Read an Excerpt
If you enjoy Mexican food in restaurants but are reluctant to cook it at home, this book is for you. The recipes are designed for people with busy lives and precious little time for kitchen duty, especially during the week. Many of the dishes can be executed in thirty to sixty minutes—or less, if you have on hand a few Mexican staples like zesty homemade salsas that you put together in minutes, as well as condiments and spices. And many can be made ahead and are in fact better made ahead. Once you get into the rhythm of Mexican cooking, you may find yourself showing off your newfound skills by preparing some of the more elaborate recipes for dinner parties that would surely impress even the most jaded gastronome.
In the United States, the common perception of Mexican cooking is that it calls for a lot of heavy lifting—labor-intensive preparations, complicated techniques, and all kinds of exotic ingredients. As you will see in this book, that is hardly the case. This style of cooking is no more work than other more familiar cuisines. As for kitchen skills, you don’t have to be a knife-twirling Iron Chef to pull it off. Often the blades of your blender will do the work for you. There may be a few new ingredients and techniques for you to learn about, but we give you alternatives and shortcuts.
It goes without saying that high-quality ingredients make the difference between a good dish and great dish. Ten years ago, it was difficult to find a variety of chile peppers and vegetables like jicama. Today, many Mexican ingredients can be found in American supermarkets as well as in Latin American and Mexican groceries. And if you can’t locate the ingredients in stores, online sources like mexgrocer.com, among others, carry virtually everything. (See Ingredients, Equipment, and Techniques, pages 2–23, and Sources, pages 268–69.)
There is one thing you can count on in a Mexican kitchen—just about everything is laced with chiles, but the dishes are not always necessarily hot. On pages 2–11, you’ll find a brief primer. Aside from contributing heat, different chiles add distinct and pronounced flavors to dishes—smoky, sweet, even floral. Before long, you will understand how important it is to add chiles to a dish incrementally, not all at once. Individuals have different tolerances to hot and spicy—and a bonfire is easier to build than extinguish.
You might be surprised to discover that Mexican food is exceptionally healthy. The cuisine uses little butter, very little cream, and no flour-based sauces; almost all sauces are based on thickened vegetables purees. The dried beans served with almost every meal are excellent sources of fiber and minerals. (I say “almost” because frijoles negros are traditionally cooked in lard. If that is a scary prospect, use vegetable oil, as we do at Rosa Mexicano.)
Mexican cooking is as varied as the regions of the country: the seafood of Veracruz, the moles and pipianes of the central high plains, the spice mixtures of the Yucatán Peninsula, and the flour tortillas of the north reflect each region’s specialized cooking. When the original Rosa Mexicano opened in New York City in 1984, it was nothing short of revolutionary. At the time, the Mexican restaurants in the city were characterized by mountains of shredded iceberg lettuce, viscous sauces, indigestible fried tacos, and more starch than a Chinese laundry. Rosa Mexicano broke the mold by serving lighter, inventive yet authentic regional fare. Among the early offerings were sliced duck with pumpkin seed sauce, grilled red snapper with warm cilantro vinaigrette, dishes made with cuitlacoche (see page 15), soft tacos filled with pulled pork, and, for dessert, sweet pink-fleshed cactus pears. As the company’s culinary director, I strive to preserve the soul of Rosa while helping the restaurants evolve in a manner that is both exciting to our guests and respectful of Mexico’s culinary heritage.
My road to Rosa Mexicano involved many exciting detours. The journey began in my hometown of Mexico City, where I was inspired by both my mother and grandmother (doesn’t every chef say that?). My grandmother, in particular, was a superb and well-traveled cook who held informal cooking classes in our home incorporating techniques and seasonings from around the world. From my earliest years, there was never a second thought about my career path. At nineteen, I went off to Paris and the Cordon Bleu, where I learned classical French techniques and a great respect for European foods of all kinds.
While at school, I was fortunate enough to secure apprenticeships at several first-rate Paris restaurants, including the celebrated La Bourgogne, followed by study at the famed pâtisserie Lenôtre, and finally, two cooking stints in England. Having sampled the best of European cuisine, I started to look at Mexican food through a more global prism upon returning home. I began researching every aspect of Mexican cuisine and attempted to raise the bar in both the sophistication and presentation of my cooking. Within several months, I was hired as chef of El Olivo, one of the better restaurants in downtown Mexico City. My dream of owning my own restaurant was realized in 1990 when I opened La Circunstancia. Once diners understood what I was doing, they took to it enthusiastically, and the restaurant was a great success. It was at La Circunstancia that I met Josefina Howard, one of Rosa Mexicano’s founders.
Next stop was the United States—specifically, Austin, Texas. I took over the kitchen of a restaurant called Fonda San Miguel and continued my experimentation with Mexican ingredients. The cooking of Fonda San Miguel garnered much praise.
Shortly after leaving Fonda San Miguel, I met one of the principals of the growing restaurant community called Rosa Mexicano. He described their dream of developing Rosa nationwide. I was thrilled to join as culinary director, to oversee an ever expanding family of restaurants. So that is where I am today. This book is a reflection of what we have accomplished so far. I often say that the food at Rosa Mexicano, and in this book, is authentic but not orthodox. As you will see, from time to time we have a little fun with a recipe, by imparting a new flavor fillip, or playing around to make it look really great on the plate. And, for professional and home cooks alike, isn’t fun the whole point of cooking?