Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Frijoles Charros

Frijoles charros are a common accompaniment to meat dishes here, they are pinto beans cooked with meat and served in a light broth and are served on a bowl on the side. The ingredients vary slightly, bacon is definitely used, as are onion and garlic and the remaining ingredients are selected from tomato, sausage, chorizo, epasote and sometimes a hint of corriander.

The important thing is that there is quite a lot of broth, therefore the quantity of water used in cooking the beans is larger than normal.

I'm now convinced that the easiest and quickest way to cook beans is in a pressure cooker. No soaking, no waiting. (No forgetting that the beans are soaking and finding them fermenting a few days afterwards)

Frijoles Charros
3 cups of dried pinto beans
12 cups of water
1 tablespoon of lard
2 teaspoons of salt (I used Kosher, so a little less if you are using table salt)
1/2 to 1 cup of onion, medium diced.
2 cloves of garlic, chopped.
1 good sized tomato, diced
1/2 cup or more of bacon, smoked if possible, chopped and preferably pre-cooked.
Chorizo, to taste, either Spanish cured or Mexican uncooked can be used, (cook the raw chorizo first).
Jalapeno, preferably canned but fresh are fine too. Don't use too much this isn't a very spicy dish.
Epasote or corriander if available and desired.

Cooking the dish is a simple as combining everything in the pressure, clamping on the lid and bringing the pot up to pressure. When the pot comes to pressure reduce the heat to very low and cook for an hour like this.

I don't like the routine of running the pot under cold water after cooking and prefer to simply let the pot cool in it's own time (a little extra cooking time may need to be factored in if you don't plan to do the same - I'm not sure!).

This will make a couple of liters of beans, and they will keep for at least a few days in the fridge.

Simple, quick and tasty.

Friday, 14 September 2012


Mazapan in Mexico is not the same as the same as the bright yellow marzipan paste used in cake decorating that you are probably already familiar with. It a slightly crumbly, very very sweet puck of nuts and sugar.

Peanuts are normally used but any nut will do fine.

The procedure is simple, nuts and sugar are combined in the food processor and chopped until the oil from the nuts is released (a couple of minutes) and a loose cake can be formed. For two cups if nuts use about a cup and a half of powdered sugar. I don't keep powdered sugar on hand so I use granulated sugar but process it separately first to make it finer. The texture is much looser than European marzipan. There is no way you could make those miniature models of fruit from the Mexican version.

Marzipan is very common here, you can see it at most shop checkouts and it's most commonly sold in packs of four two inch pucks, though you do also see larger cakes of it too.

It's simple and tasty, and ideal treat to make with kids. But be warned, when I say it's very, very sweet - I'm not joking.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Barbacoa de Res


Barbacoa, unlike what the name would suggest, hasn't much to do with barbecue. It's a traditional weekend treat (presumably as it takes some time to prepare) and is a specialty of northern Mexico in particular. It consists of beef, seasoned with little apart from garlic, cooked long and slow in little liquid until it's reduced to an unctuous beefy mass.

I've made a type of faux barbacoa a number of times using shin of beef and a slow cooker. Shin, in fact any cheap cut of beef, works fine, however in order to cover the shin pieces I had to use a little more water than I would have liked. This meant there was more liquid which had to be reduced off at the end of cooking to reach the right consistency. To make a more traditional barbacoa the best cuts of meat to use are cheek of beef and tongue of beef, however if the thought of cooking tongue of beef doesn't appeal then the cheek alone will do just fine.

Traditionally the meat would be cooked wrapped in maguey leaves and cooked underground. Very tasty I'm sure but not practical for my purposes! I have also seen barbacoa prepared commercially buy enclosing the meat in large torpedoes of aluminum foil which are then cooked slowly, standing upright, in a large pot. However for home cooking the best, and simplest method, is a slow cooker.

If you are using cheek of beef alone (a single cheek of beef is about the size of a small chicken) then the beef can be cut into inch cubes added to the slow cooker along with a couple of cloves of garlic, some salt and a small amount (a cup or two) of water. If you are using both cheek and tongue then you will to arrange things in such a way as to be able to remove the outer skin from the tongue after it is cooked, which means cutting the tongue into chunks that are larger and can be skinned after cooking without too much fiddling.

The consistency of cooked barbacoa is not that of shredded meat, it has a very fine texture, fine enough to be eaten with a spoon. The secret therefore is long slow cooking, but also not to use a lot of liquid. I have read lots or recipes with the sentence "after cooking discard the liquid" in them. This makes me cringe. Neither is is necessary to add a lot of competing flavors. Some garlic and some salt are all that is necessary. A bay leaf would be fine but anything beyond this, chile for example, is overkill and detracting for the softness and beefyness of the dish.

Cooked on low overnight the following morning all that remains to do is shred the cooked meat very finely, reduce the cooking liquid and add it to the meat until you have a very fine smooth texture, almost a loose paste.

It's a wonderful Sunday morning brunch and needs nothing more than some chopped coriander and onion and a nice tomatillo salsa to make some excellent tacos.

The first time I had barbacoa I was very surprised by it. The name suggested something completely different to me; something grilled, and the texture was new. There is something elemental about it's simple beef taste. If there was a periodic table of cow, this would definitely be an entry on it.