Monday, 8 July 2013

A Couple of Interesting Links...

The was an interesting discussion about Tex-mex food and it's origins on The Splendid Table recently between Francis Lam (who used to write for before it became shite!) and Robb Walsh.

Which reminds me there was a great episode of TST a couple of years ago featuring Diana Kennedy, which is worth a listen.

Sunday Morning Barbacoa

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cervezas Preparadas

A cerveza preparada, as the name would suggest is a drink made from beer. This overall category encompasses micheladas, cheladas and clamatos.

I consider micheladas and cheladas as not including the tomato with the beer simply served over ice with the juice of a lime, a dash of worchester and some permutation of soy sauce, maggi sauce or hot sauce. This is a purely personal distinction as he terminology is not absolute and you will hear michelada also used to refer to cervezas preperadas that contain tomato or clamato.

Whatever the name used, there are basically three types. The simplest where the beer is spiked with salt and lime juice, one often sees drinkers squeezing the lime and adding a pinch of salt directly to the bottle of beer. It's a combination of that was very alien to me at first, but it is refreshing and the bitterness of the lime is offset by the salt (or vise versa) and the
end result is very refreshing.


The second type, the one I refer to as a michelada is a beer, served over ice, with the juice of a lime, Worcester sauce and either soy or Maggi seasoning. The drink is normally served in a straight glass with the rim either salted or coated in a chile-lime type spice mix, and a dash of hot sauce is optional.

It is also possible to buy a pre-papared bottles of MicheMix to use instead of your preferred combination of the condiments, they are convenient, and don't taste bad, but seeing as they are substituting for items you have on hand already are unnecessary.


The clamato takes the concept a step further and adds some clamato (or plain tomato juice) to the beer and condiments.

Somewhere between 1 measure of clamato to 2 or 3  measures of beer is the usual, but it's a metter of taste. The drink is normally served in a large heavy goblet shaped glass. The drink is a good hangover cure and has nursed me through a difficult morning or two, but more importantly it's a refreshing drink that's easy to take in the heat and cuts back the alcohol a bit.

Don't let your squeamishness at the thought of combining beer and Worcester or tomato deny you a treat!

It occurs to me I've been using the term beer pretty loosely. It's normal when ordering a michelada that the server asks with what beer you would like it made. Personally I like Indio, but here in the north Tecate Light is a common choice. Pacifico which is light and crisp is also a good choice. (All are largers, even Indio which is amber).

Thursday, 20 June 2013




The Paloma is a refreshing cocktail of tequila, lime, salt and grapefruit soda.

  • 1 measure of Tequila.
  • Juice of a key lime.
  • A good pinch of salt.
  • Top off with grapefruit soda.
  • Serve over ice in a tall glass.
Simple! Mostly, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Firstly many recipes suggest a reposado tequila, but a blanco is more suitable for a drink like this. The second thing is to remember not to be miserly with the salt, a good pinch is necessary and the drink is far more refreshing with it.

Finally the grapefruit soda, Squirt is the most common brand here in Mexico, but I'm not aware of any brand widely available in Ireland, so some substitution would have to be made. I used to drink a shandy of Club Lemon and 7Up which is I think about as close as you are going to get without finding a bottle of Squirt. The other alternative would be to use fresh grapefruit juice and some sparkling water.

The combination of sour and slightly salty in a lot of the drinks here was very alien to me at first. The very notion of a Michelada (more about those later!) was repulsive, but it's a taste one grows very fond of very quickly.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


There is no point in pretending that picadillo can't, more often than not, be a huge disappointment. What should be sweet, spicy and succulent is actually a soupy grey mess of mince, reminiscent of boarding school dinners, with a couple of cursory bits of potato and carrot winking up at you. It also has some nasty associations with TexMex cooking and people's first encounter with it usually owes more to a food scientist Taco Bell headquarters than Diana Kennedy. Every time I see a ban-marie full of watery grey picadillo I think of Chef in Apocalypse Now... "It was turnig grey man!"

The name picadillo comes from the spanish "picar", to chop, so obviously it is a dish of minced meat. n most parts of Mexico the meat used would be pork, however here in the north minced beef is more regularly seen.

Choices, choices!

There are a couple of forks in the road here. Firstly the meat can be beef or pork, then comes the secondary ingredients. I like the richer version of the dish seasoned with Christmas spices (clove & allspice) and including raisins, almonds and olives, but there is also a plainer version with diced potato and carrot. Finally there is a choice to be made with the technique, do you opt for the slightly strange, but traditional, technique where the meat is cooked first covered in water or do you simply pull out your biggest sautee pan and get cooking.

I'm not going to elaborate on every permutation of the above here (and I'm not going to be a little vague on quantities - once you have an idea of what you are aiming for there is no need to be too precise with the dish).

Sweet Spiced Picadillo

1 lb of minced beef.
About 1/2 cup of diced onion.
A clove or two of garlic finely chopped.
Two or three ripe tomatoes or a tin of chopped tomatoes.
About a half dozen peppercorns.
Two or three cloves.
Two or three allspice berries.
A small piece of cinnamon (a centimeter or two).
1/4 cup of almond slices.
1/4 cup of raisins.
A tablespoon or two of chopped green almonds.
Salt to taste.
Chile if desired.

The technique here is easy. Fry the onion over a medium heat until translucent, add the garlic and fry for a few more moments, then add the meat and fry until cooked through.

If you are using fresh tomatoes place them in a blender with just enough water to get the blades moving and blend them. The additional water won't be necessary of you are using a tin. If you are using chile it can be blended along with the tomatoes. I like a chipotle in the dish, but you could use a jalapeno, a serrano, or even some toasted soaked a de-veined guajillo.

Add the tomato liquid to the dish, along with the finely ground spice mixture and the remaining ingredients and cook out.

Consistency is a matter of taste, however I prefer a slightly dry consistency, especially of the picadillo is being used as a taco filling or as a stuffing, however if it is being served on a toastada a slightly looser consistency won't be too much of a nuisance.

Picadillo de Pobre

This version, as the name suggests, is not as richly spiced and swaps out the expensive ingredients for potato and carrot. It is the version you'll encounter most frequently at taco stands.

1 lb of minced (or finely chopped) pork.
1/2 cup of onion
A clove or two of garlic.
A couple of tomatoes
1/2 cup of waxy potatoes, in small dice, cooked
Less than 1/2 cup of carrot, in small dice, cooked
Salt to taste
A slake of flour (or masa) to thicken.

Place the raw meat in a wide pan and add enough water just to cover. Simmer the meat in the liquid until just cooked. Drain the meat, reserving the liquid and set aside.

Sautee the onion until translucent, add the garlice and continue sauteeing for a few moments and then add the chopped tomato and cook until the liquid has reduced.

Add the drained meat and cook until it has a nice colour then add the remaining ingredients.

Add about a heaped teaspoon of flour to a cup of the reserved poaching liquid and stir ensuring that there are no lumps. Add this slurry to the pan and cook out. The objective is a sauce that is neither too watery or too thick.

So, done right picadillo is a quick and convenient way to turn an everyday ingredient into something tasty and versatile, even elegant, so don't settle for the grey crap anymore.

Pati Jinich of Pati's Mexican Table at Google.

Watch "Pati Jinich: "Pati's Mexican Table", Talks at Google" on YouTube

Monday, 15 April 2013

Friday, 12 April 2013

Some online shop recommending..

My Mexican Shop - Based in Ireland and will deliver throughout Ireland for €8 and within Dublin for €6 (though that charge covers up to a very generous 30kg), with the ability to collect your order in person if you are based in Dublin. Their selection isn't enormous but does cover things like epasote, achiote and dried chiles that are hard to find outside Mexico. - The selection at MexGrocer is larger and they deliver throughout Europe. For delivery to Ireland by courier they charge £17 for up to 20kg, they will also deliver by standard mail, the prices are listed on their site.



The annatto seed is the small, flinty little seed of a shrub with grows in the tropical parts of Latin America. Because of the seed's deep red colour it is often used as a food colouring - it is the colour used to make margarine yellow as well as being used to colour Gloucester cheese.

The seeds are sometimes heated in oil to release their orange colour, and used in much the same way as saffron, however I have never done this.... I imagine seeing as how annatto stains everything it touches I would inevitably destroy a shirt if I even tried.

In Mexican cuisine the seed is ground to a paste with other spices to make achiote paste, which can be used as a rub or marinade, and as the seasoning in the famous cochinita pibil.

It's difficult to describe the taste of achiote, the word "earthy" is used a lot, and that definitely true. It's distinctive but not in any way unpleasant, in fact it's quite comforting and slightly rustic. There is something elemental about the taste - it is of itself and not something assembled from already familiar tastes.


It is possible, using a blender, to make an achiote marinade using anatto seeds, though it is more common to buy the achiote as a block of a thick paste and then to loosen this with (normally) citrus juice. Making the paste yourself would require a spice mill to grind the exceedingly hard seeds and it's not something that can be done in the home.

Achiote Marinade

2 cups of liquid - use a combination orange juice, lime juice, apple cider vinegar. 
5 tbs anatto seeds
2 tbs of salt
2 tsp of cumin
2 tsp of pepper
1 tsp of oregano
5 allspice berries
5 whole cloves
5 cloves of garlic
Chile (if desired, use habanero or piquin)

Simply blend everything in the blender until the anatto seeds have been pulverised. This could take a couple of minutes of blending but it's important to take enough time to do this properly or you'll be left with anatto grit in the marinade.

A far easier method is to skip messing around with anatto seeds altogether and simply use one of the packaged pastes which can be bought in the supermarket. The paste is simply bought to the desired consistency by mixing with liquid. Normally citrus but a light vinegar or even water can be used. These pastes will generally produce a smoother achiote and can also produce a thick rub which would be impossible to do in a blender from the seeds themselves. 

Using Achiote

Cochinita Pibil - Pork, marinaded in achiote, roasted in banana leaf. Traditionally this dish would be prepared in a pit barbecue, if you have one available.

Pollo Pibil - Like cochinita pibil but using chicken. You can also steam the chicken wrapped in the banana leaf rather than cooking in the oven.

Huachinango Tikin Xik - Red Snapper, butterflied, marinaded in achiote and grilled.

The achiote can be used, with a little liquid,  as a thick paste to smear on meat or fish before roasting or grilling or, with more liquid, as a marinade. It works well with grilled salmon or over a roast chicken.

I'll cover the pibil and the huachinango dishes in more detail at some further date, though I couldn't mention cochinita pibil without pointing you towards this mini masterpiece from Robert Rodriugez

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Some YouTube Recommending

Cocina al natural.

Cocina al natural, with Sonia Ortiz, is in Spanish, though everything is done so clearly and logically it should be possible to follow even if you don't speak Spanish.

She is crazily prolific, with over 1200 videos uploaded. Not all of the videos are of strictly Mexican cusine, though over the course of the 1200 videos she has covered anything I have ever searched for.

The videos are concise, as are the recipes themselves. They are similar in some ways to Mark Bittman's Minimalist videos, with each recipe taken to it's essentials and no unnecessary frills or elaboration. 

The channel has almost 22 million views so far - so she is clearly doing something right. I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for guidance on any Mexican dish.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sopa de Fideo

It seems like a contradiction in terms, but there is a class of Mexican soups called "dry soups" or "sopa seco". Marilyn Tausend in the introduction to her recipe of Sopa de Fideo Seco con Frijol Negro, says it was common to serve both a "dry" soup and a "wet" soup before the main course in traditional Mexican meal.

The sopa de fideo with black beans is a very typical dish, however here I'm going to talk about a slightly plainer version, a simple sopa de fideo, that is a little quicker and still describes the very unusual technique involved.

Fideos are small pieces of thin noodle an inch or so long. They can be bought in the shops here the same as any dry pasta, however broken thin spaghetti (spaghettini #3) will substitute perfectly well.


OK, Let the weirdness commence.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan, add the dry fideo and fry until golden brown. Yip, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan, add the dry fideo and fry until golden brown.

This needs to be done carefully. The goal here is to colour all of the fideo evenly and you can only achieve this if you work with care, over a not too high heat and stir often. Over browning the fideo will affect the taste, but more importantly, the dish will look terrible if it's flecked with brown fideo.

The sauce
There are quite a few choices here. You need a tomato sauce, but all recipes vary. I like to add a couple of toasted and soaked guajillo chiles for a small amount of heat and a little extra colour, however chipotle or fresh chile could be used, or the sauce left without chile altogether.

The sauce is made in the blender using the tomato, about a quarter cup of onion, a clove (or less) of garlic, chile (if being used), and seasoning.

Some water or chicken stock will be necessary. How much depends on the tomatoes and how fast you cook the pasta so it's difficult to judge, just remember it's easier to add water if the dish is too dry than to remove it once the pasta is cooked. What you are aiming for is a consistency similar to a loose risotto, the soup shouldn't be too liquid, but neither should it be so tight that you can stand your spoon up in it!

The soup is garnished with a swirl crema and some queso fresco if desired.

Simple, quick, comforting, cheap, and a little strange.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Chicken Tinga

Reduced to it's absolute essentials tinga is a tomato salsa spiced with chipotle. It's commonly used with chicken but goes well with pork also. The meat is shredded and added to the sauce and is very nice served in tacos or on a toastada.

Variations on the dish center on whether chorizo is added or not and also around whether the sauce is seasoned with something acid or with something sweet. I prefer the slightly sweet version, and although chorizo makes everything better I usually don't bother with it.

3/4 roma tomatoes (or 1 can of tomatoes).
1 clove of garlic.
1/2 of a tennis ball sized onion chopped, not too finely.
1 or 2 (according to your tolerance!) chipotles in adobo with some of the adobo.
Salt to taste.
A good inch of ground black pepper.
A pinch of oregano.
1 tsp (or more) of sugar.

The fussy method is to fry the onion till translucent, then add the chorizo and the garlic. Next add the roasted and peeled tomatoes and seasonings and cook everything together for 20 to 30 minutes, finally adding the shredded meat and the sugar and simmering everything together for a few minutes before serving.

A quicker method is to put the tomato, garlic, chipotle and seasonings in a blender, if a small amount of water is necessary to get the blades spinning ad that, and blend everything. Fry the onion for a few minutes then add the tomato mixture and cook together for 15 to 20 minutes. Finally add the meat and sugar annd simmer for another few minutes.

This recipe can be adapted very easily for the slow cooker.

I think the two important things to get right for this dish are not to shred the meat too finely and secondly to get the consistency of the sauce right. The sauce should be think enough to coat the chicken and the pieces of chicken shouldn't be broken down too much.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Some Breakfast Dishes featuring Eggs

There no need for anything in the way of recipes here....

Huevos Rancheros.
Fried eggs served over tortillas with a fresh tomato salsa.

Scrambled eggs mixed with strips of fried tortilla.

Huevos Divorciados.
Two fried eggs, one smothered in a cooked tomato salsa the other in a tomatillo salsa.

Huevos con Chorizo.
Scrambled eggs mixed with chorizo. Mexican chorizo unlike the Spanish cured version is fresh, it required cooking and cannot be eaten raw. When cooked it breaks into a fine mince consistency.

Huevos del Albañil - Bricklayers eggs.
An omlette (or sometimes fried eggs) smothered in tomatillo salsa and served with avocado and crema.

Scrambled eggs with dried beef, tomato, onion, chile and garlic.

Huevos Revueltos.
Scrambled eggs with tomato, chile, onion and garlic.

Breakfast Burritos.
No point trying to compete with Robert Rodriguez on this one! 

Yet more cookbook recommending...

La Cocina Mexicana.

La Cocina Mexicana: Many Cultures, One Cuisine is by Marilyn Tausend and Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. It's a beautiful book with a carefully selected range classic recipes giving a very good overview of Mexican cooking, along with evocative descriptions of people and places, and some interesting historical context for the dishes.

I really enjoy this book. It's not fussy or glossy. What I find most impressive is that it is not simply content to rush through simple versions of the "greatest hits" dishes and takes a much more considered and careful look at the cusine.

The font for the recipe titles looks like it was lifted from the cover of a death metal album, and that is as much fault as I can find with the book. It belongs in any respectable collection.

La Cocina Mexicana
The Mexican Slow Cooker

The Mexican Slow Cooker by Deborah Schneider was, on the other hand, a disappointment. It's a fine idea, well produced, but I expected more. I was really looking forward to this book and getting ideas for soups and tacos guisados (the stewed type of taco filling, pibil, barbacoa, tinga etc.) that could be made in a slow cooker.

While there are recipes for some of these the book is padded out with a lot of very standard Mexican fare, only very tangentially, if at all, related to the slow cooker.

The Mexican Slow Cooker

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Tortillas de Harina

Salsa de Chile de Arbol

This is a very hot sauce that is used to accompany Guadalajara's special Tortas Ahogadas, a pork sandwich in a crusty bap drowned (hence the "ahogada") in a tomato salsa. This fiery sauce is served on the side, though some people do drown the sandwich entirely in this sauce and omit the tamer tomato salsa altogether.

  • Chiles de Arbol - about 50 - a good fistful, toasted and then simmered in enough water to cover for 20 minutes or so.
  • 2 cloves of garlic - preferably toasted.
  • A tablespoon of cider vinegar.
  • A tablespoon of sesame seeds - preferably toasted.
  • Some onion - not much.
  • A couple of cloves
  • A teaspoon of salt
Blend all of the ingredients in a blender. Some water might be required to get things going, but don't add too much. It's a very hot sauce so it better that it's slightly thick and you use just a little. the consistently should be about that of pouring cream.

Even though the sauce is hot, it does still have flavour. Just remember not to rub your eyes!