I’ve been feeling some pressure lately (from myself) to come up with my culinary point of view. As many of you know, I’ve struggled to find what type of cuisine I want to make my “specialty,” or whatever they call it. I’ve settled, I think, on a reasonable philosophy.
I like to make all kinds of foods, and I don’t like being limited by some arbitrary set of mandatory ingredients. Giada deLaurentiis puts parmaggiano in everything she makes. On pasta, on casseroles, on desserts, whathaveyou. Bobby Flay puts chiles de arbol in effing lasagna. They’re not trying to do “fusion” cooking, per se, but rather to force their flavor profile into dishes where it doesn’t want to go. I feel like it’s culinary date rape to take a very specific flavor (soy sauce/parmaggiano/chipotle) that is very familiar to you, and then rip off its shirt and throw it into a pool with completely foreign ingredients and expect it to perform in a manner you’ve always imagined.
I’m not a purist (my tenuous relationship with Three Olives cherry vodka will attest to that). I have had things like sesame barbecue sauce, green chile hollandaise and enchiladas with fresh mozzarella to great success. I’ve really enjoyed them, no less. But if I were to decide my point of view was, I don’t know, Creole or whatnot, and then spent a week cooking crawfish lasagna, mu shu alligator, schnitzel with gumbo gravy, and tres leches king cake, I’d have to kick myself in the general junk region of my bodily map. That’s not only forcing an issue, but it’s also taking away the soul-satisfying authenticity that a dish can bring when made the way its forefathers intended it to be made.
I think it’s important to push the culinary envelope. I can’t overestimate the value of trying new things and developing a cuisine that’s all your own, based on your own creativity and experience and access to fresh ingredients. But I will never condone the use of arborio rice for sushi SOLELY because you think you have to stay true to your Italian point of view.
So, now that I’ve offended basically everyone with my qualifications, I’ve decided to focus a little bit more on Mexican cuisine.
Hold the iPhone, you might be screaming, don’t you HATE Texas?? And now you’ve decided to adopt their cuisine as a personal goal? Ees Bullsheet!
FIrst, I run with gangs and do what I want
Second, Chris and I both LOVE authentic Mexican food. Not cheddar cheese enchiladas with Taco Bell brand red sauce, but real Mexican food. Things like the red adobo marinated chicken with potatoes (pollo adobado con papas) that we had last night really get my cockles warmed to the point of nearly set aflame. The chicken was wearing a warm coat of spicy, tangy, intense adobo that had caramelized in just the right places. The potatoes had a crisp, crunchy patina of roasted drippings on each side and were cooked to the perfect doneness. Were I the lactating type, I would have nursed this bird, that’s how much I loved it. Such a simple thing, done so well, and done so authentically. It’s a thing of beauty when foods are in perfect harmony.
Third, I’m stuck in Texas (barf, gag, retch) for the next 10 months, and I have access to some incredible ingredients and very knowledgeable people. I’d be a fool not to make the best of that time by learning the cuisines of the natives (and if we’re being totally honest, the natives of Texas are, in fact, Mexicans).
Fourth, Chris and I have a raging chef-crush on Rick Bayless, and I just bought another one of his genius cookbooks. As an homage to Chef Bayless, here is my variation on his recipe for
Pollo Adobado con Papas (Adobo chicken):
3 T vegetable (or grapeseed, or olive) oil
6 medium dried ancho chiles (or a combination of ancho and pasilla)
3 cloves garlic
1 t dried oregano (Mexican oregano works best)
1/2 t fresh ground pepper
1/2 t ground cumin
1/8 t ground cloves
1 t sugar
1/3 C plus 3 T apple cider vinegar
1 whole bone-in chicken breast
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
1 sweet onion, sliced very, very thinly
fresh cilantro to finish
Clean the chiles and take out the stem and seeds. Tear them into flat pieces–one or two tears should do the trick. In a medium pan over medium high heat, bring oil to high temp, but not smoking. Saute the torn chiles until they are starting to smell very toasty and blistered. This doesn’t take long. Transfer to a bowl and cover with 2 cups very hot water. Submerge by using another bowl to weigh the chiles down, if necessary.
Meanwhile, measure the rest of the spices into your blender, as well as 1/3 cup cider vinegar. After about 20 minutes, the chiles should be fairly rehydrated. Pour the chiles and the soaking water into the blender. Blend on high for a minute or so, until it looks pretty smooth. Pour through a steel-mesh strainer if you have one. If you use a Vita-mix, you can skip the straining step altogether. The mixture should be thick, but runny enough to evenly coat the chicken. Think A-1 sauce, maybe. Taste it and add salt until it’s relatively salty (but not terribly so).
Flatten your chicken by cutting through the backbone (this may have been done at the butchers), pulling the ribs apart and pressing VERY hard on both sides of the breast to crack the breastbone and maybe a rib or two so your chicken breast can lay relatively flat. Cover the chicken with marinade, then put the rest of the marinade in the freezer in a ziplock for later use.
Toss the onion slices with the rest of the apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar. Set aside to marinate.
Allow the bird to marinate at least an hour; longer is better. To roast, heat oven to 375 F, put the chicken breast-side-up on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Scatter your potatoes under and around the chicken in the roasting pan (below the rack). Put about 1/2 cup of water into the pan with the potatoes.
Roast until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 155, turning the potatoes once halfway through so they brown evenly. Pull the pan from the oven, and allow the chicken to rest on the counter for a full 10 minutes to finish cooking with the residual heat.
Cut the breast in half down the middle at the breastbone, careful not to touch the meat too much. Serve each person a breast and some potatoes, and scatter some of the marinated onions and cilantro over the top of both.
I served this with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette salad and the two hour season premier of House, which was awesome and on our Tivo waiting for us to reverently sit down and focus.
You guys should buy this cookbook, for rizzle. It’s “Rick Bayless Mexico: One Plate at a Time”. It’s phenomenal.
So now you know where I’m headed and can expect to see a touch more Mexican food on the blog. I’ll do my best to provide more recipes, without infringing on copyrights when at all possible. You can also expect to see Japanese, Indian, Thai, American, Italian, French, German, and God knows what else on here. I’m not going to give up my flavor-chasing just because I’m focusing a bit more on one thing (I sound like the married bachelor who’s getting married but is still planning on trying to sleep with much younger women because he’s ‘married, not dead’).
What I can promise you, though, is you won’t be seeing spaghetti with adobo pesto and pepitas solely because I’m craving spaghetti and feel like I can’t make an all-Italian meal without betraying myself. Unless I’m drunk. Because that goes against my previous rant.
Until I change my mind.