Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday

I went to Rick Bayless for simple Mexican recipes, but he has lured me deeper and deeper into Mexican cooking because flavors outweigh the work in every recipe.

I braised a lamb shoulder last weekend. I hadn't intentionally braised anything before. I hadn't even seen a lamb shoulder. Ironically, Mexican Everyday is Bayless' cookbook of relaxed, simple meals. His Chicago restaurants and his prior books introduced Americans to many Mexican ingredients, but Bayless had a reputation for demanding that people spend hours looking for specific chili varieties and fruit that didn't have English names.

Mexican Everyday (and the accompanying PBS series) was Bayless' chance for accessible recipes. It is worth buying just for the straight-forward tomatillo salsas-- one fresh and one roasted. Tomatillos are available year-round at Lily's Mexican Market or any of the Asian grocery stores, and they still firm a long time in the crisper. The fresh salsa is basically a puree of tomatillos, garlic, chilis and cilantro, and Bayless' instructions have made countless weeknight meals where the salsa is the main flavor with tortillas, cheese and some chicken or beans. That is the entry-level drug that will soon have you trying your hand at jalapeno-baked fish, chipotle shrimp, and a fresh lime sorbet that were all clear and successful.
This is a cookbook for anyone who enjoys Mexican flavors --for example, vegetables, chilis, tomatoes, and cumin. The recipes range from the simple salsas to dinner party fare like moles. Great ideas for vegetable dishes. Many nice fish dishes, which give a whole new facet to a cuisine that I taste most often in the carne asada and carnitas of the taco joints like R&R Deli on U.S. 1.

If you live in Howard County, this is a perfect book to carry if you want to explore the spices at Lily's -- from the canned chipotle peppers to the dried oregano to the wall of dried chili varieties like pasilla, arbol, and ancho. The H Mart in Catonsville and the Grant Mart or Panam Supermarket in Laurel sell those as well, along with almost all of the produce -- chayote, plantains, jicama -- that Bayless describes in the front of the book.

Mexican Everyday is a great cookbook to carry to the market. Bayless celebrates ingredients in a "show 'em, don't tell 'em" fashion. He writes about the importance of variety and fresh ingredients, but without the self-congratulatory tone common in celebrity chefs. After a few pages, he just starts up the recipes, and you can flip the index to find several uses for any Latin produce or for Lily's chorizo. You'll find good eating with an education on the side. Lazily, I used to think of hot peppers as almost-interchangeable, but Bayless uses them in dishes that really bring out their different flavors.

That was how I ended up mixing two of our local markets -- Lily's for dried ancho peppers, oregano and cilantro and Columbia Halal Meat for lamb shoulder. (I might have been able to buy the lamb at Lily's butcher. Honestly, I stopped first in Elkridge so I had the lamb in my car and didn't take the time to translate the Spanish board that listed all the cuts that Lily's offered.) I was trying Bayless' Slow-Cooked Lamb (or Goat) Jalisco-Style to see how he used those ancho peppers. It's actually a simple job that turns out tender shredded meat that you serve over equally-tender potatoes with a complex red broth that is really the star of the dish. It's a restaurant-quality soup swirled with the flavor of meat and peppers.

Bayless gives a variation if you don't have a slow-cooker. Delicious food, and I knew it was a terrific recipe when I ate the first bowl thinking "This could use just a little bite, a little contrasting flavor." Almost immediately, I realized that I had forgotten the chopped white onion that Bayless had told me to garnish on top. He does know what he's doing.
Slow-Braised Lamb (or Goat) Jalisco-Style
(From Mexican Everyday)

Notes on ingredients. 1) I couldn't find ancho chile powder. I just bought dried ancho chilis from Lily's spice wall next to the butcher. I put a few into a spice grinder until I had 1/4 cup of powder. 2) Columbia Halal calls it a lamb "arm." They weighed it. I asked them to trim off excess fat, and they cut it into three or four pieces. They asked if I wanted chunks, but I said to keep it in the large pieces.

8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 to 1/3 ground guajillo or ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
3 tbl vinegar (Bayless recommends cider; I mixed rice and balsamic)
6 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds) red-skinned or Yukon Gold potatoes, each cut into six wedges
A 3-pound bone-in lamb (or goat) shoulder roast
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (Bayless loves fire-roasted)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 c. finely chopped white onion for garnish
1/2 c. chopped cilantro for garnich
1 lime cut into six wedges for serving

1) Cut a slit in the side of each garlic clove. Place them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, poke holes in the wrap, then microwave for 30 seconds on high. Let cool, then slip off the papery husks.
2) One by one, drop the cloves in a food processor until smooth. Add chile powder, cumin, black pepper, vinegar, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 cup of water and pulse to blend.
3) Spread the potatoes over the bottom of a slow cooker. Sprinkle generously with salt. Lay the meat on top. Spread the marinade on the meat covering its top and sides. Some will fall on the potatoes. Pour enough water into the slow-cooker to cover the potatoes and the lower 1/4 inch of the meat. Cover and slow-cook on high for six hours until the lamb is fall-off-the-bone tender (and can then be kept warm for up to four hours in a slow cooker)
4) Remove the meat to large place. Pull out the bone. Cut away as visible gristle or fat. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the potatoes onto the plate with the meat. Keep warm in a low oven. Spoon off any fat that has risen to the top of the broth.
5) Set a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and pout in the tomatoes with their juices. Cook, stirring frequently, until the juice has reduced to the consistency of tomato paste. (I did this while the meat was cooking.) Tip or ladle the broth from the slow-cooker into the pan. Add the oregano and bring to a quick boil. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 1/2 teaspoons.
6) Divide the potatoes to six dinner plates or wide bowls. Coarsely shred the meat and distribute among the plates. Ladle a portion of the broth over each one, then springle with the chopped onion and cilantro. Pass the lime wedges for people to add to their liking.

Variation: No slow cooker? Assemble the dish in a 6- or 8- quarter heavy pot at least 12 inches in diameter, layering the lamb under the potatoes. I used a heavy dutch oven based on Bayless' recommendation, although I didn't notice the words "under the potatoes" until I typed this. Set the lid in place and braise in a 300-degree over for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until the meat is completely tender. Complete the dish as described.

Note: In Step 5, I only added some of the broth to the tomatoes -- probably a 1:1 ratio. I thought that was delicious, and I didn't want to overwhelm the tomatoes. I froze some leftover lamb with the leftover broth, and I plan on serving it over rice.
If you're looking for other cookbooks to help explore Howard County's markets, check out my other cookbook reviews. For more about Mexican food, check out my post about the best Mexican restaurants in Howard County. If nothing else, you need to check out Lily's Mexican Market for its house-made corn tortillas.

You can borrow Mexican Everyday or other Bayless books from the Howard County library. Or you can buy either book on Amazon through these links (which means Amazon would pay me a referral fee):


Anonymous said...

Asia Supermarket on Route 40 inside the Beltway in Catonsville (across St. Agnes Parish)also has a selection of the Mexican seasonings. BTW, you should check it out. There is a counter with prepared foods and it's authentic Chinese stuff. I know it's not Howard County, but it's still worth checking out.

K8teebug said...

This is one of my favorite cookbooks. I cook from it so often, it is starting to fall apart. The recipes are so fantastic, it made it difficult to go out for mexican! Thanks for recommending it to your readers!