Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Roasting Peppers or Chiles

Roasted bell peppers are an ingredient that can easily be found in any U.S. grocery store, and even in most Mexican grocery stores.  However, many brands are watered down and don't have much flavor...a far cry from the deliciousness of freshly roasted peppers.  Additionally, many traditional Mexican recipes call for roasted chiles such as poblanos or jalapeños, and those usually aren't sold jarred.  Knowing how to quickly and easily roast peppers is a great skill to have....so I thought I'd teach you how!

Most recipes that call for freshly roasted peppers will have you do them in the oven under very high heat or a broiler, turning every so often until they're charred on all sides.  This is a perfectly viable solution if you don't have a gas stove, but I've always been bothered by getting the oven all hot, getting yet another dish (the sheet tray) dirty, and practically (or literally) burning myself every time I go in to turn the peppers.  Fortunately I do have a gas stove (and nearly all professional kitchens where I've worked do as well), so I've grown to love the ease of roasting my peppers on the stove top.  Here are the steps for doing just that....but if you're roasting in the oven, follow the steps in your recipe and skip to Step #3 below.  Even if your recipe doesn't call for putting the peppers in a covered bowl before peeling, do it anyway because it makes the peeling process so much easier.

Step 1:  Turn your burner(s)--depending on how many peppers you're roasting--on high.  Place your peppers directly on the burners, in contact with the flames.

My Poblanos on Multiple Burners
Step 2:  Using a long set of tongs, turn your peppers every so often until they are charred and black on all sides.  Don't forget to char the top and the bottom of your peppers as well! 

Step 3:  Once your peppers are charred, place them in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave the peppers to cool and continue softening for at least 15 minutes, or until you're ready to use them.  (Sometimes I do this step very early and come back to the peppers hours later.  They'll be just fine.)

Covered in Plastic Wrap, Cooling Down

Step 4:  When you're ready (and wearing a pair of latex gloves if you're working with chiles or just want to keep your hands cleaner), remove the plastic wrap and peel the peppers using paper towels.  The skin should come off quite easily, but don't worry if you can't quite get it all off. 

Peeling...don't forget your gloves!
Step 5:  Using your fingers or a small paring knife, remove the stem of each pepper.  If the skinning process hasn't already split the pepper down the side for you, use the paring knife to make a slit down the length of the pepper and, still using paper towels, remove all the seeds and ribs from the pepper.  (If you are using chiles and want them to be extra spicy, leave the ribs in tact as that's where the heat is.  You should still remove all the seeds.)

Splitting Pepper

Removing Ribs

Removing Seeds Inside

Step 6:  Continue with your recipe, whether it calls for using the peppers whole or slicing/dicing them.  Just remember if you are going to have to use them whole, you'll need to be a little more delicate during the peeling process so they don't rip apart, particularly with thin-walled chiles like poblanos.

Cleaned Chile...no seeds!!


Yum!  My favorite recipe using roasted poblanos...Rajas con Crema!
How to use your roasted poblanos?  Just sauté onions and season with garlic, thyme and oregano.  Add sliced poblanos and crema (or heavy cream that you allow to reduce).  Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper and serve over tacos or fajitas!!  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pot Roast in Mexico

As an extension to my previous post titled "Meat in Mexico: Beef", I have received several follow-up questions via email asking for some more specific information.  Here's a question about pot roast.


Any suggestions on what cut I should use for a pot roast?

As you pointed out, most of the cuts here are too lean to cook for 5-6 hours and they end up too dry. I've resorted to using bone in rib-eye, but I'd prefer an actual roast (or something close to it).

By far my favorite Mexican cow...I don't know that many...

As you may know, cuts from the chuck, or the shoulder, of the cow (diezmillo) are best for pot roasts. Popular options are chuck-eye roasts or top blade or cross-rib roasts. You can also use cuts from the round, or the rear, of the cow (tapa), like top or bottom round. The front and the back of the cow are the most used muscles and therefore have the most flavor. These cuts also generally have a lot of marbling and collagen, which of course turns to gelatin during "low and slow" moist cooking and turns your meat wonderfully tender.

But as you know, it's hard to find these cuts in the regular supermarket in Mexico City. There are a few options to get the cut you want. I haven't been happy with the cuete en trozo either because its so lean, but at most places you can ask the butcher to cut it for you, leaving a bit more fat on it.

Alternatively, and my preference to be honest, is to shop at Costco.  Sometimes I feel like it's cheating, but oh well...I'm sure we'll be at a post soon where I have no "cheating"; option so I'll take it while can. At any rate, I buy the large cuts of meat they have, sometimes labeled as chuck or round, but also look for the Spanish words: diezmillo, tapa (which means both round and top round), or cuete (bottom round). I cut roasts out of it myself at the weight I want, leaving all the fat on it that I want!

Finally, if you're adventurous, you can actually ask at the regular supermarkets for cuts they don't normally display, diezmillo en trozo or tapa en trozo, indicating the number of kilos you want. Obviously, as in the States, it depends on the butcher's mood if they decide to accommodate you but if you're persistent I think you'll be successful....at the very least they will accommodate you at a place like City Market.

Anyone else have experience with special ordering from supermarket butchers? Please let us know where you've been successful.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tex-Mex Overseas

[I wrote this post for The Hardship Homemaking blog, for which I am an occasional contributor and thought some of you might like to see it.]
As many of us who have moved around the world know, "Tex-Mex" is a uniquely American idea. 
Photo by Daniel Castro
Granted, there are some faint similarities to real Mexican food at the local El Torito, and you can also find a lot of familiar dishes in Mexican towns along the border, but Mexican food as we know it in America is definitively not Mexican.

But that's okay!  It's still delicious, right?!? And we still crave it when we're overseas!  And what are we to do when we can't find our trusted Old El Paso products on the grocery store shelves?  Well, we improvise, of course, as always....

I heard the funniest story from my friend Katie who tried making her favorite Tex-Mex meal in Germany...

"It was kind of a hilarious disaster. I wanted to make spinach enchiladas. I knew I could find spinach and cream cheese, but salsa, enchilada sauce and tortillas were a tough task to tackle. I found some tortillas in a can (desperate homesick times call for...) and decided to make my own salsa. I *did* see some Old El Paso enchilada sauce at the market, but it was selling for 6.99 euros a can! No way, man. I decided to reconstitute some dried adobo peppers I had, chop those finely and toss it in a pan with some tomato sauce, water/broth and cumin, salt and pepper. I simmered it for a while until it had reduced a bit and decided to hope for the best. Once assembled, baked and out of the oven, hubby and I took the first bites. He put on a brave face and attempted to power through. I casually mentioned that we still had a Dr. Oetker pizza in the freezer...and he seemed pretty relieved. We didn't attempt Tex-Mex again!"

But for me, "no Tex-Mex" for the rest of my life in the Foreign Service is not an option!  So here are a few "from scratch" recipes you can employ to satiate those cravings.  Obviously not all the ingredients can be found everywhere in the world, but I've provided some substitution ideas and for some of the ingredients, hopefully you can plan ahead with your consumables shipments to be ready for Enchilada or Taco night!

Homemade Salsa
Yields about 2 Cups

  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes (preferably Roma/Plum Tomatoes if available, which will equate to about 8 tomatoes, or any other fresh tomato or drained and diced canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 oz (about 2 Tbsp) minced jalapeño or other chile of your choice (preferably fresh, but canned or jarred will work as well)
  • 3 oz (about 1/2 small) minced red or white onion (you can use yellow onion if that's all you can find)
  • 3 Tbsp chopped cilantro (sometimes called fresh coriander or coriander leaves; either omit if you can't find it or you can use flat-leaf parsley for a slightly different flavor but still a fresh taste.
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes, depending on size)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  1. If desired, remove the skin from your tomatoes using the "concasse" method: Boil about two cups of water in a small saucepan.  Remove the tomato stem and cut a small "x" in the other end of the tomato using a paring knife.  Place tomatoes in boiling water for about one minute.  Peel skin off with the help of your paring knife, starting at the "x" where the skin should have started to come away from the flesh of the tomato.
  2. Cut tomatoes in half around their "equator" and remove seeds using your finger or a paring knife.  Dice tomatoes.
  3. Combine diced tomatoes with the rest of your ingredients.
  4. Refrigerate for several hours, allowing the flavors to develop.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary before serving.

    Check out this previous blog post for a recipe for Roasted Tomatillo Salsa!
Homemade Enchilada Sauce
Recipe by Emeril Lagasse from www.foodnetwork.com, with substitution/gluten free notes by Alaina Missbach
Yields about 2 1/2 Cups of Sauce
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil (or any other high smoke point oil, which excludes Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 1 Tbsp flour (**see gluten-free idea below)
  • 1/4 C chili powder (bottled, or made by toasting dried chiles of choice in a dry skillet, removing stems and seeds, and then grinding in a spice grinder)
  • 2 C chicken stock (canned/boxed or homemade, or substitute vegetable stock)
  • 10 oz tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil, then add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  2. Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add stock, tomato paste, oregano and cumin.  Stir to combine.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low (maintaining a simmer) and cook for 15 minutes.  The sauce will thicken and smooth out.
  5. Adjust seasonings as desired and serve atop your favorite enchiladas.
**To make this recipe gluten-free, skip the step where you add the flour, simply heating the oil and then adding the chili powder.  Mix 1/2 Tbsp of cornstarch or arrowroot powder into enough COLD water or stock to create a heavy cream consistency.  Once all ingredients are added and the sauce comes to a boil, whisk this starch slurry into the saucepan.  Simmer until sauce has reached your desired thickness, about 3-5 minutes.  If your starch isn't thick enough at this point, add more starch slurry.

Homemade Corn Tortillas

**For flour tortillas, check out this post from the Hardship Homemaking blog: Foolproof Homemade Flour Tortillas.
Photo by Scott Phillips

Recipe by Jennifer Armentrout from www.FineCooking.com
Yields about fifteen 5 1/2" tortillas
  • 2 cups masa harina (corn flour, not corn meal)
  • 1 1/4 C warm water
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • Special Equipment: Tortilla Press or rolling pin
  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.  Mix and knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and homogenous.  It should be soft and not sticky, like soft Play-Doh.  If necessary, adjust texture with more water or masa harina.  Cover with plastic and set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  2. Cut two squares or rounds (at least 8" wide) of heavy plastic (such as from a Ziploc or grocery store bag).  Set a large flat griddle on the stove, straddling to burners, or use two skillets.  Set one burner to medium low and the other to medium high.
  3. Pinch off a golfball-size piece of dough and roll it into a ball.  Cover the bottom piece of your press with one sheet of plastic, place the dough ball in the center, and cover with the other sheet of plastic.  Press slightly with your palm then close the press and firmly press with the handle.  Rotate tortilla and press again, until the tortilla is 1/16" thick.  Alternatively, place first sheet of plastic on your countertop with the dough ball in the center and the other sheet on top, press slightly with your palm to flatten, and then roll out with your rolling pin to 1/16" thick.
  4. Peel off the top sheet of plastic, flip the tortilla over onto your hand, and carefully peel off the other plastic sheet.  (If the tortilla breaks, the dough is too dry; if it sticks, the dough is too wet.  Adjust your dough accordingly.
  5. Lay the tortilla on the cool side of the griddle by quickly flipping your hand over the griddle.  Cook just until the tortilla loosens from the griddle, 15 to 20 seconds.  (If the tortilla bubbles, the heat is too high.)
  6. With a spatula, flip the tortilla over onto the hot side and cook until the bottom is lightly browned in spots, about 20 seconds more.
  7. Flip again so the first side is on the hot part of the griddle and cook until the tortilla puffs in spots and browns lightly on that side, about 20 seconds more.  (If the tortilla doesn't puff, the griddle isn't hot enough, the dough is too dry, or you cooked it too long on the cool side.  Adjust for your remaining tortillas.)
  8. Immediately wrap cooked tortillas in a clean, dry cloth.  Continue pressing and cooking remaining dough.  Once all tortillas are cooked and wrapped in your cloth, let them rest there for 10-15 minutes before serving, during which time they'll steam themselves and become soft and pliable.  You can also keep your tortillas warm in a 200°F oven for up to an hour.
To make your enchiladas, mix together your choice of fillings (pre-cooked chicken/turkey or ground beef with taco seasoning (see below), onion and cheese; spinach and cream cheese; etc. etc...anything goes).  Fry your tortillas briefly in hot oil, drain, dip into your sauce, fill, and roll, placing seam-side down in a greased baking dish.  Top with your remaining sauce and shredded cheese (if desired), and bake at 350°F until sauce and cheese are bubbly.  Top with sliced scallions and/or minced fresh chiles and serve with salsa and sour cream, if desired.

Other "from scratch" recipe ideas for Tex-Mex:

Tortilla Chips
Simply cut your corn or flour tortillas into strips or triangles (as desired), and fry in vegetable oil heated to 350°F until golden brown and crispy.  Remove from oil using a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.  Season immediately with Kosher Salt and cayenne pepper, if desired.  Serve hot.

Taco Seasoning
Recipe from www.allrecipes.com
Yields 1 oz seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.  Use to flavor sautéed ground beef, onions and garlic (or any other meat) for use in tacos, enchiladas, etc.

Good luck, and let me know how your Tex-Mex experiments go!