Posts Tagged ‘tortillas


arroz con pollo

I decided to try an unorthodox method for arroz con pollo last night. I baked it in the oven instead of cooking it on the stove. I’ve said it before, but I’ve heard it a million times, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t, too: the only proper way to cook Mexican rice is to toast it, add the broth, stir once, and then leave it absolutely alone, uncovered and on the stovetop, until it is done. Never mind that this method has always left me with both burnt spots (that’s okay, those are yummy) and undercooked spots (not okay). It is the only way to do it, and all other ways are doomed to failure.

Not true. Not that I didn’t run into snags, but the finished product was nearly perfect. Check this out:

finished arroz con pollo
Isn’t that beautiful?

First snag: as the clerk at Drewe’s went to ring up my chicken thighs, I grabbed the bag and realized something was wrong. It was too squishy. “Um, are these boneless?” I asked. They were, but the clerk had the good grace to look a little abashed that he had assumed. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any bone-in, so I paid up and walked home, fretting about how I was sure to overcook the boneless meat.

I set that worry aside as I put Thanksgiving’s frozen turkey carcass in a pot to simmer into stock and the freezer’s supply of leaf lard into a skillet to render. An hour or so later, those two products were put away to chill, and I was on to other things for a bit.

The lard froze in unexpectedly pretty patterns:
frozen lard

Come time to cook dinner, snag number two: I got the onion going in the cast iron skillet before I remembered I was supposed to sear the outside of the chicken. So out came another skillet, sear, sear, spatter, spatter, stick, stick. Which gave me the opportunity to deglaze that pan with stock and add the tasty browned bits to the main pan.

But first I added the garlic, then the 1.5 cups of rinsed and drained rice (to get rid of excess starch; another innovation) along with 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of comino, .25 teaspoon of cayenne, and a generous pinch of salt. When everything was toasty, I added 2.5 cups of stock (then a little more, in consideration of the boneless chicken’s tendency to dry out), and a generous squeeze of tomato paste. I stirred until the tomato paste dissolved, then nestled the chicken down in the liquid. When everything started to bubble, I threw on a lid and slid the skillet into the middle of a 350 F oven for 30 minutes.

arroz con pollo ready for the oven
Ready for the oven

Third snag: About 10 minutes into the baking, I was seized by an urgent desire to peek and see how it was doing. I resisted. J-P says good thing, because if I had done that, the spirits from the Ark of the Covenant would have flown out and melted my face off. Obviously that’s what happens when you give the rice the ojo.

I occupied myself instead by making some of the best tortillas I’ve ever made. Thinner than usual and still soft, even this morning. I’m not sure what I did, but I think I upped the baking powder (about a teaspoon for the two cups of flour; the same amount of salt would have been good, but I put in only half a teaspoon), and added what felt like a little too much water. The masa was a little stickier than I wanted to work with, but apparently that was a good thing. I also made the portions much too big at first, as evidenced by the way this one fills the pan:

tortilla como australia

It also reminds me of a poem I read once and want to track down again. I think it was in a South End Press anthology. It’s called “Tortillas como Africa” and is about, among other things, the difficulties of making round tortillas. I think mine looks like Australia, if you squint.

For some reason, everything was a little lacking in salt. I think I could have doubled all of the seasonings in the rice and it would have been fine. Next time, I also want to rub the chicken with spices before I cook it, and make sure to get a better brown on it (I was scared of overcooking, remember). And I will finish the dish on the stovetop, to make sure the bottom gets burnt for raspas. The trick is making sure everything else is cooked first, and the oven did a fine job of that.


soup, sandwich, salad

With a cool San Francisco rain threatening, what could be better than hot soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?

Broccoli-cheese soup cooked (mostly) according to the recipe in the most recent Cook’s Illustrated. I substituted a mustard-ale cheddar for the sharp cheddar, on the idea that the mustard would complement the broccoli. I also added a cornstarch slurry at the end in an attempt to imitate the beautiful, silky texture of the (sadly rather bland) broccoli soup I had at Le Zinc a couple of weeks ago. This came close, but that was before I read the section on hydrocolloids in Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot’s Ideas in Food. Next time, I’ll have science on my side, and it will be perfect. (I’ll also transfer the small batch of soup to a smaller container, so that the immersion blender can break up all the bits. It didn’t handle shallow so well.)

The sandwiches are quesadillas made with homemade tortillas, king trumpet mushrooms, scallions, and a habañero jack that went oddly but pleasantly sweet when melted. I tried a first batch of tortillas with this locally grown whole wheat flour that I bought at Mission Pie, but they were a disaster: tough and crumbly. I’ll save the rest of the fancy flour for bread. The second batch of tortillas was, by contrast, a joy to work. Oh, there’s the baby’s-butt texture I’m looking for! So familiar, compared to the whole wheat dough, that I didn’t even fret much that I was doing it wrong.

Meanwhile, J-P put together the cutest little salad of radishes, cherry bomb peppers, oranges, a little spinach left over from the soup, and more scallions.


a British-Bittman-Guatemalan-Boston brunch

Jael and Julie were in town from Brooklyn, celebrating Jael’s birthday, so yesterday we had them over for brunch. I had a vision: a baking dish full of kale and black beans, with eggs baked on top, served with salsa, California chevre, and corn tortillas. I realize that it doesn’t sound like much, but it turned out fabulous.

And despite the fancy presentation, this is not far off a typical breakfast in the Guatemalan campo, where the kale is replaced with unspecified wild greens usually referred to as monte: brush.

I am inordinately fond of kale, so I am told, because of my long exile in Boston. I am also told that I can make it taste like there’s bacon in it, even when there isn’t. The secrets to kale are thus: season liberally with salt, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and sauté, do not boil. That’s all. (Lemon zest and unsweetened coconut flakes also do not hurt as seasonings. If you’d rather show a Texan influence than a Boston, use collards instead. It’s basically the same plant.)

Black beans, as I’ve said before, take a little extra work, even if you start them in the pressure cooker. The ideal pot of black beans is half broken down and luxuriating in a pool of reduced bean juice. With salt.

The tortillas were a pound and a quarter of fresh-milled and fresh-cooked goodness from La Palma. The four of us were just three short of finishing off the stack.

Thanks go out to Ian Greer (living in London) for giving me idea of greens with eggs baked on top, and to Mark Bittman for coincidentally featuring baked eggs and giving me a temperature to bake them at: 375 F. My eggs baked unevenly and took twice as long as his suggested 12 minutes, but I figure I could even that out by baking in ramekins instead of a big baking dish. It’s just that my ramekins looked so small when it came time to stuff them with kale.

For dessert, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, to celebrate the fact that while it may have been 7 degrees in Brooklyn, it was 67 here.


busy kitchen

Several projects going on at once: 1. marinating pork shoulder with sesame oil, cayenne, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, and salt, per J-P’s orders; 2. rendering fat from said pork shoulder; 3. parceling out fresh masa from La Palma “Mexicatessen” to see if it freezes well; 4. eating a few tortillas from said masa. Also note that we will never want for read chili flakes again:


That was the smallest bag I could find. It smells fruity and hot and delicious. I think John might be in for another housewarming present…


Cooks Illustrated: American Classics

Or, the Cooks Illustrated Gets Fussy issue. Yes, I know–Cooks Illustrated is always a little fussy. It’s their thing, and I love them for it. But this is serious.

Page 49 is devoted to making the perfect pitcher of iced tea. Page 17 agonizes over the difficulties of the grilled cheese sandwich. I am pleased that quesadillas find a place as an American classic, on page 16. Appropriately, that faces the grilled cheese sandwiches; I made my share of both as a child, and since. Classic beef fajitas, a slightly more complicated preparation, gets two pages. But really, are these things that hard to make?

Maybe they are. The quesadillas article notes that “Some cookbooks suggest passing the tortillas over the flame of a gas burner to lightly char and soften them. This idea worked, but it … demanded close attention to keep the tortillas from going up in flames.” Of course it demands close attention! It takes about 10 seconds–I certainly hope your attention doesn’t wander in that amount of time. And, traditionally, you don’t “pass” them over the flame-you set each one on the burner, turning it with your fingers. Easy. You can turn the flame off while you flip, if you have soft skin–but that pushes the bounds of authenticity.

I also noted that while the quesadillas and beef fajitas write-ups both insist that good flour tortillas are key to the recipe, they say nothing about how to prepare your own.


attitudes toward diversity in food

Thanks to Joan for pointing out the differences in tone and language between these New York Times articles, one about Bulgarian-British star chef Silvena Rowe, the other about Tomas Lee and the increasing availability of Korean tacos.

Rowe can indulge, without reproach, an “Orientalist vision” in her “sexy,” “hedonistic” “signature dishes.” (Perhaps she gets a pass because she caters to “the pomegranate craze” in a “Britain avid for new cuisines.”) Her food is the product of great thought and creativity: she “reinvents” herself, “finds” herself, “locks herself in her room” until she gets her variation on someone else’s recipe right. She “preserves” recipes through her innovation, and looks to the past (that outdated Orientalist vision again).

Meanwhile, Tomas Lee and the other Korean taco chefs profiled in the second article (note that they are many; Rowe is one) are “making up a cuisine as they go along.” They hardly think about what they’re doing, much less lock themselves away for research. Inevitable product of the interaction between Korean shopowners and their Mexican employees, Korean tacos were “just lunch” for all these “entrepreneurs” (not chefs, note) who are now trying to “mainstream” Korean food in America. Dave, though, pointed out my favorite line: “The tortilla and the toppings are a way to tell our customers that this food is O.K., that this food is American.” Even so, the article sounds rather concerned that there are so many “trend-conscious restaurateurs with few apparent ties to Korea” who are getting in on the act. (Compare to how Rowe’s tenuous ties, as a Bulgarian-born, Russian-educated British citizen, to the Middle East go unremarked in the previous article.)

Meanwhile, in Arizona, SB 1070 (otherwise known as the Your-Papers-Please Law) with go into effect tomorrow. Andrew Leonard of Salon’s “How the World Works” noted an uptick in Google searches for Pei Wei, the casual pan-Asian spin-off of Scottsdale-based P.F. Chang’s. Were people searching for information on the Pei Wei franchise in Chandler, Arizona, that fired 12 employees for taking May 29 off (unauthorized) to protest SB 1070? Nope, the buzz was all about the cut-rate entrees the chain is offering to celebrate its tenth anniversary. This leads Leonard to a wonderful rant:

What really gets me riled are the ridiculous contradictions baked into the ersatz globalization symbolized by a chain of faux-Asian eateries in a state like Arizona.

Diversity is fine if it applies to the ability of Arizonans to eat cheaply priced cuisine that imitates Chinese or Malaysian or Thai (albeit with all the sharp edges sanded off.) The fact that producing such cuisine for such low prices requires exploiting cheap labor gets swept under the rug. The fact that actual Asians have almost nothing to do with the production of the food is also considered irrelevant. …

But god forbid society itself should become more diverse, along with the food.

The actually interesting story there, about the workers who were fired for knocking off to go to a protest, also shows a limit to the kind of “community organizing” that has been most effective in the minority- and immigrant-heavy service sectors. Not only are significant classes of these workers (domestic workers, farm laborers) not even covered by basic labor protections, but those who are covered are only protected when they’re involved in straight-up labor organizing. Fighting against “race-baiting laws” that make the whole community insecure (including workers who might otherwise organize)? Not covered.

Thanks to J-P for the Andrew Leonard tip. (He also points out that William Gibson probably feels slighted that his 1991 coinage “kimcheewawas” didn’t make the Korean tacos article.)


we’re going camping

So I am preparing chickpeas and hard-cooked eggs. (It’s less tragic if the eggs crack once they’re cooked.) We’re also taking pre-packaged lemon-spinach couscous (if there ever were a time for flavored convenience foods, this seems to be it), instant black bean soup, Spanish chorizo, saltines, granola, dried fruit, nuts, food bars, chocolate-covered coconut, blueberries, foil packets of nut butters, grape juice concentrate, some apples, a lemon, some salt, and ground coffee. I insisted that corn tortillas and nopales would be great additions to our stash, but saltines won out over the tortillas for some reason, and J-P inexplicably naysaid the nopales. (They’re flat, lightweight…) We’re only out for two nights, and we’ll be near Sausalito, but we’re still being very careful to cater to my tendency toward metabolic collapse.

This will be the first time we’ve camped since Labor Day weekend 2003, when we went to a star party in the Berkshires, where a bunch of astronomers had gathered to view Mars at perigee. It’s Labor Day weekend, we thought. How cold can it get? The answer was 34 degrees Farenheit. We had a tent but no sleeping bags, just blankets. By nightfall we were wearing every scrap of clothing we’d taken with us, and the Boy Scouts made a lot of money selling us hot chocolate and coffee all night long. When we finally decided to try sleeping, we kept each other half awake with our attempts to burrow under the other for warmth. At daylight, we emerged from the tent to run up and down the hill we were on in the sunshine.

We swore never to do that again until we were properly prepared for it, and now is the time. A little over a week ago, we went to REI for sleeping bags, a bigger tent, headlamps, and a camp stove (Jet Boil, a technological marvel with a French press attachment). This weekend, we explored Rainbow Grocery’s selection of dehydrated and instant foods. This afternoon, we bike to Bicentennial Campground in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

Tex-Mix's Photostream