There is something about mexican food that leaves you feeling satisfied like no other cuisine i can think of. i believe its a combination of the rich textures, spicy flavors and general “mass” of the dishes. after this evening’s meal, i felt completely and utterly satiated. i can’t lie. it turned out pretty damned good. and here is how it happened:
as the beans take the longest to prepare, they are the obvious starting point for today’s cookery. around noon, about 4 1/2 hours before serving time, i started the beans. they are fairly hands-off, they just take some time. i decided to go with a blend of black beans and pinto beans. i used 1 cup of dry black beans and about 2 cups of pinto beans. these go in a large stock pot with enough water to cover by an inch and a half (or so). dice in a whole onion and three slices of bacon. liberally salt, a grind or two of pepper and bring to a boil. after you reach a boil, drop the heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. the beans are ready for stage two when they are soft and the skins start to split open.
when they reach that point, drain the beans and mash to get a good blend of whole beans with pulverized ones. i used my immersion blender because its pretty darned good at that sort of thing but a potato masher or similar tool will do the job just fine. traditional wisdom is then to transfer them to a large frying pan and cook them off a bit then serve. well, space constraints on my stove top led me to leaving them in the same stock pot and letting them reduce a bit over low heat. keep a close eye on them so that they don’t dry out, that would not be pleasant whatsoever. mine did fine, kept them covered and off the heat until about 30 minutes before service and then heated them up. you may notice that there is nothing elaborate or intricate about the flavors used in the beans, this was entirely intentional. with the complex flavors and rich variety of my other two dishes, i wanted a bit of counterbalance to keep the meal on an even keel.
the chicken with Mole:
This was actually split into two preparations, the mole sauce and the chicken. the mole took about an hour all said and done so start you work on it as suits you. you can make it all the way up until the adding of the chocolate and leave it in the fridge until about 15 minutes out if you have time to do it earlier. i did this and then just brought the sauce up to temperature to blend in the chocolate right before topping the chicken, it worked great.
start with 2 medium sized yellow onions, chopped. brown these off in some canola oil until they are a rich golden brown, not quite burnt but definitely well on their way. then, add in 6 whole cloves of garlic, 2 chopped anaheim peppers, 2 chopped jalapenos and a chopped habanero. i initially intended on 2 habaneros but decided that it would overbalance the flavor a bit too much. in a spice grinder, grind up 1/2 tsp of cloves, 1 tsp cumin seed, 1 tsp of coriander seed and 1 tsp of black peppercorns. once the peppers start to soften, add the ground spices along with a generous tsp of cinnamon and a bit of salt. stir in a can of chicken stock and then break out the handy immersion blender to puree the mixture. make sure your pan is tall enough to handle the motion in the ocean, if not, transfer to a large mixing bowl to prevent splatters all over your kitchen. at this point, you can hold the sauce or if you are close enough to service, mix in some chocolate, preferably mexican if you can get it (i couldn’t and ended up using semi sweet baking chocolate). the amount should vary a little based on how spicy the sauce is but for me it turned out to be about 1/4 of a cup. individual taste and mileage may vary. let the sauce simmer, stirring often until ready to top the chicken.
as for the chicken, i again went with chicken thighs for their flavor and economic values. simply put, i salted and peppered them and fried them off in a bit of oil, around 8 minutes a side but ensuring the chicken is cooked through. to serve, plate the chicken and pour a bit of sauce over. i think it would have been equally good if not better to stew the chicken and let it fall off the bone so the sauce would have fully saturated it. but i digress.
The rajas con crema
this was my favorite dish of the day. it had a little bite but a smooth texture that made me want more. it was also the easiest to prepare, hands down. this dish traditionally calls for poblano peppers but poblanos are not meant for people stuck in south korea. i was unable to poblanos so ended up using anaheims which turned out quite nice.
preheat your oven to 450 degrees and roast 4 peppers for about 15 – 20 minutes, allowing the skins to blacken. remove from the oven and let sit, preferably in a paper bag to loosen the skins. ever prepared that i am, i did not have a paper bag so ended up peeling them by hand, burnt fingers to prove it. yeah, i could have waited for them to cool a bit but i am pretty impatient when it comes right down to it. chop the peppers into large pieces and sit them aside.
in a small pan, saute one sliced onion and 4 cloves of minced garlic until the onions are soft but not brown. use low heat to avoid caramelizing the onions. once they are nice and soft, add in your peppers and a couple twists of salt. cook for about 5 minutes over the low heat and then add about a 1/4 cup of heavy cream. cook until the cream has reduced to a thick sauce and serve immediately. if you don’t plan on serving immediately, you can refrigerate for a day or two or in my case, hold them in a 225 degree oven until ready to eat.
overall, the flavor offered a nice counterpoint, the creaminess of the rajas, the spiciness of the mole and the full body of the beans. it was all amplified by Eddie supplying some fine cerveza and lime to chase it down. although i sensed some initial skepticism from Eddie about a chocolate sauce on chicken, the taste won him over and reaction was overwhelmingly positive. i call this meal a win with no part of the meal i would have made differently with the exception of getting mexican chocolate and poblano peppers if i were in a place that carried such exotic ingredients.
the thing i am enjoying most about this project is that while i am cooking, i am learning more about cooking. the lesson today came from the mole. before the addition of the chocolate, just after pureeing the mixture, i taste tested the flavors and found it strikingly similar to japanese style curry. with a slightly different spice balance, the same base sauce will make an outstanding curry without the crutch of a mix as i have used in the past. as this is one of my favorite dishes, i will probably be applying this new found knowledge in the near future to whip up a batch of killer curry. it just points out the lesson that i should have realized from reading Escoffier, there are a number of limited preparations that expand out into an infinite variety of dishes. i know that sounds pretty obvious but today was my “a ha” moment where i can say that i actually get it.
thats 5 down and 43 to go. not sure what next week will bring, i am going to let it come to me over the next few days and then flesh it out. probably not chicken, i don’t want to get into a rut.