Saturday, 24 March 2012

Not Your Mother's Olla Express...

I have picked up a number of cooking prejudices from my mother, one if these is a distrust of pressure cookers and a belief that they are nasty hissing explosive things and too fiddly to be worth bothering with. Lately they are much praised for making stock by people with well thumbed copies of Harold McGee, and every recipe I read for beans cooked in a pressure cooker seems to contain the obligatory remark that today's pressure cookers are not like you remember from your mother's kitchen.

I had been growing tired of leaving beans to soak and of endlessly simmering them. I was in the habit of forgetting the soaking beans and accidentally leaving them ferment, so I decided it was time to challenge my prejudice and buy a pressure cooker so I could cook my beans quickly and without soaking.

I'm converted.
Frijoles de la Olla
I've covered this before so I'm not going to go through the details of the preparation. In this case I used dry pinto beans, a couple of pieces of onion and celery, a jalapeño and a couple of pieces of the chicharron pictured below.

The beans were cooked for a hour from the time the pot came up to pressure and were perfect. They were soft through but not in danger of falling apart. This will turn cooking beans from a weekend chore to something I can do in an evening without any hassle.

Braised Shin of Beef
The next outing for the pressure cooker was to braise some beef. Much of the meat here used in tacos, for example carne desherbrada or the weekend barbacoa (which is very popular here in Monterrey) is cooked long and slow and cooked down into a very soft texture. I was looking to replicate that texture with a shin of beef.

I cooked two think slices from a shin on beef in a small quantity of water and chicken stock in the pressure cooker along with some onion, a lot of garlic, a couple of chipotle peppers with some adobo and a mixture of cumin, bay leaves, allspice, nutmeg, pepper and clove.

In this case I cooked everything for over two hours and left to cool in the pot. The following day I removed the meat from the liquid and shredded it. I took the couple of cups of liquid, strained it and then reduced it by half. When the liquid was reduced I added it to the shredded meat and cooked the slightly soupy mix together in a wide pan until the liquid had reduced further and I was left with just tender moist meat.

This made some great tacos. The meat was very soft and moist and the highly reduced stick gave it a very meaty taste and the slight gelatinous texture that is reminiscent of barbacoa (though in terms of taste barbacoa is simpler without the Christmas spices in this dish). The tacos were dressed with some onion and corriander and some habenero salsa

I guess I'm converted to using a pressure cooker. I guess the only remaining prejudice handed down to me is a dislike of condensed milk. I wonder how long that will last?


An Unusual Salad

Something that surprises anyone getting familiar with Mexican cooking is how much they love soy sauce, Worcester sauce (or salsa tipo Inglesa as they call it) and Maggi seasoning.

They feature in drinks like micheladas; a mixture of beer with lime and some combination of the above condiments, sometimes with tomato juice or with clamato (a mixture of tomato juice and clam juice). The drinks are not something I like, but they are a good hangover cure, and I might cover the various types at some point.

Worchester sauce is used on its own as a seasoning for grilled meats, however, more unexpectedly, a combination of the three condiments is used as the basis of a crisp and refreshing salad.

There is a seafood restaurant near where I work where this salad is left in the middle of the table for diners to share.

It is comprised rounds of of sliced radish, carrot and jalapeño along with sliced onion and chopped corriander. The salad is dressed (or more accurately sits in a pool of) a dressing comprised of lime juice, soy, Worcester and Maggi. The relative proportions are roughly; a tablespoon of soy, a teaspoon of Worcester and a half teaspoon of Maggi for the juice of each two limes. The objective it a dressing with a balance of sour, salty and savoury.

The salad it then sprinkled with Chile Y Limon which is a type of seasoning salt with chile powder and lime which is often sprinkled on fruit here and is used to dress the rim of a michelada glass in place of salt.

The salad is hot, sour, salty, crunchy and savoury - a list of attributes one would generally associate with Thai rather tan Mexican food, in fact, aside from the absence of fish sauce and possibly some sugar this is something one would not be surprised to see in a Thai cookbook.