Cookbook roundup: Three very different takes on Mexican food

Traveling introduces flavors in a way that browsing through the grocery store or even local restaurants cannot.

As you might have seen on Instagram, I was in Mexico City over Day of the Dead weekend. I wrote about the culinary (and other) highlights of this dream trip in today’s food section, but we ran out of room to publish my quick round-up of Mexico-influenced cookbooks that have come out this year.

wc-Book-Cover12-609x700  I’d flipped through Lesley Téllez’s “Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets & Fondas” (Kyle, $24.94) before my trip, but the dishes didn’t really come to life until I’d actually seen them on the street, in the markets or on the menus. (I am from the Show Me State, you know.) Now, I can taste the chia seed agua fresca and tlacoyos de frijol y requesón from flavor memory, which makes me much more likely to try to recreate some of them in my home kitchen. Inspired by Téllez, who also runs culinary tours in Mexico City (eatmexico.com), I already have chicken in adobo marinating in my fridge and made Oaxacan quesadillas last night. (You can find her recipe for roasted chicken in adobo below.)

61Fk4JUF3hL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_The dishes in Jonas Cramby’s “Tex-Mex from Scratch” (Sterling Epicure, $24.95) are more familiar to Texans, such as breakfast tacos, margaritas and, oddly, beef chili tacos. But be forewarned that the author, a Swedish food blogger, is looking at a regional cuisine through a slightly different lens than, say, Robb Walsh, or other Texas-based Tex-Mex authors.

9780553447309With his restaurant Empellón Cocina, former Alinea pastry chef Alex Stupak is trying to change New York’s reputation as a terrible place to find good Mexican food, and with the help of food writer Jordana Rothman he has published “Tacos: Recipes and Provocations” (Clarkson Potter, $32.50). With some questionable parts — recipes for deviled egg or chocolate tacos; an essay on how he applied the French term “jolie laide” (or “beautiful ugly”) to Mexican food, which apparently he finds visually unappealing — the books has its faults, but for a high-end chef’s take on tacos, salsas, masa, moles and more (pineapple tacos with lardo, for instance), this is the book for you.

Roasted chicken in adobo from "Eat Mexico." Photo by Penny de los Santos.

Roasted chicken in adobo from “Eat Mexico.” Photo by Penny de los Santos.

Roasted Chicken in Adobo

This recipe, for chicken slathered in an aromatic dried chili adobo, comes from Alonso Ruvalcaba, a food writer who recently opened his own roasted chicken shop in Condesa. The dish is a little fancier than what’s sold in chicken joints and market stalls, but he’s captured the essence of what makes Mexican chicken so good: a crisp, flavorful, slightly spicy skin and moist flesh. Serve with a stack of warm tortillas, some salsa, and (if you want to be truly authentic) homemade potato chips, so guests can make tacos.

— Lesley Téllez

(Editor’s note: Don’t feel like making your own chili paste? A Dallas-based company called Mölli sells marinades, cooking sauces and, for use in a recipe like this, chili pastes made with ancho and pasilla or guajillo and ancho chilies. You can find them at Central Market or at mollisauces.com.)

For the chicken and sauce:
1 whole chicken, giblets removed (about 4 lb.)
1/2 tsp. salt per pound of chicken
2 plum tomatoes
1/2 medium onion
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup raw peanuts
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 morita chilies
2 guajillo chilies
2 dried árbol chilies
2 dried chipotle chilies
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 lemon
1 small bunch thyme
For the vegetables:
12 cloves garlic, peeled
12 small red or white potatoes, cut in half
6 small beets, cut into quarters, or eighths if they’re large
2 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

A day ahead, season the chicken generously with the salt and refrigerate in a covered container for about 4 hours.

Meanwhile, warm a comal or nonstick skillet to medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic and cook until soft and blackened in spots, 4 to 8 minutes. Place 3 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Heat a small skillet to low heat. Toast the peanuts and cinnamon, stirring constantly, until the peanuts turn a golden brown color, 2 to 3 minutes. (If black spots appear, lower the flame.) Transfer to a bowl. Raise the heat to medium and quickly toast the chilies in batches, 5 to 10 seconds per side or until aromatic, careful not to burn them.

Snip off the chilies’ stems, and shake out the seeds. Add the chilies to the boiling water and cook until the skins soften, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender jar, and discard the water. Add the charred tomatoes, onion, garlic, peanuts, cinnamon, vinegar and vanilla extract. Blend on high into a very smooth, thick paste. Season with salt.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and drain off any excess liquid. Slather with the adobo sauce, spreading it over and underneath the skin. Place the chicken in a resealable plastic bag and pour any remaining adobo on top. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

The next day, bring the chicken to room temperature, uncovered, about 45 minutes. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the chicken breast-side up on a V-shaped rack set over a roasting pan. Cut the lemon in half and place it and the thyme in the chicken’s cavity. Set the chicken in the middle of your oven and cook for 20 minutes.

Toss the vegetables with oil and season with salt and pepper and add to the roasting pan. Lower the temperature to 425 degrees and cook until the chicken is crispy and the juices run clear, or the internal temperature measures 165 degrees, about 1 more hour, turning the vegetables occasionally so they don’t burn.

Let the chicken sit for 15 minutes before serving. Remove the lemon and thyme from the cavity, and slice the chicken. Serve with the vegetables.

— From “Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets & Fondas” by Lesley Téllez (Kyle Books, $24.95)


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