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The Mexican Candidate

11 Jun

I’ve only been to Mexico once. I consider this a tragedy.

Manhattanhenge

My year-of-cultzy-waitressing was done at a Mexican boite with a very good (and patient) chef. For some reason he put up with me, the waitress with the heart of a chef, and even encouraged my endless questions. Why that chile? What’s a huachinango? Where can I buy huitlacoche? Why is crema so delicious? How do you make chilaquilles?

When I re-joined the 9-to-5 world, I was singularly obsessed with trying to recreate the level of authenticity Chef brought to his meals. I could no longer afford to eat his cooking and most of the cheap Mexican joints I knew of were pretty unauthentic. I was on my own.

Old Ads

With a notebook chock full of the chef’s wisdom and a few old cookbooks I had found at the Strand I began my quest. Turns out, Mexican cuisine isn’t all that hard of a nut to crack. Just like our classic European cuisines, if your ingredients are ripe, fresh and delicious, dinner’s going to turn out alright about 99% of the time.

My Mexican food mania has waned a bit over the years (I blame Persia and Poland) but I still love a meal of mole verde and black beans probably more than any lowlander East Coaster probably has a right to.

Remembrance

And so it was a lovely coincidence that the Boy and I had near simultaneous guacamole cravings last week. I also wanted to cook up those Anasazi beans we’d carted back with us from Colorado, so all we needed was a main course.  We settled on Huachinango Veracruzano, aka Snapper in the style of Vera Cruz.

If you’ve never tasted this Mexican classic I implore you to run out tonight to your best neighborhood Mexican joint and try it. It’s snapper cooked in a Mexican version of the greatest sauce ever, Puttanesca. Capers flirt with chilies. Tomatoes mingle with limes. Olives cavort with cloves.

If someone sold jars of this stuff, I’d probably find myself standing at the fridge in the middle of the night eating it with a spoon. It’s that good.

Empire State Building

An intensive search through all my Mexican cookbooks led me to one recipe I deemed authentic enough for our needs. It comes from a very strange source, a book called The Mexican Stove: What To Put On It And In It by Richard Condon. Wait, Richard Condon… That name rings a bell… Didn’t he write, wait, The Manchurian Candidate? Oh yes, he did. And Prizzi’s Honor, and apparently, a Mexican cookbook. A very good one in fact!

The intro is very heavy handed, full of longing for the ’60s and anti-governmental propaganda, but if you can get past all the dystopic claptrap and millenialisit mumbo jumbo, this is a very solid cookbook, Bianca Jagger’s favorite Aztec pork pie included.

Huachinango Veracruzano, Smoky Anasazi Beans & Guacamole

If you make this, be sure to make some rice or have tortillas on hand to soak up the tart, salty sauce. If you can’t find snapper, you can substitute just about any other firm-fleshed white fish. Tilapia would be ideal.

The fish guy at Fairway talked me into trying Nile Perch. I wish he hadn’t. It was delicious, yes, but weighed too heavily on my conscience.

Richard Condon probably would find my uneasiness amusing and enlightened. He feared that Americans would be eating exclusively canned food by this time, and there I was, stressed because my fish wasn’t sustainable. Ah, how our fears have changed!

Head below the jump for the recipes for Huachinango Veracruzano and Smoky Anasazi Beans.

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