Thursday, 15 November 2012

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Aguja Nortena

Cuts of Beef

The cuts of beef in the butchers shops in Mexico can be slightly different to what I am used to and it can sometimes be confusing to identify exactly where in the animal a particular cut comes from, and also what the best cooking method for a particular cut is.

This article by Karen Hursh Graber gives as good a summary as one could hope for. It has finally cleared up the arrachera question for me, which US writers regard as equivalent to hanger steak, flank steak or skirt steak pretty interchangeably (it's skirt steak). It's a very useful resource and I've used it quite a bit over the past three years. The diagram below is from the same source.

Aguja Nortena

When it comes to cuts of beef, especially the popular Mexican cuts which are destined for the grill, you need to remember that quick fast cooking and medium rare meat doesn't necessarily equate to tender meat.

Arrachera for example, can be quite stringy when cooked medium rare and works much better when cooked through completely. Similarly, aguja nortena, which is very common here in Monterrey for BBQs, works better when grilled slowly and served well done. It seems counter intuitive, but in these cases, well done is more tender. The mesquite coals that are used here help  by providing a steady but not fierce heat that allows relatively slow grilling.

Agujas themselves are cut from the underside of the animal, about six inches by three inches with some bone along one of the long edges. These steaks are cut quite thin - to about a centimetre. At parties they are often cooked, a couple for each guest and offered with tortillas. They are best when seasoned simply, just salt and a sprinkling of Worcester sauce before grilling.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Fish Tacos
(Antojitos Marineros - Guadalajara)

Cafe De Olla and Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate.

Mexican hot chocolate, rather than being made from cocoa powder or powder is made using bars of spicy sweetened chocolate. This chocolate is very sweet and has a coarse texture, you can see the grains of sugar in it and it's spiced with cinnamon.

The hexagonally shaped Ibarra and Abuelita brands are popular, but it also comes in rectangular slabs similar to regular cooking chocolate.

Preparation is simple. Heat the milk, place in a blender with the chocolate and process until combined. Simple. There is a traditional tool called an molinilo which can be used to whisk the drink, and while it probably makes a fine souvenir, the blender is faster.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Cafe de Olla.

Cafe de Olla is a sweet coffee spiced with cinnamon and sometimes also clove and orange peel. It is sweetened with piloncillo, a unrefined sugar sold in cones slightly smaller than a fist. Assuming this isn't available to you dark brown sugar will substitute just fine.

When it comes to preparation there are lots of methods, most of which tie themselves up in knots with French presses etc. The problem is that the time necessary to extract the flavour from the spices and dissolve the cinnamon is longer than required to brew the coffee. Rick Bayless gets around this by making a spiced syrup first then brewing the coffee using the syrup. Personally I can see no reason not to simply add the coffee grounds to the pot after the syrup has been made and let that stand for five minutes. The drink can then be strained directly into a mug, removing both the grounds and any stray bits of cinnamon or clove at the same time.

I think a single stick of cinnamon and two to three cloves will flavour about four cupfuls of water and to my taste this will require about 3 heaped tablespoons of ground coffee and add as much sugar or piloncillo as you like.

It's unusual, but comforting, and goes well with pastries of any kind, perfect for a mid-morning break.