Saturday 4th June 2011
Mexican Meal

During the year I helped to manage (though some might say destroy) the North Fork Hostel in remote Polebridge, Montana, we had several visits from some ardent tex-mex fans from the southern states. I particularly remember a Texan couple called Stanley and Becky, and a nice lady Ann Sullivan, who joined in several mexican style cookoffs, during which I lifted quite a few of their best recipes. Some of Ann's appear below.

It's nice to have the opportunity to wheel those recipes out again, and when Rachel and the Eldorado Girlies went to visit her ex(ish)-husband in San Blas, Mexico, I plotted to get my hands on his famed Ceviche recipe by bargaining a Mexican meal in fair exchange.

As an added bonus I've been desperate to give my new Andrew James ice cream machine a whirl, and this seemed like the ideal opportunity to get it out of its box. I figure that what everyone will need after a bottom-blistering Mexican meal is a delightfully cooling and astringent Lime & Coriander Sorbet. Or some soft fluffy loo roll.
I've done my usual trick of ordering cool gadgets I really want to try out, or pressuring someone into buying them for me (thanks Kurt, for all those awesome some-day-to-be-opened presents!) and hoarding them for months, or sometimes years before actually using the damn things. Maybe I'm just trying to put off any inevitable disappointment, and in the ice cream case I've pretty much set myself up for a fall by waiting until our fridge has started to fall apart. It started with the shelves cracking and breaking, scattering broken glass and jam all over the floor, then I noticed that my gin is no longer coming out of the freezer compartment as syrupy as I like it, and that my beers aren't cooling quickly enough while I wait for my baths to run.
So it came as no surprise that despite 24 hours of freezing the machine's insert, followed by 12 more hours of freezing the mixed-but-sadly-still-liquid sorbet, it still came out like a slush puppy. A delicious slush puppy mind you.

I invited the rest of the crew of Hobbes - Chic's 25-foot Projection 762, which we recently raced at the Kip Regatta and Tarbert's Scottish Series which I thought wouldn't be too uncomfortable since Rachel is herself a past and honorary Hobbes crew member. And God knows things have been a bit uncomfortable between us just recently. And who's fault is that eh?
Well, mine, obviously.
But you know what? It was really good hanging out - I guess I've been missing our cooking sessions.

So there you are, there were the 6 adults and the two girlies. Rachel made up a half quantity of the Ceviche as a starter, but I made full quantities of the other recipes listed below, and we had leftovers of pretty much everything, though my friends Aidan and Jude did a good job of helping me finish things off the next day.
They left me just enough to keep me going until we take Erin on the Orkney Race on Thursday.

I started the Red Chilli Sauce and the Carne Adovada on Thursday so it would have time to marinate for Saturday, rendered my homemade lard, and put the ice cream machine insert into the freezer to freeze. Well, to chill. A bit.
I got most of my shopping done on Friday, but foolishly expecting to be able to find a pacific fish of some kind to use on the day (Red Snapper being my fallback fish), I left getting hold of some til the last minute on Saturday, when there wasn't any, so ended up having to use Sea Bass, which is a nice meaty fish and worked well enough I thought, and at least it was fresh, but I'd still like to try a more authentic version. Even though the Red Snapper we get here comes from the Indian Ocean, rather than the Pacific.
I did a fair bit of the shopping at Lupe Pintos where I got my Masa, Hominy (tinned though, unfortunately), dried chillies, a nice cooking chorizo, and the Spanish Zamora hard cheese from Castile called Zamorano that Mike there recommended for grating.
I also got through a simply astonishing number of limes - must have been about 2 dozen, and I was the only one drinking the margaritas!

As per bloody usual, in the excitement of getting all the food out onto the table, I completely forgot to take photos of quite a few of the dishes, so you'll just have to imagine those.
It's a special pity that I didn't take any shots of our Ceviche - with its pale white fish glistening against the bright flecks of orange carrot and green coriander it was a very photogenic dish.
Fortunately Rachel had some backup photos taken in Mexico, but with a completely different, and very pink fish.
I might just remember to take my own photos if I make it again. Maybe when I've got hold of some Snapper?


Ceviche de San Blas
The flimsy excuse for this whole dinner - an authentic Pacific gem.

Tinga de Pollo
Or Shredded Chicken, for the Brits. Also rather mild, for the Brits :)

Frijoles Refritas
A bit like fried beans. For Brits.

Carne Adovada
A pork stew. But spicy!

Another pork stew, but with corn, and (virtually) no spices. Honest.

A vegetable stew this time. There may be chillies.

Side dishes
Without which no Mexican meal would be complete:

Lime & Coriander Sorbet
To take away the pain.

Ceviche de San Blas
starter main raw fish mexican
Mexican Ceviche
This is an honest-to-goodness authentic Mexican Ceviche from Rachel's ex-husband's family who live in San Blas in the Nayarit region of Mexico. The fish they use themselves is probably a mild-flavoured Mackerel called Pacific Sierra (Scomberomorus Sierra also called Spanish Mackerel in California, where they don't know any better).
My research suggests that you could substitute (red) Snapper, or Pompano.
Since I couldn't find either of those I bought Sea Bass, which worked rather nicely I thought.

The Mexicans evidently use lime and coriander as if they grow on trees!

Serves about 24 as a starter

Fillet and wash the fish but leave the skin on.

Using a wide sharp edged spoon, flake the fish off the skin by scraping the same way as the grain of the fish, starting at the tail and moving towards the head so as not to get too big a chunk off at a time, don't press too hard. Put all the meat in a big bowl.

Squeeze lime juice into the bowl with the fish until it's very wet and mushy (about ½ kilo). Add a good sprinkling of salt (about a teaspoon) and stir it all in. Squeeze the mix with your hands to find any bones and break up any larger chunks.

Let it sit for about 1 hour then taste to see how the flavour is, maybe add more salt.

Squeeze out the mixture quite hard to get most of the lime out, put it in a new bowl and break it up again so it goes flaky.

Add grated carrot and coriander and mix together.

Make your tostadas,
put the ceviche mixture on to it,
pile tomato, onion, cucumber and avocado on top,
Hmmm. Good ceviche!

We made up a half-quantity of this recipe, it used up almost a cup of lime juice to cover the fish (about 10 limes - or a kilo), so I suppose Mexican limes must be considerably juicier than our own.
Also Rachel would cheerfully have used about 200g of coriander (weight before discarding stalks), but I thought that the 80g or so that we had was just fine.

Posole or Pozole
side mexican
My variation on the classic Mexican corn stew
Hominy is dried maize (corn) kernels which have been treated with lye.
This is my variation on the classic Mexican Pozole dish.

Serves 4 as a main dish

If you are using real dried Pasole you must rinse the corn thoroughly to remove all the lime with which it is preserved. Otherwise open the cans of hominy, drain and rinse off the contents.

Place the meat, trotters and ham hock in a large pan, cover with water, add the clove-studded onion, Bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds and whole garlic cloves and simmer for 45 minutes.
Remove the meat and cut up the loin into ¾" cubes, let the rest of the stock bubble away for another half an hour or more, then strain it.
If there's any nice meat on the ham hock you can reserve that too.

Fry the chopped onion, and garlic in lard until softened, add the cumin powder, oregano, and any other spices you fancy (black pepper/cayenne pepper/ground cloves/epazote) I didn't use anything myself and fry briefly. Then add the reserved meat, the hominy, and chillies if you fancy and cover with the stock.

Simmer for 45-60 minutes until the corn kernels split open, then continue to cook until the kernels become tender (but ideally still a little crunchy). This may take another hour or so (though less for tinned hominy).

Uncover and thicken as desired.
Season to taste.
Really delicious.
I actually used a 2lb hunk of loin, but that ended up being far too much meat for the hominy, so I didn't use it all.
If you prefer you can shred the pork after it's cooked, rather than leaving it cubed.
I've also made a simplified version of this by just boiling everything up together, but I think it's better not served with trotters floating around in it.
You can also skip the loin, and you can substitute meaty bones (smoked neck is good) for the ham hock.

Feel free to add some red chilli sauce to serve.

Frijoles Refritas (Refried Beans)
side mexican
Beans. Boiled then fried.
The addition of chorizo is a Nayarit variation on the universal Mexican theme of beans, refried beans, warmed up refried beans, and beans the morning after.

Serves about a dozen

Soak the beans overnight, rinse thoroughly.
Cover the beans and epazote with water and bring to boil, then simmer until they begin to wrinkle (20 minutes). Stir in 2 Tblsps lard and continue to simmer adding more boiling water as necessary until they are really soft and their skins are beginning to break open. Allow most of the water to steam off towards the end.

Heat the remaining lard in a heavy frying pan and fry the chorizo until it starts to crisp, then add the garlic and fry briefly.
Now add the beans a slotted-spoonful at a time, adding a little of the water as necessary, and mash the beans down thoroughly in the oil using a large spoon, ladle or potato masher.
Keep adding and frying beans until the lot are thoroughly mashed down, add a little more water to keep them moist then season with salt to taste.
You may need plenty of salt!
Very good beans, the chorizo is an interesting addition, as long as it's fried enough that it isn't still chewy once the beans are cooked.
You can also fry some finely chopped onions with the chorizo if you like.
I think I still prefer pinto beans, however.

Carne Adovada
main meat crockpot mexican
Pork stewed slowly in a red chilli sauce
This is a very simple dish to make, but it does benefit from long marinating and cooking, so you need to start a couple of days ahead.
Especially as you need to make up the Red Chilli Sauce first.
Adovada or Adobada is from the Spanish for marinated. Which this is.

You could also throw in some potatoes to make more of a stew, or pick out the meat a little earlier and grill it.

Serves 4 as a main dish

Trim the pork and cut into 1" cubes. Cover with the red chilli sauce and marinate for 24 hours.
Cook gently in a casserole dish in a low oven or a low slow cooker for 12 hours, adding more water as necessary.
The meat just falls apart at the slightest touch, and the flavour is marvellous.
You shouldn't need to add any water to the marinated meat to start the cooking, but make sure it doesn't dry out later.

side veg vegan mexican
Literally little squash, an easy courgette stew
Don't overdo the water if you want a thick stew - the squash will leak quite a lot as they break down.
You can, of course, substitute stock.

Serves 4 as a main dish

Chop the vegetables (chunky), gently sauté the garlic and onion in a little oil then add the squash, chillies and corn, add a little water and cook until the squash softens and begins to collapse.
This is a pretty nice little stew - tasting predominantly of corn.
If you can't be bothered with the frying then just throw the whole lot in the pot with a little water and cook it up.
If you like you can mix in some grated Mexican queso fresco or Mozzarella cheese when the squash is part-cooked, then finish it off in an uncovered casserole dish in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes.

Mexican Red Chilli Sauce
sauce veg mexican
A reasonably hot red chilli sauce for enchiladas.
I added some vinegar to this since I was using it to make Carne Adovada, but you might want to skip that if you were using it for something else. This recipe made more than enough to cook 2-3lbs pork, make up a sauce for some shredded chicken and have some left over for dipping.

Makes about a pint

Slit the dried chillies along one side and around the stem, carefully scrape away the stem and seeds.
Heat a skillet or frying pan and working one or two chillies at a time, open the chilli up and press it fleshy side down into the pan for a few seconds until it heats through and begins to smell toasty. Flip and repeat briefly on the skin side. Don't let the chillies burn or the sauce will taste bitter, this is just to encourage the release of additional flavour.
Put the toasted chillies in a small pot, cover with cold water, bring to the boil then set aside for 10 minutes until the chillies soften and swell.

Heat the lard in a pot and fry the chopped onion until soft and translucent, gently browning if you like.
Peel the garlic cloves, smash them with the side of a knife and add them to the pot, stirring briefly.
Add the ground cumin.
Add the oregano.
Add the muscavado sugar.
Stir around, add the vinegar.

Now purée the onion mixture and soaked chillies along with as much of the soaking liquor as necessary (if it isn't bitter).
Push the sauce through a sieve back into the pot and simmer for 10 minutes, adding soaking liquor as necessary, until any harshness has gone.
Adjust the salt.
Just beautiful!
I used up all the soaking liquor and a little additional water.
This is a lovely sauce, hot but not blistering. you can add some chilli powder or use whatever dried chillies you like:
  • Chile Chipotle are small, smoky and quite hot (7/10 on the Cool Chile Co scale)
  • Chile Guajillo are long, smooth, bright red and quite mild (3/10)
  • Chile Ancho are smaller, darker, look a bit like prunes and are quite mild (3/10)
  • Chile De Àrbol: skinny, smooth are a bit sharper (8/10)
  • Chile Piquìn: little, pale but fiery with a nutty taste (8/10)
  • Chile Pasilla: quite a long fat chilli with a coffee or liquorice flavour (4/10)
  • Chile Cascabel: look a bit like fat cherries, and have a nutty flavour (4/10)
  • Chile Habanero: small, fruity but deadly. Go on - you know you want to (10/10)
If you have avoided burning the chillies while toasting them, then the sauce shouldn't be bitter at all, but if it is you can compensate by caramelising a couple of finely chopped onion in a tablespoonful of lard, adding some tomato purée, then four peeled, seeded crushed tomatoes and reducing then blending this mixture to add back to the sauce.
You might like to add the peeled, seeded tomatoes anyway, depending on how you like your sauce.

Tinga de Pollo (Shredded Chicken)
side fowl mexican
Chicken boiled in flavoured broth and shredded.
A really simple way to get tasty chicken - you can cook the chicken well ahead, then leave it to cool in the stock (without over-cooking it), to be shredded and reheated when required.

Serves 8

Joint and skin the chicken though I didn't bother skinning the wings and put all the parts, bones, and giblets into a pan.
Stud the onion with cloves, and add to the pot along with the other herbs.
Cover with water and boil, skimming occasionally, until the flesh is ready to fall off the bone. Don't overdo it at this stage though - you will be cooking it a little more before serving so you don't want it to end up dried out.

Remove the chicken from the pot and shred it by hand or using a couple of forks. I think it's better done by hand - the forks turn it almost to cotton wool.
You can return the bones to the stockpot and continue to simmer them whilst you do this. The chicken is now ready to eat, you can reheat it in a little bit of the stock for 10 minutes when it is needed.
Now you can use any leftover broth to make your rice, but don't forget to keep back what you might need elsewhere!

I took about a quarter of the shredded chicken and simmered it in a red sauce with a little more kick to it - I made this sauce by frying up a few crushed garlic cloves in a little lard, adding a peeled, de-seeded, crushed tomato and simmering off the water. Then adding some of my red chillie sauce and a few drops of Da' Bomb's Final Answer specially for Chic :)

If you don't have some chilli sauce to hand, you can make some up now to finish the shredded chicken in: Fry the onions in a little oil or lard until browning.
Soften the dried chillies (if using) in some hot water.
Peel the tomatoes.
Add the garlic, then the tomatoes, chillies and a little chicken broth to the onions.
Grind or purée together, then strain and return to the pot with a teaspoon of vinegar.
Simmer for 10 minutes until the harshness is gone.

Now add the shredded chicken, salt to taste and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has evaporated a little and the tinga has thickened.
Perfectly acceptable chicken - the stock is particularly handy for making your rice.

Lime & Coriander Sorbet
dessert veg vegan
This would have been absolutely perfect if I had a freezer which actually froze stuff.
As it is, I got a Lime & Coriander slush puppy.
Still gorgeous though.

Makes about 1½ pints

Chop the coriander and then grind it up with a tablespoon or two of the sugar to make it pulpy.
Put the sugar and water in a saucepan with a few pinches of the zest into a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble and the sugar has completely dissolved into the water leaving the mixture transparent.
Add the lemon zest.
Add the coriander at this point and make sure the sugar is still dissolved.
Set the syrup aside to cool while you juice your limes. Microwaving them for 5 seconds first helps to get more juice out.
Strain the juice into the syrup and add the the tequila.
Put the mixture in the fridge to chill for about an hour.

Now get out the ice cream making gadget that you've been dying to try since you bought it, and whose insides you have remembered to freeze for at least 24 hours.
Assemble the machine, and slowly pour the mixture into the machine while it runs. In half an hour you should have a delicious sorbet.

The sorbet will melt quite quickly so decant it into containers and store them in the freezer as soon as you can.
The sorbet will harden in the freezer, and needs eating with a week.
If it does get too hard you can let it melt a little before serving.
The flavour is pretty intense - so you could increase the amount of sugar/water mixture if you liked, but it seemed rather popular as it was.
Make sure the lime peel is grated fairly small, you don't want big chunks of it in your mouth.

bread veg vegan mexican
Fried Tortillas
I suppose these should really end up like those you get in bags of tortilla chips, but you would need the tortillas to be incredibly thin for this to happen.
Unfortunately it didn't seem possible to roll the tortillas this thin - I wonder if splitting them in half after they're cooked might help?

The tortillas used to make tostadas need to be quite dry, so either use yesterday's tortillas or dry them in the oven by laying them out on an oven rack and cooking them at 250°F for 10 minutes or so.
Pour enough oil into a frying pan so that you have a quarter inch layer of oil or so. Heat the oil on medium high heat until sizzling hot, but not smoking.
One at a time, fry the tortillas in the oil. Bubbles should form in the tortilla immediately as you put the tortilla in the oil, otherwise the oil is not hot enough. Fry until golden brown on both sides, cooking about 30 seconds to a minute per side.
Use metal tongs or a spatula to push the tortilla down in the oil, and to turn and lift the tortilla out of the pan, draining the excess oil as you do so. (The tortilla should be fairly stiff and crisp. If not, the oil is not hot enough.)
Place the tortilla on a paper towel-lined plate, to absorb the excess oil. Sprinkle with a little salt.
Add more oil to the pan as needed, taking care that the oil heats sufficiently before adding a tortilla to the pan.

If you need the tostadas hot, then put the cooked tortillas on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a 250 oven to keep warm.
For ceviche you need them quite cold, so be sure to make them in plenty of time so they can cool down.
To be honest these were a bit thick and mostly hard, rather than crispy. As testified by my broken crown.
As I mentioned, it might be worth trying to split the tortillas before frying.

Pico de Gallo
salad veg vegan mexican
A spicy Mexican chunky salsa.
This spicy Mexican chunky salsa is named after a chicken's beak. Perhaps because it has a vicious bite.
Or mine does.

Serves 8, though if you overdo the habaneros no one else will eat it!

Chop everything up (fairly small) and mix it together.
Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so before serving to allow the flavours to infuse.
I used 2 habaneros and a jalapeno - which give it quite a kick!
Pretty good stuff though.

Home-made lard. Nothing better for you!
Who needs shop-bought lard when you have pig skin lying around?

Render the pork rind either gently in a frying pan (with a bit of lard to start things off), or a casserole dish in the oven at around Gas 5.
Make sure not to burn the skin as you do it.
It's quite a lot easier in the oven.
This makes a very yellow, but very tasty lard. You can throw in some smoked pork (like bacon) if you fancy a smoky flavour.

Corn Tortillas
bread veg vegan mexican
Mexican maize flour tortillas
These corn tortillas are quite different from the floured variety - a drier, heavier pancake which is considerably more filling. They are difficult to roll out very thinly too, which isn't a problem when you're eating them straight, but can be an issue when you use them to make tostadas.
Corn tortillas are best made with masa ground from hominy (nixtamal) - dried maize kernels cooked with a little lime, otherwise you can buy ground corn flour such as Masa Harina or Maseca, but be sure to use authentic Masa for this - you can't use regular cornmeal.
The added plain flour (apparently a common practice in Mexico) helps to keep tortillas not made from ground hominy elastic.

Makes 12

Put the Masa and salt in a bowl and sift in the plain flour. Add the water a little at a time, first stirring, then finally kneading until you have a soft smooth dough that is not sticky. Cover with plastic wrap or a moist tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Separate into 12 balls.
Heat a heavy frying pan or skillet over a high flame.
Flatten the dough ball in a tortilla press, or using a heavy chopping board.
You will need to do this with the dough between two pieces of a thick plastic bag. I thought the tortilla press did a better job than the chopping board method - the tortillas came out thinner and more even.

Peel the tortilla carefully away from the plastic, drop into the hot skillet for 30 seconds or so until colouring and no longer sticking, flip for another minute or so, then flip back onto the first side and gently tickle the surface to encourage the tortilla to puff up. Continue cooking for another 30 seconds or so then wrap them all in a tea towel (which you can keep warm on a baking tray in a low oven) and let them steam themselves for 10 minutes before serving.
Definitely authentic. Though personally I prefer the floured variety.

Flour Tortillas
bread veg mexican
Lard is the traditional fat, but you can use vegetable oil if you prefer.
Also, water is more usual than milk, but I think milk makes them a little more elastic.

Makes 12 smallish tortillas

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt and baking powder. Rub in the lard, and gradually add water or milk to make a stiff dough. Knead until smooth and leave to rest covered for 20 minutes. I have kept the dough wrapped in a plastic bag overnight in the fridge without any obvious ill effect Separate into 12 balls.
Roll each ball out thinly on a floured surface.
Heat a heavy frying pan or griddle on a high flame. Fry the tortillas on each side for about 30 seconds on each side. They puff up when ready and there will be a few browned spots.

Keep them warm wrapped in a tea towel (on a baking tray in a low oven if you like) for 10 minutes to steam themselves before serving.
If you get them right these turn out very light and fluffy. Just right.

drink veg vegan mexican
Mexican Tequila and lime cocktail
If you're going to use sugar syrup (which I think sweetens the margarita nicely), don't forget to make it up early so it has time to cool.

Serves a party

Pour salt into a saucer, rub a slice of lime around your margarita glasses and turn them in the salt to decorate the rim.
Put ice cubes into your cocktail shaker (if you have one) or into the glasses, and mix the margarita up in your favourite proportions.
I used 1 shot Tequila, 1 shot Cointreau, 1 shot lime juice, 1 shot sugar syrup.
It may be a little too sweet for some palettes, but was mostly enjoyed.
A good blend.
It's nice to have at least a little sugar syrup to take away some of the sharpness.

dip salad veg vegan mexican
The famed Avocado salsa
My not-entirely-authentic Guacamole recipe - there are some distinctly non-standard elements.
And I do like a fairly smooth guacamole, so easy on the chunks.

Serves 6

Mash the avocado flesh some of the lime juice.
Grate the onion as finely as you like - I prefer mine pretty smooth.
Mix in the onion, as much pressed garlic as you like, the coriander and mint leaves, then the oils and balsamic.
Adjust the flavourings, adding more lime if necessary, and salt as desired.
Peel and de-seed the tomatoes and chop the flesh quite small, then mix through.
Cover tightly with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or so before serving.
It's a pretty good guacamole - I like the additional oil for smoothness particularly the nutty hazelnut, and vinegar for tanginess.
In the past I've used regular balsamic vinegar and added soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, which give a nice flavour, but do turn the guacamole rather brown.

Flour Tortillas II
bread veg mexican
Light flour tortillas made with mayonnaise
A rather nice, but definitely non-traditional tortilla variation from Ann Sullivan.

Makes about 10

Mix up the dry ingredients and then cut in the salad dressing with a fork (or whisk it in).
Add enough warm water to make dough with the consistency of your earlobe and knead. Set the dough aside under a bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Roll out with a dusting of flour into tortillas and fry as usual in a dry, hot, iron skillet. Then place in plastic bag with a paper towel or cloth to trap moisture. They can then be later refried the same way until they bubble to make them flexible again.
MMMM good and light. Ann uses ½ wholemeal and half white flour, but I prefer just white.