Featured country of the month: Mexico
Last month I asked for suggestions of which country you would most like to be featured and so this month I am actually featuring that country - Mexico. The timing also fortuitously coincides with Cinco De Mayo happening last week so it almost looks like I planned it that way. Mexican food is renowned worldwide, but I wanted to make sure to avoid ‘Tex Mex’ and try to replicate some of the more complex flavours associated with Mexico (and complex it was, see - Mole Poblano).
Pork Pibil is pork shoulder that has been marinated in orange juice and achiote paste, wrapped in banana leaves and then cooked in a pit in the ground for several hours; ‘pibil’ in Mayan meaning ‘underground’. Achiote paste is made from Mexican annatto seed and gives a unique flavour to the pibil and therefore is essential to the success of the dish - it also lends the pork it’s bright red colour. Despite looking fiery, it actually has quite a mild heat to it. Originally from the Yucatán Peninsula, Pork Pibil is now a popular filling across Mexico for tacos / burritos, etc.
Well first of all - I’ll confess at this stage that I used neither banana leaves nor an underground pit.. I actually followed Wahaca’s recipe; I appreciate that this removes the Pibil element from the Pork and means that the dish will have lacked smokiness, however, I was very impressed with the results. I marinated the pork overnight and the next day it went into a cast iron pot and into the oven to slow cook. When it came out I was suitably impressed by how tender and moist the pork was and how easy the whole process had been. I made some pink pickled onions to serve alongside, as would be traditional.
Did you like it?
I REALLY liked it. I had not cooked with achiote paste before and this certainly won’t be the last time. This dish was so easy but so tasty. I would definitely recommend cooking this for having company over and eating with a few beers!
Marks out of 10: 9/10
Mole Poblano or Chocolate Chicken Mole is one of Mexico’s national dishes and seems to have an icon status amongst locals and travellers alike. It’s origin is disputed as both Puebla or Oaxaca claim it as their own. The most common origin story for the famous Mole sauce is in a convent in Santa Clara, Puebla. Legend has it that the Archbishop had planned a last minute visit to the convent and the Nuns panicked as they had nothing to feed him. They pulled together what scraps they had and miraculously concocted the sauce now known as ‘Mole’ - an old Spanish word meaning ‘mix’.
I committed HARD. I had a good chuckle reading this article here and decided to follow in the author’s footsteps of making the most complicated Mole possible (with just a couple of small substitutions). Allegedly, the more ingredients - the better the sauce. I almost believe the nun story as the ingredients do seem quite random and small quantities of lots of different things are used. In fact - 32 ingredients were used just to make the sauce.. The process started the night before with rinsing and soaking four different kinds of dried chilli; mulato, pasilla, ancho and chipotle. From there, this was one of the most bizarre and complex recipes I have ever followed - fry this, set it aside, fry that, set it aside, fry them together and then blend them etc, etc. I understand why this was all necessary in order to bring out the best in each of the ingredients but, wow, what an effort.
Did you like it?
I get it - the complexity was there; the smoky and the sweet, the fiery and the nutty. But for me, it was just not a dish that I enjoyed. I was aware this was a distinct possibility from the outset as it seems to be a fairly polarising dish in general - Chris loved it. I actually think the issue for me was that I haven’t tasted a good Mole Poblano before (or any version come to think of it), and therefore when seasoning with sugar and salt it was very difficult to know exactly what taste I was looking for. It did hit all of the notes described from various sources but I think that next time I think I’ll sack off the Mole and dedicate that time to digging a pit in the garden for the Pibil (JK. Don’t think the new landlords would appreciate that.)
Marks out of 10: 3/10 (I look forward to hopefully revising this when I can taste it for real in Mexico!)
Ceviche is essentially raw fish cooked using citrus juices - generally mixed through with red onion, chilli, coriander, tomato and various other ingredients. It actually originates in Peru but has since become one of Mexico’s most famous dishes. The type of fish used will depend on your location and what is available. If the fish is of a high quality, then it can be tossed through with lime juice and served straight away - otherwise it needs to be ‘cooked’ by marinating in the lime juice for a couple of hours.
Phewww, after the Mole - this was a breeze. I made a Summer ceviche using sea bass, scotch bonnet chilli, red onion, garlic, coriander, coconut milk, mango, avocado and of course, lime juice. I served it up with radish to garnish and tortilla chips for scooping.
Did you like it?
Yes. Low effort, high reward - as always, this is what I’m after. This makes an excellent starter as it is light and refreshing as well as being delicious.
Marks out of 10: 8/10