Thursday, March 06, 2008

Yucatingan cooking class

Our first full day in Mexico and we were up bright and early to take a cooking class. What an amazing introduction to our stay in Mexico. We met our instructor who used to live in Manhattan and has since relocated to Merida. He has studied the Mayan people like a food anthropologist with a passion for the flavors and history of the area that is contagious.

After a history lesson of the area and how that impacts the regional food, we were off to a guided tour of the market.
Radishes. Though lovingly and beautifully displayed, we weren't having any of those today. Instead we'd be having a whole lotta'....Peppers.

and spices.

In the market we saw how mass produced corn tortillas were made. When we got back to class we learned how handmade corn tortillas are made... with our hands.
Our local food artisan gave us the pre-measured amount of corn masa and we rolled it around in our hands then patted it out, then placed it on a piece of plastic and gently continued the pat down as we turned it to create a perfect circle. Or in my case, then gave it to her to put back together and make it right. Then the tortilla is transferred to the hot pan in the upper portion of the photo. Once cooked, a hand made tortilla can be separated (not so with the machine made ones) and filled with a thin layer of refried beans. This would be the base of our panuchos.

Next we learned how to make salbutes y polkanes which means corn, bean and squash seed fritters. This involves stuffing a circle of dough with the bean/corn mixture then sealing it up. Lyle and I had a slight advantage on this one as this is the same technique Lyle's grandmother had taught us to make perogies.

All of that is then deep fried. The tortilla's are topped with lettuce, shredded chicken, tomato and red onions that had been pickled in sour orange juice. Voilá! Lunch!

After lunch we now had the fuel to make ... later lunch!

For late lunch, chicken and peppers would be the main ingredients.
No, silly. Not the wooden chicken.

First we fire roasted the long light green peppers. You can do it outside, on a gas stove (as we did) or even use a welding blow torch. Once the outer skin in blackened, then you place the peppers either in a plastic bag or under a damp towel to steam off the charred bits. After the peppers have cooled to the touch, you wash them under running water to clear off all the black bits. That washing part was quite the choker. If you breathed in through your mouth the fumes off the peppers would choke you.

Next we were preparing Crema de X'Catik (creamy soup of mild blond chiles) which didn't seem so mild when we were cleaning them.
Cleaned, rinsed then dried, the roasted peppers were added to an already simmering broth of chicken stock with onions, garlic, butter and wine. After additional cooking, the peppers were pureed and at last...
Delicious Cream was added (to take some of the sting out)

Fire roasted pepper soup. Hey!, I made that!

This is the beginning of the Tamale Colados. Corn masa square base, shredded chicken and sauce then wrapped in a banana leaf (blissfully unscented as I loathe bananas) and tied up to be steamed cooked in a pit. We also made Pollo Pibil which was a chicken breast smothered in a local red sauce, wrapped and tied in a banana leaf then cooked in a pit (that's what pibil means, pit).
Mystery wraps with picked onion.

Chicken and tamales. Do not adjust your monitor's color. It really was that red.

We finished off the meal with Helado de Chocolate Mexicano. This one was easy, just as I know the word for Whipped cream in Portuguese (Chantilly) I know that Helado is Spanish for Ice Cream. We did not make this that day as it takes overnight to create. I really should have asked for seconds.

And now a word from our sponsor of the day: Spicy Peppers!
Featured at the mid point in our day was a spicy habenero sauce: The Fiery Habanero Table Salsa! (You can find the original recipe by following the link to the cooking school)

6-8 medium green chiles habaneros (Substitute: Scotch bonnet chiles), charred, stems removed
• 1/4 cup (75ml) sour orange or Seville orange. Substitute: 2 parts lime juice, 1 part each orange juice and grapefruit juice)
• Pinch sea salt
Place all the ingredients in a blender, cover with lid. Puree!

I love this side note on the recipe:
CAUTION: When you remove the lid, step away from the blender and keep face turned. A very potent aroma that can cause you to cough will emanate from the blender.
Everyone tried a very small dab of the sauce when it was done. Everyone but me. I, dear friends, am afraid of spicy. But by the time we got to eating and due in large part to the availability of cream (to take the bite away) I decided to do my part. Which brought about the conversation, "Either totally brave or absolutely stupid."

(pre-tan, note the color of my chest.)


Lewis said...

You're right! It is, indeed, HOT! Love the cooking "slant" on your trip. Took a few classes on our cruises and loved them.

Michael Guy said...

Seriously, you need to write for an luxury TRAVEL/FOODIE publication.

Love the pics! and details. Fyi- I am not pounding out my own tortilla, thank you very much. But I guess that was the point...

er, fabulous paisley shirt, doll. I think you need your own TV show. Yeah. That is what I think...

Peter said...

Reading about it makies my mouth water. Thanks Jim.

Rachel said...

Maybe you guys can give me pointers as my tortillas always fail miserably.

Carolyn said...

Mmmm....that made me so hungry. I LOVE Mexican food, but I don't have a blow torch to roast my peppers... I think Tony would get a little nervous if I came home with a blow torch one day!
Everything looks fab--especially YOU, Jim!!