A Unique Culinary Adventure in Cabo
Today I had a group of four serious cooks from Seattle upstairs for a class I wound up calling Colonial Classics. It wasn’t a long list of dishes (there were only two), but these classics from Puebla, Mexico’s colonial crown jewel, each merit their own annual festival in that lively city known for culinary excellence and creativity.
We started with a quick guacamole — avocados are in season and irresistably priced — and a roasted cherry tomato salsa served up with chips to tide everyone over while the serious cooking took place.
After a brief introduction to a range of dried chiles, we dove right into one of Mexico’s premiere dishes: Mole Poblano, a world renowned classic that dates back to the seventeenth century.
The word mole comes from Nahuatl, the language of the ancient Aztecs still spoken as a first language by many Mexicans. It means sauce, so naturally there are many moles made throughout Mexico. Oaxaca is legendary as the Land of Seven Moles which range in color from yellow to green to light red, dark red and arguably the finest (and certainly my favorite), Oaxacan Black Mole.
The finished Mole Poblano yields a beautiful, velvety, deep red, fragrant sauce redolent of four different dried chiles, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, seeds and spices. Four dedicated cooks turned 20 exotic ingredients into a ball of concentrated mole paste which must be thinned to the consistency of heavy cream with homemade stock to sauce poached chicken or turkey, or made into enchiladas. The paste is complex, and it does take time to make. The good news is that it freezes beautifully for up to a year so you can enjoy a very special Mexican meal at the drop of a hat.
Leaving the paste to cook down and concentrate its flavors, we moved on to Picadillo, or minced meat. This is one of my favorite Mexican dishes, and I never miss the chance to order it in a market fonda or five star restaurant. I marvel at the flexibility of this interesting dish which may be served as a hearty stew made of ground beef and vegetables in a simple broth, then turn up as a completely different Moroccan-spiced concoction made with shredded pork or beef, or a combination of both, thick as porridge with toasted almonds, raisins, green olives and capers.
We made a version of the latter as a stuffing for Mexico’s national dish, Chiles en Nogada. Fire roasted poblanos are stuffed with this spicy-sweet meat mixture, enrobed in a white walnut cream sauce, and decorated with fresh pomegranate seeds and parsley to resemble the Mexican flag. Sound simple? Ah, that’s the beauty of it!
We finished with a corn flan. Flan is Mexico’s national dessert, if you can imagine such a thing. Many times after a fine meal in a traditional Mexican restaurant you ask… what’s for dessert? Often the answer is simple: Flan! Flan is like creme brulee, but instead of a crisp sugar crust the custard is baked in a caramelized sugar-lined mold which results in a liquid gold caramel topping as you invert the custard for serving.
It is a simple thing, and like all simple things it can be incredibly good or pretty bad, depending upon the cook’s sympathy with the delicate custard. If the flan has been baked in a hot water bath to protect it from the heat, and not overbaked — remembering that it will continue to cook for about 20 minutes after it is removed from the oven — a flan is a real delicacy, and the perfect finish to a spicy Mexican meal.
We lunched on Chiles en Nogada, then sampled the Mole Poblano as traditional triangle-folded enmoladas, and with shredded chicken on thick masa bases called sopes, which we made from fresh masa we picked up at an artesanal tortilleria on the way to class. Then of course there was the flan…
The cooks from Seattle took a big bag of food home to their villa to experiment with during the remainder of their Cabo vacation. They left me feeling much the same way I do when I leave the gym after a good workout — satisfied that I have accomplished my mission, that I am doing what I should be doing. What more could I ask?
Anyhow… wish you had been here too! If you have not already subscribed to my blog I invite you, so that you will automatically receive new articles by e-mail. It’s not the same as having you here, but I am constantly amazed at the world of blogging which brings groups like this one to my Cabo kitchen from Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas… and places I’ve never even heard of! The power of the Internet is truly awesome.
So until next time,
¡Muchos saludos, y buen provecho!