Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tale of a 1000 sauces

I was in Leon, Mexico when it happened. Seated a a streetside cafe, sipping a fizzy muddled limeade such that I have never been able to recreate, on a day which I believe was 1000 degrees, and feeling heart-broken over the number of sick, hungry, stray animals wandering the streets when the camarero placed a plate of something or other on the table before me.

I expected nothing from the tortilla rolls on the plate: By then, I had consumed three days worth of unimpressive food items on a strictly life-sustaining campaign to just get back to LA without starving to death and collapse into a chair at Ivy with my old friend and regale her with sorted food tales from the no-man's land of cuisine that little burg shaped up to be. But that tortilla roll, all on its own, created my love for authentic Mexican food and saved me from a life of secretly eating granola bars while travelling in Mexico. When I think of how close I came to throwing the towel in, I am ashamed of my unwillingness to continue to digest nasty, soggy textured, goopy plates of unidentifiable beige food in order to find the diamond of Mexican dishes. As luck would have it on that trip, I had left the granola at home in Boston and I was hungry enough to repeat the fright, sometimes outrage, and usual quesiness which accompanied my unlucky meals there.

Inside these handmade tortillas was a tender chicken that was just a vehicle for the sauce the chicken had been bathed in before meeting tortilla, lettuce, and cheese. I cannot tell you another thing about the place, I really only wanted to get out of there in one, perhaps slightly bedraggled fashionista, piece. But the sauce was something a little tomato and a lot piquant. I have spent several years trying to reach back to it and the lime drink on the table (a far wiser idea than drinking water thereabouts).

I have arrived at the sauce, after unsucessfully experimenting with some of Diana Kennedy's suggestions (her recipes were good, but not my sauce), which it turns out, has been with me all along in a Rick Bayless book.

You will use this sauce again and again: In enchildas, on pasta with lots of veggies, over eggs for huevos racheros, for casseroles, broiled fish, slow cooker sauce for chuck roast, and even as a dip. It the fastest sauce I make, ten minutes end to end, it freezes beautifully and will never fail you.

Tomato Chile Sauce for Enchiladas
about 4 cups
wildly adapted from Authentic Mexican Cooking, by Rick Bayless

Chef Bayless calls for fresh tomatoes in his recipe. After trying the fresh tomato version, the San Marzano version that appears below is far tastier, faster, and less of a nuisance to deal with.

The 3 jalapeno called for here will not make this sauce spicy because they are seeded and deveined. If you like it hot, keep the seeds and veins in, or use 5 serrano in the same fashion.

1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole San Marzano tomatoes
3 fresh hot chiles (jalapeno or serrano), stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
Kosher salt

Into the large bowl of the food processor, place the entire contents of the San Marzano tomatoes, the chiles, onion, and garlic. Process the mixture until pureed, maintain some texture if you wish.

Now you must fry the sauce in a large, heavy bottomed pot or skillet: Heat the oil in the pot until searing hot, when a drop of water tossed into the oil sizzles. Add the pureed mixture from the food processor all at once, being careful to keep yourself out of the way of any splatter. Stir the sauce vigorously and constantly for 5 minutes over this very high heat. As the puree sears, it will cook into a thicker, more orange-colored sauce.

Use with chicken or beef for tacos, enchilada, or burritos to marinate the meat and pour over the top of the finished item. Also, over eggs and tortillas or migas for brunch. Allow to cool and use as a dip for crudite. Add one tablespoon cream and this is a fabulous, refreshing twist on a standard pasta sauce. Broil it over fish. Use it as a base for a great Mexican style homemade pizza with mangchengo...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a new reader. This blog is great. Dina