Thursday, 4 August 2011

Pescado Adobado.

Guajillo Adobo

I have been dipping into Roberto Santibanez's book Truly Mexican over the past while. The layout of the book is very logical and while he doesn't cover the same breath of the cuisine as either Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless, when it comes to understanding the sauces that for the basis for much of Mexican cooking he provides a very clear and helpful foundation.

Reading the book one has that "aha" moment that one had when first reading about the French "mother sauces", there is a sense of a lot of the confusion being stripped away and the sauces being divided into clear and obvious families and the reader is then empowered to improvise with confidence.

The sauces are split into:
  • Salsas - the tomato and tomatillo cooked and uncooked sauces and garnishes which I have covered quite a bit already. 
  • Guacamoles - there are a couple of very interesting ones which I will return to sometime later, there is a seafood guacamole and one with chicharron which definitely look worth a try.
  • Adobos - simple purees of different chiles. 
  • Moles and Pipanes  - the more complicated nut thickened sauces,
I have covered a lot of salsas already and also a couple of guacamoles but I have been anxious to move on to cover more substantial meat dishes and to tackle some of the adobos and pastes and to master some mole recipes. There are a couple of reasons I haven't thus far. Living alone means that I don't generally buy large cuts of meat, and also I try to restrict myself to chicken and fish as much as possible, beef and pork would generally be a one time a week treat for me, so preparing dishes based on larger cuts demands more forward planning than I am used to. But I'll struggle on, for science!


An adobo, at it's simplest, is a paste made from toasted then soaked dried chiles, blended with a small amount of water, garlic, a splash of vinegar, salt, possibly some sugar and whatever spices seem appropriate.

There is nothing in the technique that we have not seen already in the cooked salsas. The dried chiles are toasted on a compal until fragrant but not burnt, they are soaked in water until soft, and the seeded and de-veined flesh of the chile is blended with the other ingredients.

There is a certain amount of disagreement as to whether the soaking liquid should be used in the paste. Santibanez thinks not, that using clean water gives better taste. I have tried both ways, and while I am not sure I can tell the difference, I suspect on principle he is right and you should discard the soaking liquid.

The paste is blended until absolutely smooth, a couple of minutes at least, and should also be passed through a sieve after blending to ensure the paste is a silky as possible without any remaining skins or stray seeds.

The adobo can then be used as a marinade or else mixed with an equal amount of water or stock it can be used as a braising liquid.

Guajillo Adobo

The guajillo chile is a long dried chile, similar in shape to a passila but with a slightly redder colour. While the dried chiles are a reddish brown the adobo paste made from them is a beautiful red colour.

The adobo is quite delicate and can be used as a marinade for fish without overpowering it.

To make the paste toast about 10 or 12 guajillo chiles on a comal, as they toast their colour lightens slightly, but as always you must be careful not to scorch them. I generally just drop the whole chile on the comal and turn it frequently and use a spatula to press down on it, however you can also cut the chile and de-vein it before toasting it. (In fact this is probably a much cleaner and easier method, and it is nothing but force of habit the makes me take the other approach). Once the chiles are toasted soak them in water for 20 minutes or so until soft.The blend them along with about 3/4 cup of water (more if necessary), a couple of cloves of garlic, a splash of cider vinegar, a scant teaspoon of salt and sugar and a pinch of cumin.

You are aiming for a smooth paste thicker than pouring consistency so the abobo will have to be blended for much longer than a salsa would and should be passed through a sieve to ensure it is perfectly smooth.

It can then be spread on meat or fish as a marinade prior to frying or grilling, or it can be added to browned chicken or pork along with an equal quantity of water or stock to create a stewing liquid. Versatile stuff!

Pastel De Tres Leches

It's a complete mystery to me why Tres Leches cake is not as popular everywhere as it is in Mexico. It's not particularly difficult and requires no unusual techniques or ingredients, and the resulting cake is light and moist and really gorgeous. It is basically a sponge cake soaked in a combination of three different kinds of milk; evaporated milk, condensed milk and either cream or, as here, whole milk.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, for one when it comes to baking I have little expertise to offer, I just follow the recipe the same as everybody else and secondly the recipe below is taken from an episode of Good Eats and you can get all the information you require from the episode here rather than second hand from me.

Clearly a recipe that contains a can of condensed milk and a can of evaporated milk is not a very traditional one and no doubt the recipe owes quite a bit to Nestle or whatever company first put the instructions on the side of a can, however the end result is quite elegant, and we are certainly not entering into the realm of cooking where every recipe calls for a can of Campbell's Mushroom Soup. While not traditional, it is popular. Mexican pastry cooking is very very impressive and any cake that can hold it's place here is worth your attention.

The common variations seem to be to add a fruit purée, usually mango, to the cake. Fanny Gerson's recipe from her book, which I mentioned in an earlier post, includes fruit between two layers of sponge. Personally I don't like this, I prefer the cake to come as a single square of sponge, topped with cream. The only amendment I made to Alton's recipe was to to the cake with plain whipped cream rather than sweetened cream as I find the cake a little less cloying that way. There is a restaurant close to may apartment which serves the soaked sponge, which is coated in toasted nuts, on a small cast iron pan, sitting in a pool of the three milk mixture. It is very very classy and delicious.

Good Eats Tres Leches Cake


For the cake:

  • Vegetable oil
  • 6 3/4 ounces cake flour, plus extra for pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the glaze:
For the topping:
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour a 13 by 9-inch metal pan and set aside.
Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. This will appear to be a very small amount of batter. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.
Remove the cake pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

For the glaze:
Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half in a 1-quart measuring cup. Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake. Refrigerate the cake overnight.

Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk together on low until stiff peaks are formed. Change to medium speed and whisk until thick. Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.