Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Salsa de Chile Passila - revisited

After the first unsatisfactory attempt at the Salsa de Chile Passila I've been anxious to try again. The recipe from Diana kennedy I tried the first time was somewhat involved; the passila were first fried in oil untill crisp, then the tomatilloes were fried in the oil, finally the onion was fried in this same oil and all the ingredients were blended with a clove of garlic. after that the resulting salsa was returned to the pan to thicken and cook out.

Many of the other recipes I have seen are much simpler with the passila simply being lightly toasted on a dry skillet before being blended with the tomatillo, onion and garlic.

I had some tomatilloes in the fridge from the weekend - the oven in the apartment is enormous and I like to be sure I am making full use of it on the rare occasions I turn it on - so it seemed an ideal opportuninty to have another go at the passila salsa.

I liked the idea of cooking out the sauce after blending it, particulary on a sauce like this with deep complicated flavours, however I wanted to skip the step of frying the passila in oil, which I think is fraught with danger and inclined to make the chiles bitter if not done very carfully. Neither did I want to spent time frying onions to be added to the sauce and then taking more time to cook the sauce out. So I compromised between the Diana Kennedy approach and the more basic versions.

I toasted three chiles passila in a dry frying pan. They puff up up slightly. (You need to turn them regulary and watch the heat under the pan in case they burn - if they do ditch them and start again). When the chiles were warmed through and fragrant I took them from the pan, removed the stem and seeds and cut the flesh into small pieces.

I blended the flesh of the chiles with three of the already cooked tomatilloes, a clove of garlic, a quarter of a bigish onion and less than a half a cup of water.

The resulting salasa was returned to the pan and cooked for 5 to 10 minutes until it had thickened slightly and the raw taste of the onion and garlic had cooked out. I fixed the seasoning and placed the salsa in a ziplock bag and stored in the fridge.

This time I was much hapier with the result and it was very close to what I had hoped it to be. It has a rich deep complicated taste, very different from the bright clean tastes you normally associate with Mexican cooking. It goes excellently with grilled meat.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Beans in Broth and Refried

Frijoles De Olla (Pot beans)

Lots of cooking dogmas and various disagreements apply whever you are dealing with dried beans - for example whether it is necessary to soak the bean, whether you should quick soak them by bringing to a boil first, whether they should be soaked overnight and whether the soaking liquid should be discarded, whether salt should be added and when you should add it.

I cook beans quite a bit and have come up with a system that works pretty well for me and I given up worrying and obsessing about the contradictory advice I read every time a pick up a cookbook with a bean recipe.

Personally I like to soak the beans overnight. While boiling first shortens the soaking time somewhat, I am at this stage, resigned to the fact that cooking dried beans is a process that will never be instant. Neither do I like to boil without soaking. The beans take much longer to cook this way, and that seems to me an awful waste of energy that can easily be remedied by 5 minues of preperation the night before.

The Frijoles de Olla is a basic recipe of beans (I use black beans, pinto beans or a combination of both) in a light broth. it is a nice dish in its own right but it also forms the basis for refried beans.

Lard and Espazote

There are a couple of slightly unusual additions to the Frijoles de Olla. The first Lard, is a fairly familiar, if not often used ingredient in European cooking, however it finds it's way into Mexican cooking quite a bit - particulary in the cooking of Tamales. A tablespoon of lard is added the beans as they are simmered - it gives a velvety feel to the resulting broth, it also gives the meaty tast that is achieved in European cooking by the addition of bacon or pancetta.

The second addition is Espazote. This was unfamiliar to me before I cam here. I has an odd medicinal taste, it is, to me, reminiscnt of the emanel paints I used as a kid to paint Airfix models.

Beyond that the recipe is pretty simple, add the soaked beans and the soaking water to a large pot, add water untill the beans are covered by a coupld of inches (this is more than would be added in a European dish, however what you are looking for is to be left with a light bean broth rather than cooking off all the liquid). Add about halfo of a chopped onion, a tablespoon of lard and I use a few sprigs of the dried espazote. I also add a crushed clove of garlic even though it does not seem to be a standard addition in any of the mexican recipes I have seen. Don't add any salt at this stage.

Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the seat and simmer until they are tender. The length of time depends on a number of factors - the age of the beans, how long they were soaked, even the altitude is you want to get picky - however you should allow for a couple of hours simmering.

Salt causes the skins to tighten so when it is added in the process is important, that is also whay it is not added untill well into the cooking process. If the beans are being used in a salad then it is best to salt the pot before the beans are completely tender to allow the beans hold their shape in the salad. In the case of frijoles de olla, where I am likely to be proceeding to make refried beans, I never add salt until the beans are completely tender.

Thes beans make a nice lunch. I have seen people a work here eat something very similar to this with tortillas. I doubt my tortilla skills are up to eating something so liquid with a tortilla, but it does make a nice soup.

Refried Beans

The beans can also be mased and fried. Again lard is used, however I have also used butter or olive oil. Butter gives pretty similar results to the lard, the olive oil version will taste slightly different.

Cooking refried beans makes me appreciate the Mexican fascination for non stick cookware, which I am generally not a fan of, however the idea of cleaning non stick cookware after a batch of refried beans has caught in it is not something I thnk I would enjoy.

The procedure is to heat the lard, add half the quantity of beans and the same quantity of broth (say a 1/2 cup of each). As the beans heat up begin mashing them into the broth to create a loose paste. At this point add the remainider of the beans and the same amount of the broth and mash these into the mixture. There is a specfic mexican implement to do this however a potato masher or the back of a  flat ladle would do fine too.

Once everything has been mashed together continue cooking and scraping for the bottom of the pan to prevent catching. As the mixture cooks and the water evaporates it will gradually form a coherent mass. at this point you it's ready.

The only addition I like to make is to occasionally add some smoked paprika which adds some of the smokyness you expect in refied beans.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A Pancake Tuesday Treat..

Flour and Masa Pancakes with Cajeta

I couldn't let the day pass yesterday without some sort of a pancake. Very nice they were too!

1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup of Massa de Harina
1 Egg

I made a thickish batter, let it rest for a half an hour or so and then made some pancakes and served with cajeta which is a Dulce De Leche but with an slight additional tang from the goat's milk.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

I'm not dead honestly...

I've been at home for Christmas and all of January and am just beginning to get myself back into some sort of a routine. Expect a flurry of posts over the next few days.

There are a couple of restaurants I would like to mention, not to review, but more so that I can record for myself what I found interesting about each and what might be worth trying at home.

I have been expirimenting with some things that are not necessarily Mexican, specifically pizza dough recently, and I am toying with the idea of occasionally posting any lessons learned.

Finally, I have a rough road map in mid for the next few posts, basically the staple items of Mexican cusine which I would like to cover, leaving myself free then to pick and chose from what interests me beyond that, knowing that there is a decent foundation in place. The items I have in mind are beans and rice, flour tortillas, tamales (there is a packet of corn husks in the cupboard which I bought a couple of months ago now, in antipitation of doing tamales, which eye me reproachfully every time I open the door), some more on salsas and then a few soups.