About a month ago I signed up for my first cooking course, which saw me spending an enjoyable Saturday morning whipping up traditional Mexican cuisine.
Our chef and teacher learned the tricks of the trade while cooking in America, where a large number of the people he was feeding on tour were Mexicans.
Apparently they weren’t too impressed with his initial interpretations of their native fare, so on their days off they would join him in the kitchen and teach him the authentic recipes their mothers used to make.
It was a rewarding few hours and I took away several key elements that really make a difference when it comes to preparing real Mexican dishes.
Firstly, there are hundreds of varieties of chillies out there and the ones you pick really make a difference to the final flavour. For example, the red and green chillies most commonly available from the supermarkets here in Australia are more suited to Asian style cuisine, whereas it’s the chipotles and habaneros – preserved in adobo sauce or charred over an open flame – which will add the desired smokiness and depth.
Secondly, toasting your spices before adding them to the main dish makes a huge difference. Adding direct heat unlocks their flavour and incredible fragrance, and is well worth the extra time it takes to do so.
This is just one of the dishes we made on the day.
chicken tortillas with mole rojo
6 chicken marylands
3 red capsicums, halved and de-seeded
2 cinnamon quills
4 star anise
3 tsp smoked paprika
half bunch of spring onions
6 cloves garlic
3 cups chicken stock (use stock from cooking the chicken)
2 tbsp chipotle chilli purée
2 large onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp tahini
½ cup raisins
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp freshly ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground cumin
½ tsp ground black pepper
30g bitter unsweetened chocolate
shredded iceberg lettuce
fresh coriander, chopped
fresh lime wedges
Place the chicken pieces, capsicum, cinnamon, star anise, paprika, spring onions and garlic in a large stock pot.
Season with salt and cover with water, placing a plate or paper cartouche over the top to keep the chicken submerged.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
Let the stock cool and remove the chicken. Separate the meat and finely shred, along with capsicum.
Strain the stock and reserve for the mole sauce.
Freshly roast the mole spices in a dry frypan until fragrant. Grind with a mortar and pestle, then place in a sieve and pass to obtain a fine powder.
Score crosses on the bases of the tomatoes and place in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Chill briefly in cold water, then remove the skins and seeds.
Place all the ingredients apart from the stock in a blender and blend to a fine paste.
Lightly heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and add the mole sauce.
Cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, then add the stock and reduce until very thick. This could take 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently.
In the last few minutes of cooking, add the chocolate and cook until fully melted throughout.
Before serving, wrap the tortillas in a damp tea towel and place in a moderate oven for 10 minutes until heated through.
Top with shredded lettuce, shredded chicken, mole sauce and fresh coriander.