell pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1 jalapeño chili, halved and seeded
  • 1 pound tomatoes, halved lengthwise (or one 14-½ ounce can diced tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon lard or oil
  • 2 ounces bacon, diced
  • 8 ounces boneless chicken thighs, cut into small bite-size pieces
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt to taste

Method

Rinse the hominy well and put it in the pressure cooker with the water and a bit of salt if you wish. Cook at high pressure (15 psi) for 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes then release the pressure. Drain the hominy, reserving the cooking liquid.

Arrange the pepper, jalapeño, and tomatoes on a baking sheet and put under a preheated broiler. (Omit the tomatoes if using canned.) When their skins have charred, remove the tomatoes, peel, and coarsely chop them. When the peppers are charred wrap them in a kitchen towel for about 15 minutes then peel and dice them.

Melt the lard in a heavy Dutch oven or similar pot over medium-high heat. Render the bacon until it turns crispy. Remove to a bowl leaving as much fat behind as possible. Brown the chicken pieces in the lard and bacon fat then remove to the bowl with the bacon.

Turn the heat under the pot down to medium and give it a couple minutes to cool a bit then sauté the onion, pepper, and jalapeño until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two then stir in the tomatoes, oregano, and cumin. Return the meats to the pot along with the hominy. Add enough of the hominy cooking liquid to just cover everything. Season to taste with salt, stir, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Check the seasoning once more before serving hot.

Pork and Squash with a Mexican Twist

Pork and Squash with a Mexican TwistIt is said that necessity is the mother of invention. In my kitchen, however, the mother of invention is often whatever is lying around in the refrigerator threatening to go bad. For this recipe I started with the rendered pork shoulder I described earlier and some lovely summer squash from a local farmers’ market. The inspiration came in the form of some mystery stock (I am pretty sure it is beef stock but I cannot recall what I cooked in it), a scant cup of tomato sauce, and some scallion greens. The pantry yielded some chipotle chilies, garlic, and some spices. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons lard or oil, divided use
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, chopped, divided use
  • 3 or 4 scallions, green part only, sliced thinly crosswise
  • 4 ounces cooked, shredded pork shoulder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, divided use
  • 1½ cup beef or chicken stock, divided use
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large or 2 small summer squash, sliced lengthwise ¼-inch thick
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 chipotle chilies in adobo, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • Kernels from one ear of sweet corn
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese

Method

Heat the 1 tablespoon of the lard oil in a heavy pan over medium heat. Sauté the scallions and ½ of the garlic until soft. Add the shredded pork and stir to combine. Add the cumin and ½ teaspoon of oregano. Pour in ½ cup of the stock and stir until absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Brush the summer squash slices with a bit of lard or oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan or grill and cook the squash until just soft. Set aside.

Over medium heat, melt the rest of the lard or oil in the same pan you used for the meat. Add the onion and sauté until soft but not colored, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and sauté for yet another minute. Stir in the chipotles, the tomato sauce, the remaining oregano, and the remaining cup of stock. Bring to a boil and simmer until nicely thickened. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°. Spread a bit of sauce on bottom of a baking dish just large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Arrange the squash in the dish and nap with ½ of the remaining sauce. Spread the corn and meat evenly over the squash then cover with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and dish is bubbling.

Chili Verde with Pork

chili verde with porkChili verde, or green chili, is not very common outside the Southwest which is really a shame because it embodies some of the finest flavors of Mexican cuisine. Traditionally it made with chunks of pork, carnitas, cooked separately from a green sauce of tomatillos and green chilies. Of course fresh tomatillos are best but canned ones make an acceptable substitute. However, fresh chilies (or thawed frozen ones) are essential. I add hominy to mine because I like its texture but can leave it out, especially if you serve it over rice or with beans. And it is very good with chicken too, either cooked for the purpose or left overs.

Ingredients

  • 2½ pounds pork loin cut into 1-inch cubes (I use the meat from the smaller, fatter end of the loin)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 glove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ bottle beer, any lager or mild ale will do (or just leave it out)
  • Water
  • ⅓ cup dried white hominy or one 14-ounce can, drained
  • 1 28-ounce can of tomatillos or 1½ pounds fresh
  • 2 green Anaheim or poblano chilies (bell peppers will do, too, but increase the jalapeños)
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño chilies
  • Oil, about 3 Tablespoons, divided use
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • Salt as needed

Method

Season the pork cubes with sale (go easy on it if you are using canned tomatillos because they can be pretty salty) and put everything in a pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure for 30 minutes then allow pressure to drop naturally. Drain the meat, reserving the cooking liquid. Whatever you do not use for the chili will make very good Mexican rice.

Rinse the hominy well and put into a small sauce pan with about a cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

If using fresh tomatillos, husk and rinse them, then place on a sheet pan under a hot broiler, turning occasionally until they are charred on all sides. If using canned, simply drain them. Put the tomatillos into the jar of a food processor along with any liquid in the pan.

Char the chilies either under a hot broiler or, as I do, with a plumber’s torch. Wrap them in a towel to cool for about 10 minutes then rub off the skins. Cut off the stems and remove the seeds. Chop coarsely and add to the tomatillos in the food processor.

Place a Dutch oven or large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 Tablespoon of the oil and, when hot, the onions. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute or two. Add to the food processor along with the oregano.

Pulse the food processor to reduce the vegetables to a smooth but slightly chunky puree adding a bit of the pork cooking liquid as needed.

Pour enough oil into the Dutch oven or skillet to just lightly cover the bottom. Put over high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Dump in the contents of the food processor all at once and sear for a couple of minutes then turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until the sauce darkens and thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the hominy. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

Gently fold the pork cubes into the sauce and simmer until heated through. Taste a last time then serve hot, alone or over rice, garnished with a dollop of sour cream and a few pickled jalapeño slices.

Homemade Chili Powder

The secret to really good chili is the chili powder. And the only way to get really good chili powder is to make it yourself. Start with dry chilies that are readily available in Hispanic markets and Latin food sections of most supermarkets. Just which chilies you use is a matter of personal taste and will take some experimentation. I use ancho and pasilla for their rich flavors, guajillo for their beautiful red color, and arbol for heat. You can also add some chipotle or morida chilies for a smoky flavor and a bit more heat. Although individual peppers vary in heat and flavor intensity, you can achieve a rather consistent powder if you weigh each different type

Makes about ½ cup

Ingredients

2 ounces dried assorted dried chilies

Method

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. By turns place each type of chili in the hot skillet and toast well on each side being careful that they do not burn. Be especially careful with guajillos and arbols because they burn easily. Anchos and pasillas, being thick, benefit from having a weight, another skillet for example, put on them.

Let the chilies cool a bit then remove the stems, and seeds if you wish (I leave the seeds in). Cut the large chilies into pieces and place in a food processor. Just crumble in the arbols. Process for a couple of minutes, stopping now and then to scrape down the sides of the processor jar, until the largest pieces are less than ½-inch wide.

You can use the chili mixture as is or you can empty the contents of the food processor into a coffee grinder (one that you reserve for spices otherwise your coffee may be a bit interesting for a couple of days) and reduce it to a fine powder. Store in a tightly closed jar.

Yucatán Shrimp

Yucatan ShrimpWhen I was growing up Friday was a meatless day. Today not even devout Catholics, of whom I am not one, are still bound by that rule. My father—very much a devout Catholic—was quite disappointed when meatless Fridays were eliminated because, unlike my mother, he loved seafood and those were the only days he could be sure to see it on the dinner table. I like to observe the custom for much the same reason. Sadly, as a result of overfishing and pollution, good fish is becoming hard to find and expensive, making it rather a luxury. But farm-raised shellfish, while not as good a wild-caught, are now a sustainable alternative. I usually keep a couple sizes of frozen shrimp on hand—large, 16 to 20 per pound, and medium, 21 to 26 per pound. The ones I prefer are uncooked but shelled and deveined making them very convenient to prepare. What I particularly like about shrimp is that they work very well with bold flavors. This recipe that I adapted from Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005) 251-253 is similar to camarones enchipotlados, chipotle shrimp, but because it has achiote paste in place of chipotles it is much less spicy.

If you have a well-stocked Mexican market you can probably find commercially prepared achiote paste there. If not, I have incorporated a recipe for it that I adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen (New York: Scribner, 1996) 66-67. Since I had no fish stock on hand I made a quick shrimp stock with the shrimp tails and a bit of Thai fish sauce. That recipe is also below. If you already have fish stock just use it instead.

Ingredients

For the achiote paste:

  • 1 Tbsp. achiote (annatto) seeds
  • 2 tsp. whole allspice or 1 tsp. ground
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns or ½ tsp. ground
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ tsp. salt (optional)
  • Water as needed, about 1 Tbsp.

For the shrimp stock:

  • Tails and shells from the shrimp below
  • 1 tsp. Thai fish sauce
  • 1½ cups water

For the Yucatán shrimp:

  • 1½ cups canned diced tomatoes or 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. achiote paste
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • Vegetable oil, I use canola
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup shrimp or fish stock
  • Salt
  • 8 ounces medium (21 to 26 per pound shrimp) thawed if frozen, peeled and deveined if needed

Method

The achiote paste:

Traditionally this paste would be made using a mortar and pestle which is still a good approach if rather time consuming. I have opted for a simpler method using the mini-chopper that came with my stick blender. Or you can split the difference; grind the spices in a spice grinder then combine with the cider and garlic in a mortar.

Put the achiote seeds, allspice, pepper, and oregano in the mini-chopper and pulverize finely. Add the vinegar, garlic, and salt if using. Pulse a few times to break down the garlic then run continually, stopping now and then to scrape down the sides of the chopper, until you have a smooth paste, adding water a bit at a time as needed. Store in a small jar or plastic container in the refrigerator for up to several months.

The shrimp stock:

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, the simmer slowly, covered for 30 minutes or so. Strain and discard the shells.

The Yucatán Shrimp:

Puree the tomatoes and achiote paste in a food processor. Add the lime juice and pulse to blend in.

Warm the oil in a 10-inch non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant and golden brown, about 1 minute. Pour in the tomato mixture and cook, stirring often, until somewhat thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the stock a quarter cup at a time to bring the sauce to a light consistency. Season to taste with salt.

Add the shrimp to the pan and cook, stirring and turning, until done, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately over Mexican-style white rice.

Chicken and Potato Tinga

Tinga, which roughly translates as “messy stew,” is the Mexican version of shredded meat much like American pulled pork. It is commonly used as a filling for enchiladas or served simply with warm tortillas, as I have done. This Pueblan recipe, Tinga de Pollo y Papas in Spanish, combines a number of pre-Columbian ingredients: potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and chiles. Perhaps because Mexican food in the U. S. is dominated by the cuisines of the northern border states especially Chihuahua and Sonora we do not usually associate potatoes with our southern neighbors. Yet potatoes, having originated in what is now Peru, are very much part of Mesoamerican cooking. I adapted this recipe from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen (NY: Scribner, 1996) 322, 323. Incidentally, a food processor is a big help in preparing this dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 dried chipotle chiles or 2 canned chiles en adobo
  • 2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably roasted and unsalted
  • 2 Tbsp. oil or lard
  • 4 medium chicken thighs, bone-in, skin and excess fat removed
  • 4 medium boiling potatoes, about 1 to 1½ pounds
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • Salt
  • Corn and/or flour tortillas and cheese, sour cream, salsa, and other taco garnishes to serve

Method

Heat an ungreased small cast iron skillet over medium heat and roast the unpeeled garlic, turning often, until soft, about 15 minutes. If using dried chipotles, remove their stems and place them in the skillet for about 30 seconds on each side until they are aromatic but not burnt. Remove to a small bowl and cover with hot water and set aside to rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Drain, discarding the water. (If using canned chipotles simply remove from their sauce and use as is.) Peel the garlic and in the food processor along with the chiles and tomatoes. Process to a smooth puree.

In a heavy saucepan with a lid (I used a 3 quart enameled Dutch oven) over medium-high heat 1 Tbsp. of the fat until nearly smoking. Pour in the puree all at once and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the chicken thighs, submerging them in the sauce. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove the chicken leaving as much sauce as possible in the pan. Set aside to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat from the bones in large shreds.

Scrub or peel the potatoes and shred with the food processor’s medium or coarse shredding disk. Spread onto a kitchen towel then roll and twist to remove as much water as possible. Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil or lard in a large (12-inch) non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat and add the onions and potatoes. Cook, stirring often until nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, fold in the sauce, oregano, and shredded chicken. Taste and season with salt. When warmed through turn into a bowl and serve immediately with tortillas and garnishes so that each diner can make their own tacos.