Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Barbacoa and Butchers

I've posted already about barbacoa, that time prepared in a slow cooker. I'm no longer in Mexico, though the slow cooker still is, somewhere, and I really missed my weekend barbacoa.

The problem wasn't the cooking vehicle though. Finding any cut of meat beyond the most standard in Ireland is actually a bit of a chore. A butcher these days seems to be a guy who slathers some horrible marinade on some chops and arranges them on a tray. I've tried to find flank steak, beef cheek, beef tongue and beef shin in all types of butchers and have got everything from a vacant stare, to an assurance "we don't keep that, the meat inspector makes us throw it out", to promises to order it an call me.. that never seem to be fulfilled.

After more driving around town than I would have though necessary I picked up two smallish beef cheeks, so was finally able to make some barbacoa.

(There was a whole palaver between the butcher and his helper. There-is-one-there-I'm-sure-no-there isn't-yes-there-is-I'm-sure, followed by a long trip to the cold room and the cheeks were put quickly into a bag whereupon I was then asked "you're going to cook it slow yeah?". Between that and the exploratory cut I found later in the meet I'd say the butcher wasn't very confident in his product... or just thought I was insane. Anyway, it cooked up fine and I'm still alive.)

I cooked it in the pressure cooker rather than the slow cooker. For the liquid I blended some onion and good half a head of garlic, a couple of cloves, salt and a couple of chiles de arbol with a couple of cups of water. I used this as the liquid in the pressure cooker. The meat cooked for just under two hours and turned out perfectly. Exactly the smooth, meaty, unctuous dish I remember and missed so much.

Operation arrachera on the other hand is still ongoing. Unfortunately.

The very definition of Mexican food is a multicultural cuisine

From The Splendid Table

'The very definition of Mexican food is a multicultural cuisine' 

A conversation between Pati Jinich and Gustavo Arellano (she of Pati's Mexican table and he of the book Taco USA and the very funny Ask a Mexican column) on the multicultural nature of Mexican cuisine.

It's something I hadn't originally been aware of. It's not until you are there and see the soy sauce, magi sauce and Worcester sauce everywhere as well as the pastries that you realise how much Mexican cuisine has adsorbed from elsewhere.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Pan De Muerto

Pan De Muerto


Rompope is most often described as Mexican eggnog. That's a pretty fair description, though I don't think it's as seasonal a drink as it's eggnog cousin. Commercial versions are widely available, like Baileys it seems to be a staple of duty free lounges. But it's simple to make your own.

There are a couple of approaches to making Rompope and before I started I had a good idea of the type of recipe I was looking for. I have no desire to put condensed milk in it, nether did I want a recipe that omitted the almond and finally I wanted to avoid recipes where the egg is uncooked.

I don't have any prejudice against condensed milk (unlike my mother who is revolted by it!), and I've already made a handful of the vast number of Mexican deserts and sweets that use condensed milk and evaporated milk as a base, but adding it to Rompope seems a bit cheaty to me. It's edging towards add-a-can-of-campbell's-cream-of-mushroom-soup cookery.

The almond is, I think, a necessary addition. (Actually I've purchased versions of the drink made with pine nuts instead of almond - which is coloured pink to differentiate it form the regular pale yellow, almond based drink.) Without the nuts you are left with a boozy, thin custard; a re-purposed eggnog.

Given the above the recipe here from Serious Eats came close to what I was looking for.

  • 2/3 cup blanched almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 cups milk
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Rind of 1 lemon (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 to 1 cup aged rum
The recipe calls for the milk to be simmered for 15 minutes with the flavourings and the baking soda, much as if you would do when making cajeta. This was a little more palaver than I thought necessary so I omitted the baking soda, and left the flavourings infuse for 20 minutes in milk that had been brought to a simmer.
Other than that everything was the same. 
Make a paste of the almonds and the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Whisk the almond past egg yolks and remaining sugar together until pale. Strain in the milk infusion slowly and return to a low heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Cool and add the brandy.
I'm not sure how long it keeps for. It'll be drank long before that becomes a worry anyway.

New Year's Resolution

Fewer 6 month fallow periods.


Monday, 8 July 2013

A Couple of Interesting Links...

The was an interesting discussion about Tex-mex food and it's origins on The Splendid Table recently between Francis Lam (who used to write for Salon.com before it became shite!) and Robb Walsh.

Which reminds me there was a great episode of TST a couple of years ago featuring Diana Kennedy, which is worth a listen.

Sunday Morning Barbacoa

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cervezas Preparadas

A cerveza preparada, as the name would suggest is a drink made from beer. This overall category encompasses micheladas, cheladas and clamatos.

I consider micheladas and cheladas as not including the tomato with the beer simply served over ice with the juice of a lime, a dash of worchester and some permutation of soy sauce, maggi sauce or hot sauce. This is a purely personal distinction as he terminology is not absolute and you will hear michelada also used to refer to cervezas preperadas that contain tomato or clamato.

Whatever the name used, there are basically three types. The simplest where the beer is spiked with salt and lime juice, one often sees drinkers squeezing the lime and adding a pinch of salt directly to the bottle of beer. It's a combination of that was very alien to me at first, but it is refreshing and the bitterness of the lime is offset by the salt (or vise versa) and the
end result is very refreshing.


The second type, the one I refer to as a michelada is a beer, served over ice, with the juice of a lime, Worcester sauce and either soy or Maggi seasoning. The drink is normally served in a straight glass with the rim either salted or coated in a chile-lime type spice mix, and a dash of hot sauce is optional.

It is also possible to buy a pre-papared bottles of MicheMix to use instead of your preferred combination of the condiments, they are convenient, and don't taste bad, but seeing as they are substituting for items you have on hand already are unnecessary.


The clamato takes the concept a step further and adds some clamato (or plain tomato juice) to the beer and condiments.

Somewhere between 1 measure of clamato to 2 or 3  measures of beer is the usual, but it's a metter of taste. The drink is normally served in a large heavy goblet shaped glass. The drink is a good hangover cure and has nursed me through a difficult morning or two, but more importantly it's a refreshing drink that's easy to take in the heat and cuts back the alcohol a bit.

Don't let your squeamishness at the thought of combining beer and Worcester or tomato deny you a treat!

It occurs to me I've been using the term beer pretty loosely. It's normal when ordering a michelada that the server asks with what beer you would like it made. Personally I like Indio, but here in the north Tecate Light is a common choice. Pacifico which is light and crisp is also a good choice. (All are largers, even Indio which is amber).

Thursday, 20 June 2013




The Paloma is a refreshing cocktail of tequila, lime, salt and grapefruit soda.

  • 1 measure of Tequila.
  • Juice of a key lime.
  • A good pinch of salt.
  • Top off with grapefruit soda.
  • Serve over ice in a tall glass.
Simple! Mostly, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Firstly many recipes suggest a reposado tequila, but a blanco is more suitable for a drink like this. The second thing is to remember not to be miserly with the salt, a good pinch is necessary and the drink is far more refreshing with it.

Finally the grapefruit soda, Squirt is the most common brand here in Mexico, but I'm not aware of any brand widely available in Ireland, so some substitution would have to be made. I used to drink a shandy of Club Lemon and 7Up which is I think about as close as you are going to get without finding a bottle of Squirt. The other alternative would be to use fresh grapefruit juice and some sparkling water.

The combination of sour and slightly salty in a lot of the drinks here was very alien to me at first. The very notion of a Michelada (more about those later!) was repulsive, but it's a taste one grows very fond of very quickly.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


There is no point in pretending that picadillo can't, more often than not, be a huge disappointment. What should be sweet, spicy and succulent is actually a soupy grey mess of mince, reminiscent of boarding school dinners, with a couple of cursory bits of potato and carrot winking up at you. It also has some nasty associations with TexMex cooking and people's first encounter with it usually owes more to a food scientist Taco Bell headquarters than Diana Kennedy. Every time I see a ban-marie full of watery grey picadillo I think of Chef in Apocalypse Now... "It was turnig grey man!"

The name picadillo comes from the spanish "picar", to chop, so obviously it is a dish of minced meat. n most parts of Mexico the meat used would be pork, however here in the north minced beef is more regularly seen.

Choices, choices!

There are a couple of forks in the road here. Firstly the meat can be beef or pork, then comes the secondary ingredients. I like the richer version of the dish seasoned with Christmas spices (clove & allspice) and including raisins, almonds and olives, but there is also a plainer version with diced potato and carrot. Finally there is a choice to be made with the technique, do you opt for the slightly strange, but traditional, technique where the meat is cooked first covered in water or do you simply pull out your biggest sautee pan and get cooking.

I'm not going to elaborate on every permutation of the above here (and I'm not going to be a little vague on quantities - once you have an idea of what you are aiming for there is no need to be too precise with the dish).

Sweet Spiced Picadillo

1 lb of minced beef.
About 1/2 cup of diced onion.
A clove or two of garlic finely chopped.
Two or three ripe tomatoes or a tin of chopped tomatoes.
About a half dozen peppercorns.
Two or three cloves.
Two or three allspice berries.
A small piece of cinnamon (a centimeter or two).
1/4 cup of almond slices.
1/4 cup of raisins.
A tablespoon or two of chopped green almonds.
Salt to taste.
Chile if desired.

The technique here is easy. Fry the onion over a medium heat until translucent, add the garlic and fry for a few more moments, then add the meat and fry until cooked through.

If you are using fresh tomatoes place them in a blender with just enough water to get the blades moving and blend them. The additional water won't be necessary of you are using a tin. If you are using chile it can be blended along with the tomatoes. I like a chipotle in the dish, but you could use a jalapeno, a serrano, or even some toasted soaked a de-veined guajillo.

Add the tomato liquid to the dish, along with the finely ground spice mixture and the remaining ingredients and cook out.

Consistency is a matter of taste, however I prefer a slightly dry consistency, especially of the picadillo is being used as a taco filling or as a stuffing, however if it is being served on a toastada a slightly looser consistency won't be too much of a nuisance.

Picadillo de Pobre

This version, as the name suggests, is not as richly spiced and swaps out the expensive ingredients for potato and carrot. It is the version you'll encounter most frequently at taco stands.

1 lb of minced (or finely chopped) pork.
1/2 cup of onion
A clove or two of garlic.
A couple of tomatoes
1/2 cup of waxy potatoes, in small dice, cooked
Less than 1/2 cup of carrot, in small dice, cooked
Salt to taste
A slake of flour (or masa) to thicken.

Place the raw meat in a wide pan and add enough water just to cover. Simmer the meat in the liquid until just cooked. Drain the meat, reserving the liquid and set aside.

Sautee the onion until translucent, add the garlice and continue sauteeing for a few moments and then add the chopped tomato and cook until the liquid has reduced.

Add the drained meat and cook until it has a nice colour then add the remaining ingredients.

Add about a heaped teaspoon of flour to a cup of the reserved poaching liquid and stir ensuring that there are no lumps. Add this slurry to the pan and cook out. The objective is a sauce that is neither too watery or too thick.

So, done right picadillo is a quick and convenient way to turn an everyday ingredient into something tasty and versatile, even elegant, so don't settle for the grey crap anymore.

Pati Jinich of Pati's Mexican Table at Google.

Watch "Pati Jinich: "Pati's Mexican Table", Talks at Google" on YouTube