Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"¡Michoacán, Te Alabamos!"

Just a little word play there, folks. I recently learned that the Spanish word, alabamos, meaning "we praise" or "we laud" is a conjugation of the verb "alabar". What could be more appropriate than this word to start off a description of Christmas Dinner with our Alabaman friends and neighbors, Geni and Larry?

The dinner was cooked in both of our houses. Larry and Geni did a great job of serving the meal in their 12 ftx 12 ft dining room. Below, our menu.
Tequila, salt and limes.
Cream Cheese stuffed Celery Stix w walnuts.
Hommous a la Michoacana with Marinated Arabic olives, Fiibran Crackers (like onion matzoh).
Carrot Ginger Soup, with cilantro, carrot, crystallized ginger and lime zest gremolata, creme fraiche. (****)
Angel Biscuits, Potato Rolls.
Roast Chicken (bought), Apricot Ginger Chipotle Chutney.
Spanish style Oven Roasted Potatoes.
Giblet and egg gravy.
Cornbread Dressing.
Creamed Baby Onions.
Fresh Green Beans Amandine

Fresh fruit Dessert of oranges, bananas, pineapple, coconut, cut up. Optional Raisin Walnut Ruggelach and Panettone. (None eaten tonight, as yet.)
Concha y Toro Selecta Merlot Cabernet blend with the meal.

(I don't know how we got so full so quickly!)

After dinner, we sat outside in the last warm rays of afternoon sunshine. Doña Chucha came to the gate to invite us to a family dinner on Wednesday, in honor of a christening of a neice or granddaughter. We had already made plans to go to a fiesta at El Jaguey, about 3 miles from here, so we had to decline. But Larry and Geni will represent us there. (It just might be possible to do both.)

The evening concluded by watching the film, "Big Fish", with Albert Finney, thanks to computer technology, a projector, a conveniently white wall, and Larry's technical prowess.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Piccola Italia in México

We are planning a holiday party, with an Italian food theme (but with Mexican touches.) Today, inspired by a post on the lonelyplanet.com Thorn Tree, Get Stuffed Branch, I decised to make panettone. Although I'm somewhat familiar with the process, it took hours and hours for the cakes to rise. Somewhere around 2 1/2 hours for the final rise. Together with the sponge stage and the dough fermentation, the total rising time was on the order of 7 hours. This is a laborious process. We even made our own candied citrus peels.
I was vindicated in my faith. They turned out very nicely.

This morning, I cut a slice and toasted it for a sample. Below are my comments To "CHRISSY" on the Thorn Tree Get Stuffed Branch:
Tastes great, but it's still a bit undercooked in the center of the smaller one. (The one that had no tube.) This is a problem I feared. I hope the larger came out better. The properly baked part is very tender and cake-like, not the long fleecy strands I had in a panettone made by experts, yet quite satisfactory. There is a bit too much acidity from the sourdough plus the juice of a lemon. I could have left one or another out.

As to the recipe, I didn't find a recipe that pleased me, so, instead, using a recipe for "Panettone-No Knead" in The Joy of Cooking, I improvised from their basis. I would tell you what I did, but it's irreproducible.

Besides, the results were flawed. I will say that I used a little sourdough starter and very little yeast, about 1 TBSP. There was a cup of warm milk and 2 cups flour for the sponge, then 4 egg yolks and 3 whole eggs, a cup of sugar, 3 tsps of salt, vanilla, candied peels (homemade, so that they are tasty), a cup of dark raisins (sultanas—all I had, no golden raisins—, a cup of moist dried apricots, snipped into quarters, the lot soaked in dark rum, and drained before adding to the mixed dough. There's also about a cup of toasted blanched almonds, chopped. (This project was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it.)

Earlier today (today felt like 2 days in 24 hours, but fun.), I roasted vegetables for a Lasagna di Verdure.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Holidays Bake-a-Thon, Part 1

With Thanksgiving now past, I now have time to describe the startup of my Holiday Bake-a-Thon. I had a commission to make 5 pumpkin and 3 mamey pies for a friend who has a local restaurant. In addition, we had pledged a Pay de Camote (Sweet potato pie) for a Thanksgiving dinner at La Casa Mariposa, where we had previously lived for 4 months. I also wanted to make a pie or two to share with our neighbors. This year I was much better equipped to handle these enjoyable tasks. I now have ample workspace, a pretty good, capacious GE gas oven, and all the tools I need.

The only tricky part is to locate the ingredients from local sources. For example, the orange colored, round pie pumpkins grown in the U.S. are not found here. Back at the Día de Los Muertos cookout, we had sampled some candied calabasa brought by Doña Livia, which strongly resembled pumpkin in color and taste, if not in outward appearance. She offered to give us some from her mountainous stockpile. About two weeks later, we knocked at her gate, and after some conversation and explanation, she selected 6 of these elongated, striated gourds for us to take home. I promised her that we'd bring her and her family a generous sample when they were done.

That was Monday before Thanksgiving. I almost immediately started to prepare the raw calabasas/pumpkins by hacking them open with a Chinese cleaver and a meat tenderising hammer. Then the seeds were scraped out and carefully saved for later roasting and nibbling as botanas. The calabasa chunks were loaded onto a rack in a deep roasting pan with a couple of inches of water inside, covered with aluminum foil, and baked at 350º F. for an hour and a half.
When cool enough to handle, the flesh was scooped out with a large spoon. This was then strained and pureed in a food mill. This puree was saved in the refrigerated container for later use.

While the pumpkin/calabasas was baking, I started to make the pie crusts.
To be described in part 2. (Oh. Part 2. I got busy again.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gringo Cravings—Satisfied

Life here in beautiful Michoacán, México has many benefits, not the least of which is the interesting regional cuisine. But sometimes, we gringos crave foods from "down home".

We are going to have a new neighbor, who comes from Houston, Texas, so when we invited him over for dinner (served at the traditional hour of 2:30 PM) he was pleased to enjoy a Texas-Southern style meal.

We had: Chicken Fried Steak, with creamed gravy; mashed potatoes, creamed small baby onions, (yes, two creamed dishes in one meal, but quite distinctive in seasoning) and fresh green beans. (But I drew the line at overcooking the green beans with salt pork.
 Instead, they were cooked tender-crisp, with no sauce nor seasoning other than salt.) We also ate sparingly of a few slices of whole grain No-Knead Bread. It was gloriously satisfying and indulgent.
We didn't have room left for dessert, and that was ok, as we hadn't prepared any.

The Chicken Fried Steak was amazingly tasty and tender, considering that it came from unaged, very lean Mexican beef. But I had spent sometime beating the steak with a cubing hammer. I wanted also to apply some meat tenderizer, but we didn't have any. I remembered a trick in Chinese cooking in which baking soda is applied to the meat as a tenderizer.
After the pounded steaks sat awhile, I seasoned them with a bit of Worcestershire Sauce. They were then dipped in seasoned flour, thence in egg-milk mixture, then in biscuit baking mix. (Lacking Bisquick™, I made up a small amount of biscuit mix, but without the liquid.)

I then fried two CFS' at a time in hot veg oil in a large cast iron skillet. About 4-5 minutes per side. These were then placed on paper toweling and kept warm in a low oven, along with the creamy mashed potatoes and baby onions. The outer breading was dark in color, and without the covering gravy, perhaps unattractive. But in all, it was a good eating experience, not all all burnt, and at best, tender and succulent.

It was SO good; and the best part is that there is one CFS leftover, a good portion of mashed pots, and plenty of creamed baby onions. I might have half a portion for breakfast.
Although the local meat has to be tamed into tenderness, we can always rely on wonderfully fresh, tasty vegetables.

Tomorrow—Holiday Bake-a-Thon

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Long and Green and Full of Hard Fuzzy Seeds?

What's long and green and full of hard, fuzzy seeds, sweet but slimy when eaten, and you have to spit out the seeds?

It's the cuajinicuíl, a legume found in the widespread states of Veracruz and in Michoacán.

Yesterday morning, while I headed for the Pátzcuaro mercado, there was a lone vendor selling these green pods. He split one open and offered me a sample. It was a hard, fuzz-covered bean. The idea is to suck on the bean, which is pleasantly aromatic, mild and sweet, but soon the fuzz turns to slime in the mouth.

Although the vendor told me the name, it was too long to remember. Yesterday evening, we brought it up to our friend Sr. Alfredo Río, a retired agronomist who now runs the hotel Mesón de San Antonio

He consulted a large and well used book on the botany of Mexico, written by a Dr. Martínez. After 3 minutes or so, he was able to locate it. Its Latin name is "Inga Jinicuil"
One pod cost me 2 pesos. It was interesting, but I can't imagine what I'd do with a kilo of the stuff.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Carnitas Pig-Out in Quiroga

We are living only about 15 miles from Quiroga, one of the Carnitas Capitals of Michoacán. I inquired on another forum about the recommended best carnitas of that city and the smaller village of Tzurumútaro. I got some input, and when hunger built up enough, we made a Pig-out pilgrimage to Quiroga.

There's a scenic, back way and we opted to take that. Soon after passing through the village of Interalia, the pavement ends, but the weather was dry and we had little difficulty in negotiating it in a Ford Windstar. The paved road, by way of Tzintzúntzan is nice, but this trip through the campo served to further whet our appetites. On arrival at the city limits of Quiroga, we figured out the way in and found a nice parking spot only 5 blocks from the Plaza.

We must have picked a good day for this, as the Plaza was jammed with festive celebrants. Roving minstrels serenaded the pig pickin' families, as they snarfed down luscious chunks of carnitas off of greasy brown paper wrappings.

We briefly looked into El Rey de Carnitas, but I couldn't see eating such earthy food in such an upscale, sort of elegant ambiance. Nice table cloths, uniformed waiters, flowers and plastic-laminated menus for me spell: higher prices. However, the customers eating at the tables in front seemed happy. Didi Rose told me that it used to be a lovely and promising International Cuisine restaurant, but it closed as the populace was not cosmopolitan enough to support it.

We decided to do this right, opening with some hors d'oeuvres in the form of 4 taquitos rellenos de papas, with a piquant salsa verde, pickled zanahorias and a sprinkle of cheese.
At 4 for 10 pesos, a good deal. They were crisp and very hot. We stood under the shade of the stand's awning, assessing what our main course might be.

As we passed Carmelo's or Carmelito's Carnitas, he offered us generous samples to lure us, but we put that off for a little while.

A señora offered us some rugged looking but excellent, chile paste-covered barbacoa (I would tend to call it birria, but definitions vary.) That was rrreally sabrosa, so we got an order, for 30 pesos, and ate it with the hot tortillas (4 pesos extra) and washing it down with the classic Mexican drink, "Esquirt". She helped us find a table to share with an extended Mexican family, well into their kilo or two of carnitas.
The barbacoa beat even my regular favorite, from Don Prisci's in Pátzcuaro. But this was just the sopa del día prelude.

After a short pause while I waited for my change, I went over to Carmelo's Carnitas.
This guy is really friendly, upbeat and humorous. He gave me a huge sample, but I already knew it was good. I ordered a medio kilo for 70 pesos, and the salsa, chiles Jalapeños and hot tortillas were included.
Back at the table, we were holding our own, as our dining companions changed to a different family. With another Squirt to wash it down, we each ate two or three tacos de carnitas. I had learned earlier that "maciza" (lean" is not always a good choice, as it may be lean, but it can be dry. Applying lessons learned from Carl Franz' "The People's Guide To Mexico" many years ago, I ordered "surtida" (assorted). That way we got some lean, some luscious crisp fat, a few riblets (where did such tiny ribs come from?)
I munched a few chiles jalapeños to cut the fat a bit. I may suffer some later, but I think it was worth it.

When we were done, I returned to Carmelo's stand to take pictures. He told me that they were there 365 days, but at first I thought he said they'd been there 365 years. We all had a laugh or two over that.
Then he told me that if I brought him some pictures, that he'd give me un quarto kilo, free. Sounds like a deal to me!

We had never spent any real time in Quiroga before, just passing through. I found it much more engaging than I'd expected. It seemed much livelier than Pátzcuaro. (But, of course it was a weekend of Las Fiestas Patrias.)
Since we live so close, we will be going again before too long.
More photos here
Adapted and edited from another forum by me.

Friday, August 04, 2006

En La Tierra de Los Hongos y Setas, Parte 1

July, 2006
On recent visits to the Pátzcuaro mercado, I was impressed by the heaps of
setas y hongos on offer. I had very little knowledge of their names, properties, and especially how to cook them. I started out by buying some of the bright, orange-skinned setas on the left of the pile in the photo; those are "Orejas de Perro" or "Trompas de Puerco". Although I had a few doubts about their safety, I consulted experts "Esperanza" of Mexconnect.com, and our friend Sr. Alfredo Río Mora, an agronomist, hotelier, and aficionado of regional, indigenous plant foods.

After three days of procrastination, I cleaned up the Trompas and cut them into cubes. I then sauteed them in olive oil with several whole cloves of garlic and some chopped onion, as well as one chopped serrano chile. (In the end, that one chile made it almost too picante.) A splash of dry white wine, juice of one lime; stirring until it evaporates, salt and pepper, and some chopped parsley; salt and pepper. When the mushrooms were tender, I added some of the cooking liquid from one cup of plainly cooked alubias blancas.

(During my Internet research, I learned that these particular wild mushrooms were known as "Lobster Mushrooms" in the United States.)

Meanwhile, well along in pursuing my new wild mushroom interests, I was told of the excellent web log, "El Perro Bailarín", which covered this topic in the very same mercado, in an October, 2004 entry.
The cooked alubias blancas were folded into the the sauteed hongos, then a cup or so of crema (creme fraiche) added, to mute the sting of the chile serrano and enrich the whole.

I finished by topping some Barilla spaghetti, cooked al dente, and we each added grated Queso Reggianito to taste. It was rico.

Parte 2: Cocinamos con Cuitlacoche y otras setas.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

'La Espiga'—Una Panaderia Tradicional

Following up on a tip from a fellow Mexpat yesterday, I went looking for a traditional bakery, in a rambling home located in a less well-known area of Pátzcuaro.
I walked to it after a circuitous, but interesting and pleasant search. Well, I went across the RR tracks too soon, but all was well, as it allowed me to visit an outlying colonia of Pátzcuaro I hadn't been to before.

The bakery is located inside a home unmarked by any sign. The open portal goes into the patio. There is a door to the side which opens into a dimly lit baking room.

I went into the cave-like work area, introduced myself, and Don Vicente Ramos, el maestro panadero (who has been at this work for 53 years—if I understood correctly—) allowed me to photograph him at work.
I was impressed by the skills involved in loading and unloading the wood-burning oven with the narrow wooden baker's peel through the narrow oven door.
Don Vicente told me that until about 10 or 11 years ago, when they put in mixers and kneaders all the work had to be done by muscle power.

I was very impressed by the thick, shall we say, "patina" on the raising shelves. More impressive were the rows of bolillos in their linen "couche" on a shelf outside. At a glance, it seems not to be the highest standards of hygiene, but after all, it's mostly flour, water, salt and prefermented leftover dough. Yes, it's sort of a levain method, requiring at least two refreshments of the doughs before cutting, shaping, placing in couche, and baking the rolls.

I left with a purchase of 10 bolillos, fresh from the oven, and 6 pan dulce. I think it all cost about 16 pesos. I have to say, it may be among the most primitive bakeries I have ever visited, but I have a lot of respect for their work. These rolls are served at Restaurante El Camino Real, on the highway east of Pátzcuaro, just before Tzurumútaro, behind the Pemex station with the OXXO store to one side.

We tried some of these handmade bolillos for lunch. They have a density and more "character" than the usual, over-yeasted ones commonly available elsewhere. A short stay in our toaster oven, and they come out crisp crusted and tasty. We ate ours with avocado, tomato, lettuce, and a little cheese.

Later, we tried some pan dulce. They are interesting to look at, especially these, for they seem to be imprinted with homemade tools. Like most pan dulce, they are less interesting to eat, than to look at, yet not bad.

This day turned out badly. After a nice breakfast of
carne de cerdo en salsa negra at a stand near Don Chucho's tienda, I tripped and fell hard. That is described in Tripping—Potholes in Paradise,
on my other blog.
Unfortunately, most of the photos I'd taken did not come out well. Anyway, it's an excuse to visit again and try to show the work of masters of a disappearing art.
I haven't had a chance to return yet.

Updated August 25, 2007: We were reacquainted with the bolillos y pan dulce during a recent breakfast at El Camino Real Restaurant with the men's group. Enough interest was raised, that our neighbor, Larry W. and Ron G. (El Perro Bailarín) went out to the bakery to see it and buy some bolillos. Most everything had been sold out by 10:30 a.m., but el Maestro was there, and he pulled out the last batch from the oven as we entered the baking room. My interest was rekindled, and I hope to return soon, this time with a better camera and flash to take some photos.

Updated June 12, 2008.
We visited the bakery again yesterday, and were fortunate to observe the baking and to take pictures with a more capable camera. If you click the slideshow window below, it will open a new window with larger versions of the photos.
We also learned that the production starts earlier than I thought we'd been told. See the album on Picasa Web.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Carnal Knowledge: a "butcher's hook" at a Mexican meat market

Mexicans are a meat loving people. They don't often eat it in large, thick, juicy cuts, but as often as they can afford it, in smaller, thinner cuts and portions. Nor do they have a visceral antipathy, but relish odd cuts of offal meats; tongue, cheek, tripe and pata de cerdo (pig's feet).

For those Norteamericanos accustomed to buying their meat is small, plastic trays, sealed in transparent film, the scene in a typical carnicería can be somewhat unnerving. It's a little disconcerting to have a scalded pig's head hanging next you you as you banter with the Jefe de Carniceros and place your order. They are often flanked by various dangling sections of of viscera and cecina, thin sheets of dried, salted meats. It's a very customized experience: name your cut or grind, and the staff will do it while you wait. If nothing else, meat in Mexico is fresh.

You get a pretty good slice of reality in these meat markets. Occasionally you must dodge wheelbarrows of porcine parts pushed by porters though the pulsing pasillos.

My first encounter with a carnicería was in Cuetzalan, Puebla in 1980. It was earthy scene: basically a wooden stall with various cow parts strewn about. I patiently waited my turn, doubt racings through my mind, as the butcher hacked away at a furry cow's leg for the customer ahead of me.
My turn came, and I got a really gruesome looking, raggedly cut of pot roasting beef, with many veins. It ended up in a slow cooker as Carbonnades a la Flamande, simmering away as we explored cave systems in the area.

There are some people who believe that if you eat meat, you should understand and experience the whole process. I absolutely agree in theory, but I definitely prefer to blind myself to the animal's moment of Ultimate Sacrifice and subsequent butchering. That's the way it is. My upbringing didn't prepare me for watching the slaughter.
As a child, I used to revulse at the bloodied spring lamb hanging in the Italian butcher shops, but now I am hardened to the sight of animal parts hanging from hooks. I wouldn't eat chicken for many years after visiting the Kosher live chicken store in Bensonhurst, NY.

Some of our Mexican friends offered us a live guajalote (turkey) last Sunday. Really. We could take it home, fatten it, kill it, pluck and eviscerate it, cook, freeze, whatever, etc. We thanked them, but no, I didn't want to do that.

In the end, we eat less meat here than we did back in the U.S.A. Part of it comes from lingering squeamishness, but part of it is that beef of a quality to which we are accustomed is hard to find. It's also expensive; and with a nice selection of vegetables and fruits available in the mercado at very low prices, we are encouraged to eat more vegetables and less meat. We have not, by any means become vegetarians, but our diet refects a healthier outlook than it did in the Old Country.

More photos of Carnicería La Norteña in the Pátzcuaro mercado here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Caldo de Pollo con Verduras

Yesterday's dinner: This was a fairly ambitious project, spanning two days. However, it isn't technically difficult.
On Monday, we went too the mercado and bought calabacitas (courgettes), ejotes (green beans), chayotes, (mirlitons), aguacates, apio (celery), a whole pollo (chicken). We already had on hand onions, garlic, carrots, Italian style parsley and cilantro; dried garbanzos and epazote.

First, select your chicken; with care, it will provide several meals.

I picked over and rinsed about 2 cups of dried garbanzos and put them to cook at low heat in plentiful plain water.
The second step was to make a vegetable broth. I cut up onions, garlic, carrots, celery (with the leaves) and dried epazote (a powerfully medicinal smelling herb) and salt and pepper, and brought it to a boil. Meanwhile, I washed the chicken in cold water, salted it with coarse kosher salt and let it rest for 30 minutes. When the vegetables came to a simmer, I rinsed the excess salt from the chicken and submerged it in the stock. I let that come back to a boil, turned down the heat to a simmer, covered, and let cook 20 minutes with a cover. At that point, I turned off the heat, and let the garbanzos and the cicken rest for 2 hours while I took a nap.

Back at the stove, I continued cooking the garbanzos, but with a little epazote. When they started to become tender, I put in a little salt. The chicken was removed from the cooking liquid and the stock strained. All these components were refrigerated overnight.

Day two; I began by removing excess fat from the stock and discarding it. Then various vegetables were prepped: Susan trimmed the ejotes. I peeled and chunked new carrots, celery and cut up the calabacitas and the chayotes. (I should have cut the latter a bit smaller, but they were ok.) I put the ejotes on to cook in lightly salted water in a separate pot. Meanwhile, the freshly cut carrots and celery went into the chicken-vegetable stock. When I judged them "right", in went the chayotes and then the courgettes. After that, the par-cooked green beans. I poured in the garbanzos and their liquid. (Could have used more, but it was ok.)

While all this was going on, a pot of plain, white steamed rice was simmering on the back burner, while I removed the skin from the chicken and hacked it into serving sized pieces. I washed a good handful of parsley and cilantro and chopped it coarsely, for a last minute addition to the soup kettle. When I tasted the stock, it seemed a bit weak, so I boosted the salt a bit and 'cheated' with a heaping tablespoon of Knorr-Suiza Caldo de Pollo en polvo. The chicken chunks were reheated separately in some of the stock.

The assembly/plating was as follows: a largish, deep soup bowl, a scoop of hot rice; vegetables and stock to cover; then two pieces of chicken meat. Finally, two slices of aguacate for a garnish. Small, Mexican lime halves in a bowl were passed to squeeze on to the soup, and a small amount of ground red chile was available to spice things up. It was very tasty, soothing (made me sleepy), and I was too sleepy to take a picture. We ate two bowls each, the second one without any chicken. This is great, "down-home" food; comida casera at its best.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Batch a Tepache

Ever since I first read of it in The People's Guide To Mexico, by Carl Franz and Lorena Havens, I've long been curious to try tepache, a fermented pineapple "beer", made from the rind and a little of the flesh of the fruit. Piñas are relatively cheap here, I'd bought one on two occasions, but lack of time prevented me from trying this traditional Mexican home brew.
Last week, on my second fresh piña, I had the time, the recipe and the inclination.

The recipe was from the cookbook, Mexico—The Beautiful Cookbook.

• Wash a medium to large pineapple in clean water, but without disinfecting it. Cut away the rinds, discard the crown (top) and leave a little flesh on the rinds.
• Chop very coarsely, and place in a non-corrodible container with a lid.
• Cover with 8 cups of pure water, a 3- inch piece of cinnamon stick, 4 whole cloves and 20 oz of piloncillo or dark brown sugar. Stir gently, cover, and let set in a warm place for 48 hours.
(See photo above, right)

• At that time, strain the tepache back into the container, add 4 cups of pure water, and allow to set for 8 hours.

• You may now pour it over ice and enjoy. I found this batch to be a little sweet, and I preferred it with a squeeze of fresh lime.

I find that for me, it goes best with a Veracruz cigar, while sitting on the porch, admiring the view. It's also excellent with comida picante.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Sons of Mariscos Return; Parte Dos: The Encounter

Susan and I were in Morelia again yesterday, enjoying the warm weather, while pursuing Health, Truth, Shopping, and a Good Coctel de Mariscos.

After satisfactorily checking on the first two,
we went, in a very good mood, to lunch again at Mariscos El Delfin, which is situated on the south side of busy Ave. Lázaro Cárdenas, between Águstin Melgar (La Migra about 1/2 block away) and Ave Colegio Militar. It is next to a parking garage. It is an open air mariscos stand, with high stools for the patrons. You can lean on gleaming white tile counters while you consider the short but tempting menu.
Photo actually taken in Cuernavaca

The specialty is seafood cocktails, but they do also have a Caldo de Camarón, which we have not yet tried. There are cups of ceviche, also untried by us, and tostadas de marlin. Some sort of meaty burrito was the special of the day, but I don't go to a marisquería to eat burritos.

We knew we wanted a "Chavela", an very large beer-type goblet, filled with delicious sauces, cilantro, avocado, onion, and most importantly, large cooked shrimp, slices of octopus, and (we think) raw oysters, but the last item we skip, I having had a very bad run in with their cousins of the Gulf of Mexico, back in March, 1980.*

I discussed with the lady in charge, Estela, the possibility of using marlin instead of oysters. She told me that she'd make it anyway I wanted, but...
Yo—"Pero, ¿no me recomiendes?"
Estela—"No. Porque marlin es un guisado—vea—" She showed me the container of shredded marlin in a rich, red sauce. —"sale un coctél feo."
Yo—"Ok, dame un coctél en una chavela de camarones y pulpos, por favor."
Yo—"Lo mismo para la Señora, gracias."
Estela: "Ok."

With this meal, we ordered the classic beverage, other than beer, Fanta Naranja.

As we waited our brief wait, several friendly people came out from nearby and engaged us in conversation on the merits and potency of various bottled salsas picantes, all nicely lined out on the counter, awaiting our selection. I like to watch Estela assemble the cocktail: a slug of what appears to be broth or a simple syrup, a big glug of dark, ketchupy but thinner than ketchup sauce; generous measures of the desired mariscos, 2-3 slices of avocado, onions, cilantro worked in there somewhere (they don't put chopped green chiles in there, as far as I know.), then a sprinkle of a special house infusion of spices in vinegar, including dried chiles and bay leaves; now, the freshly squeezed juice of a lime. ¡Listo!

We savored the fresh, tangy cocktails, and other friendly young men came out from nearby, and we chatted in English as well as Spanish, as they obviously wanted to practice English on Real Americans. ;-)

Soon, Estela undid the latch of the side door to the stand, and a tall, handsome man came it. He greeted us with smiles. Soon, introductions were made all around: he is Juan Manuel, Estela's husband. The first man was his brother, the young man speaking English with us is his nephew, and the other jóven was one of their sons.
We had a very pleasant and friendly time discussing the life here, work, and such like.

When we paid (under $150 MXP for both of us), Juan Manuel asked Estela to make up a couple of tostadas de marlín, so that we could try them, on the house. They were indeed delicious, and even better than the marlin we tried at our favorite, large mariscos place in Pátzcuaro.
We departed, and I promised to return the next time with my camera, so that I could make them famous among the digerati. (The camera was actually in the car, 12 hot blocks away, but we had to go pursue Shopping.)

We are now firmly loyal customers of Mariscos El Delfin.

*On a later visit, I asked Estela what the clear liquid was she poured into the coctel glasses. She told us, "Licor de ostiones."
So, all along we'd been eating oyster juices, but without any harm to us.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

My Favorite Mexican Soups

¡Hola a todos! I have drifted away from posting here of late, occupied with other interests. It's been a medley, or perhaps a potpourri of various cuisines here in my Mexican Kitchen. More on that, later. First, some catching up:

A few weeks ago, during some of our coldest weather here, I started a thread on Mexconnect.com's Mexican Kitchen Forum about soups.
Below is an edited repost: There are so many wonderful Mexican soups, it's difficult to know where to begin. Maybe we can start by telling our favorites, from 1 to 5. I want to exclude pozoles and menudos from this discussion, because they are in a class by themselves
I'll start off with my own favorites, in no particular order:

1. Sopa de Ajo

2. Caldo Tlalpeño (an unusually "loaded" version.

3. Sopa Tarasca (especially made with bean puree). (I've now taken a photo of my own.)

4. Caldo de Mariscos, which might not qualify as a soup, exactly, due to its high content of delicious sea-morsels.

Photo taken at Mariscos La Güera,, in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, at Avenida Federico Tena and Libramiento

One more from my long list of favorite soups:

5. Mole de Olla, another hearty, picante, soup/stew that when eaten, will set your world alright. This one was cooked at a small, street-corner puesto in Colonia Roma Sur, México, DF. We had it during a stay at Christmas time. It was the best we have had. It's a medley of large cuts of vegetables plus chunks of beef, in a zesty chile broth. This one had surprises, such as xoconostles, a sour cactus fruit, and pieces of a bitter chayote, something like bitter melon, as well as the more mundane, yet delicious elote, ejotes, etc.

There were a number of other interesting contributions on the Mexconnect thread. The one that stands out in my mind is that from Esperanza, a notable, expert, very knowledgeable cook who contributes to various Web boards.
Her soup was the unusual Atapakúa de Epazote, Cilantro y Chile. After a week of thinking about it, I made made this actually very simple soup. I made one small, non-traditional change to Esperanza's guidelines. I added the kernels of two elotes de maíz.
Below, her guideline "recipe".
Note: The chicken broth must be made from "real chicken", no Knorr-Suiza Caldo de Pollo here.

This particular atápakua is made with chicken broth, fresh epazote, cilantro, chile perón, and a bit of masa to thicken it. It's hotter than the hinges of hell (I've typed that phrase about five times in the last 24 hours--I need a new phrase) but really delicious. I love it and make it fairly frequently.

The recipe...well, the Purhépecha woman who gave me the recipe gave it to me exactly as I typed it in my earlier post. You know: put in enough epazote, enough chile perón, enough cilantro, and then dissolve a little ball of masa in the chicken broth to thicken it. I've never written the proportions down when I've made it, so you are all on your own to discover how you like it. Epazote and cilantro should be the predominate flavors, with enough heat from the chile perón to make your tongue hang out. You want to blend the herbs and the chile in the blender and then add the blend to the chicken broth. Bring the seasoned broth to a simmer (not a boil). In the blender, blend a bit of the hot broth with enough masa to thicken the pot. Whisk the blended masa/broth into the rest of the soup to thicken it. The soup should be about the thickness of any crema (soup made of puréed vegetables) and it should be bright green in color.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the atápakua I made. It was, however, delicious.

Coming next: Can Sauerbraten be made successfully in a small, Mexican city; and furthermore, what about the traditional accompaniments, such as Braised Red Cabbage in Red Wine, and a nice, crisp, golden Potato Pancake with that?

A coming attraction: Gado gado, Michoacán style; employing the wealth of fresh vegetables available here.