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Posts Tagged ‘achiote’

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As you saw from my last post, we had Thanksgiving in Merida this year at my mom’s. Since we’re not a traditional posse, we decided not to do a traditional meal. But let’s be honest here, turkey was not on the original Thanksgiving menu, a feast that lasted for 3 days and included seal, deer, fowl (most historians think it was actually duck and goose), lobster, and other seafood creatures. So, are we the non-traditional family or are all of you who eat turkey?

With that, being a Jewish family, we decided to make brisket. Being the best cook in the family I was charged with braising the bovine. However, back to the non-traditional thing, I did not do a traditionally Jewish-flavored brisket. Since we were in the Yucatan I decided to do a Yucatecan-flavored brisket, something that every Mayan Jew in the world could enjoy. In Spanish brisket is called faldo de res, pibil is traditional Mayan seasoning (sour orange and achiote), hence, we ate Faldo de Res Pibil.

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My ingredient list included 5 tbsp achiote paste, 1.5 tbsp dried cilantro, 1.5 tbsp peppercorns, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 2 cups sour orange juice, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp salt, and 2 tbsp minced garlic. Oh, and 3 pounds of faldo de res.

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Really simple, I mixed everything together in my mom’s braising pan, drowned the brisket in it, covered it, and let it slowly braise in the oven at about 275 degrees for about 6 hours or so.

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I also made Yucatecan pickled onions. I sliced up 7 small onions and boiled them for about 10 minutes.

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After that, I strained them and let them soak in a mix of 1 cup of orange juice and the juice from 1.5 limes. I put that all in the fridge and let it rest until serving time.

While everything was in the oven we all decided to head out to a festival being held in the town of Tekanto, about 45 minutes from Merida. They had set up a bull fighting ring in the town center. I have never been to a bull-fight, and while the night we were there wasn’t the actual fight, it was very interesting to see the Matador understudies and the entire culture surrounding the bull-fight.

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If you ask me, I don’t quite get the fascination with the whole thing. It’s really not fair to the bull seeing as it gets poked and prodded before being taunted for all to see. If you want a fair fight, poke and prod the matador too. Then we’ll see survival of the fittest as nature intended.

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Before taunting the bull they paraded a heifer around and sliced its throat for all to see. That brought on some major cheers. Again, I just don’t get it, but it is a sight to see, no doubt about that. These guys had that thing butchered down to the bone within 20 minutes, I’ve never seen such fast knife work. I thought about inserting one of the photos I took of the butchering, but it’s pretty graphic, so use your imagination. I hear that the meat is donated to feed the less fortunate, so I’m cool with that, but it’s still rather inhumane.

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When we got back to mom’s the brisket was ready. I let her do the carving. Unfortunately for me, I was in the middle of a sparring match with Montezuma so I didn’t get to enjoy a full meal. I did taste some of the brisket though, and it was delicious! If I ever make it again I would probably cut the sour orange juice down by a half cup and replace it with more water as it was a strong flavor, but it was a good flavor, especially seeing that it was my first attempt at something like this, something that may never have been done before since pibil dishes are usually marinated and then cooked in banana leaves, not braised. That’s the fun of cooking, trying something new and learning as you go.

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Ever since our gastroventure to Don Diablo a while back I’ve wanted to try my hand at making cochinita pibil. It’s something that needs to be planned ahead since it’s best if the pork shoulder marinates overnight. I just never planned ahead until this week rolled around. I got my shoulder the day before and went at it.

Alright, so I the shoulder I picked up weighed about 2.8 lbs, bone-in. Gotta be bone-in, there’s just no other way to go. For the marinade I crushed 2 tablespoons of achiote seeds with 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds. I found out the hard way that achiote seeds stain anything and everything. If you can find achiote past that’s a better alternative. Anyway, I mixed those in a large glass (must be a non-reactive material) bowl with 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne. Then, I minced 5 garlic cloves, crushed up 2 bay leaves, and mixed those in. I cracked about 2 tablespoons of black pepper. Finally, I poured in 1 cup of orange juice and the juice of 2 limes. With a fork I pricked the shoulder all over, let it swim in the marinade, covered it with plastic wrap, and threw it in my fridge. This was about 2pm Monday so that I could get 24 hours of marinating time.

When marinating time was up I put the shoulder along with the marinade in a cheap foil braising pan, covered it tightly with foil wrap, and threw it in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours. Use whatever braising pan you have.

While the pork was braising I made my sides and condiments. I pickled a red onion, very easy to do and very delicious. Also, pickled red onion is the classic condiment to cochinita pibil. I quartered a red onion and then sliced each quarter into 1/8 inch slices then put them in this small glass bowl. I boiled some water and poured it on top of the onions. After ten minutes I drained the onions and put them back into the bowl. I mixed together 1/2 cup of orange juice with 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice and a pinch of salt and then poured that on top of the onions. I covered it with wrap and let it sit until dinner time.

I also made some guacamole. I was going to use 2 avocados, but when I sliced the 2nd one open it was absolutely disgusting! That’s the one problem I have with avocados, they’re such a crapshoot. I did get one good though and that was enough for our dinner. Since I only had one good one I only used 1 plum tomato. I de-seeded it and chopped it up. I mixed the tomato and avocado with the juice from 1/2 lime, 1 small garlic clove minced, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

Finally, I made a black bean and corn succotash. I first took 1 cup of dried black beans and boiled them in 6 cups of water for a few minutes, then I turned off the heat, covered the pan, and let it sit for about an hour. I drained and rinsed the beans then put them back in the pan. To that I added 1/2 onion diced, 1 jalapeno diced, and the kernels from 1 ear of corn separated. I seasoned with a little salt and pepper, poured in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes while I finished off the cochinita pibil.

Once the pork was fall-off-the-bone deliciousness, I let it cool a little so that I could handle it without burning myself. Although, the pleasure of sinking my teeth into that meat would be worth the pain. Once I could handle it painlessly I pulled the meat and put it in a large skillet. I poured about 1/2-1/3 cup of the liquid in and then heated it back up.

I served everything with some watercress, ricotta ensalata cheese, and some cilantro. I had warmed corn tortillas on the side and we made some fantastic cochinita pibil tacos.

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While we were in Merida we spent an afternoon walking through an ancient cave in the Yucatan called Lol Tun.  In the Pre-Columbian days there were an estimated 800 people living in it. It really is an impressive site with the highlight possibly being the 15,000 year old reverse hand-print paintings on the cave walls. At any rate, we filled up on lunch prior to walking through the cave.

I’m not sure what this place is called, but it was directly across the street from Lol Tun, so we gave it a shot. While we were sitting there waiting for our food, out of nowhere, something that felt like mud hit my arm, WTF! I wipe it off and look around. I didn’t see anything at all. Then I look up and see two little geckos hanging out on the wooden ceiling beams. A few seconds later another muddy item hits my arm. Little bastards! They both shit on my arm! I ought to grill them up and eat them for that! If they had shat on my food instead of my arm I would have eaten them instead.

I ordered the Salubtes. Hand-made tortillas piled with shredded turkey, tomato, lettuce and chopped onion. They were pretty damn good. About the right size too because I wasn’t starving and I had to try some of Yuki’s dish.

She ordered the Pollo Pibil. Chicken marinated in achiote (annatto), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt, and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked. Although, instead of wrapping it in banana leaves and baking it they grilled it with the marinade and served it with rice, french fries, and a small salad with avocado. It truly was outstanding! As soon as I can fire up the grill in Spring you can better believe I’m going to try my hand at this marinade.

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I’ve long been a believer that the only way to truly understand a different culture is to head straight over to the local markets. So, our first morning in Merida, Mexico, a few weeks ago with my mom and step-dad (they live in Merida) we stopped at the San Benito Market.

What I love about the San Benito Market is that it’s not a food market, it’s not a textiles market, it’s not an appliance market….it’s all of the above! Whatever you need to buy you can get at San Benito. Need some produce? They’ve got everything from hundreds of different chilis to pineapples to freshly butchered meats. Need clothes and footwear? Take your pick! How about kitchen knives and other little chochkies? Sure. You can even buy a pet bird there. However, to me, the absolute best part of the market are the food stalls. With so much to choose from, various tacos, tamales, empanadas, sopas, etc., we decided that it’s best to just sample as many different tacos as our bellies could stomach.

The first stop was this stall that served up some outstanding carnitas.

Fresh slices of pork fried up on his hot slate to tasty perfection! Garnish with some onions, cilantro, carved up radishes, and salsa verde and you’re ready for all sorts of goodness. I really could have just ordered more of these, but there were more items on my menu to digest. So,…..

…it was off to this stand for a choice of more carnitas or…

…these achiote turkey tacos. I had to go for the turkey since I just downed a couple of carnitas. These were served with pico de gallo and lime wedges. Wow! I have never had pulled turkey so good. Screw Thanksgiving with its roasted bird, I want these little morsels instead. 

After walking around a bit more something caught my eye.

How on Earth could I walk past something like this without giving it a try? Influenced by Lebanese immigrants from three hundred years ago Tacos al Pastor are truly a thing of beauty. Juicy pieces of pork marinated in a red chili sauce, piled on top of each other, and roasted upright on a spit much like a gyro or schwarma. These are the kings of tacos.

I actually ate this guy’s pastor because the other one would have taken too long to cook. I had to have one and I had to have it quick!

Typically served with a slice of pineapple, instead, this guy served his with a creamy avocado salsa, chipotle salsa, and lime. MMMMMMM! That was it, the piece de resistance! Sorry La Pasadita, I love you, but you just don’t quite hold up to the genius of meat cooked on a spit and served in a tortilla.

Everything was washed down with some Jugo de Mango. The juice carts serve their juices with a plastic bag on top. This serves two purposed. First, the bag keeps the flies out of the sweet nectar. Second, it somehow keeps the drink cold so that the ice doesn’t melt, even though it’s 90 degrees outside. Genius!

Surprisingly, I was not met by old Montezuma himself. Either he took the day off or my stomach is stronger than it used to be. Just goes to show that street food in markets like San Benito are every bit as sanitary as a regular restaurant. Plus, you get the added bonus of auto emissions to help give the food that indefinable taste. The Japanese call it umami, I call it delicious!

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