Cooking in Oaxaca: Walking a Tight-Rope of Flavor

Well I’ll start off by saying that I am a cooking show FANATIC, and this blog in particular has become somewhat of an homage to the wonderfully talented chef, Rick Bayless. 😀

Now I’ve been obsessed with cooking shows ever since I was young and more recently, when I ditched cable last year in order to save money, I ended up becoming obsessed with the television show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time. This show is hosted by Rick Bayless on PBS with his daughter as his co-host.
RickBayless_Mex1plate_002-e1391964406273 8465648_600x338If you’re not big into PBS, maybe you’ve heard his name mentioned on Top Chef, read one of his many cooking books, or heard of his restaurant and product line, Frontera.
042911-rick7_rect540However, if this blog post is your initiation into the world of Bayless, that’s OK too. 🙂

Maybe this post will convert you into a Bayless fan as well. 😀

Anyway, last year, while religiously watching Bayless each afternoon on PBS, I noted how he always mentioned the cuisine of Oaxaca, and the delicious dishes found in the region, specifically the mole.

Now I have tried this dish before, such as the array of mole I tried at the Puebla market; however, each mole recipes is unlike any other. It varies from region to region, and the mole in Oaxaca is much different than that of Puebla.
IMG_9091Furthermore, Oaxaca is the birthplace of mole, and they have seven distinct categories to distinguish the different types of ingredients used in each. 😀

From black to red, and yellow to green, mole can be made up of hundreds of different ingredients, creating a sauce that is unique in flavor, color, and texture.

As quoted by Rick Bayless, “You Always Want to Walk a Tight-Rope of Flavor,” which directly relates to the flavor balance necessary for delicious mole. Each ingredient is added precisely so that once completed, you struggle to identify a single element when devouring this delicious plate in its entirety. 😀

Anyway, this weekend I was fortunate enough to travel to Oaxaca, and as an aspiring Rick Bayless myself, the first thing on my agenda was to learn how to create this amazing dish. 😀

To begin, I arrived in Oaxaca last Friday morning and met up with Oaxacan chef, Gerardo Aldeco, who is both classically trained, yet also incorporates traditional recipes passed down from his mother and grandmother. 🙂

After meeting Gerardo and my two cooking partners from Vancouver, the first thing on our agenda was to head to the Abastos Market to pick up ingredients for our menu.

Mercado de Abastos is the largest market in Oaxaca, where you can find every from fresh flowers and garlic, to calves livers and corn fungus.
IMG_1880 IMG_1882 IMG_1873 IMG_1872 IMG_1868While at the market, Gerardo talked with us a bit about Mexican chiles.
IMG_1879We would be cooking with dried guajillos and ancho chiles, and I’ll discuss later about how he incorporated them into the dish.
IMG_1864IMG_1862I also learned a fun fact about the fresh chicken in Mexico. I have always been put-off by the strange yellow coloring of the chickens, but learned from the chef that this is because these chickens are free-range, and consume a lot of marigold flowers, which changes the color of their skin.
IMG_1871 What I once thought as grotesque, is actually a more natural product compared to chickens produced from conventional methods of poultry farming.

Other stand-out ingredients included these miniature avocados, which are actually enjoyed peel-on with salt and lime. Adorable and incredibly delicious! 🙂
IMG_1865The ladies from Vancouver were so sweet, and reminded me a lot of my aunts. We had a great time walking around the market, and were now ready to begin cooking. 😀
IMG_1884We left the market and headed to Gerardo’s house, which was very cozy and welcoming.
IMG_1885 IMG_1886IMG_1887 The atmosphere felt very relaxed and intimate, plus the surrounding Mexican decor was quite inspiring. 🙂
IMG_1890The menu we would be preparing included enchiladas verdes, mole coloradito, guacamole, fresh corn tortillas, and tuna water.

Fresh Corn Tortillas

The easiest way to make tortillas is to buy Masa Harina, which is ground corn flour treated with calcium hydroxide.
2014-02-14-pupusas-step-1-masecaThe additive calcium hydroxide makes the tortillas more nutritious and digestible. The back of the bag will tell you the ratio of flour to water. The final product will look something like this.
IMG_1899From there, the dough was shaped into logs and pressed into a flat round shape. We used a fancy tortilla press, which one the ladies originally thought was a chair. 😛
IMG_1904 IMG_1905IMG_1903If you don’t have a press, Gerardo said a rolling pin would work just fine.

After pressing the tortillas, we cooking them on a comal, or griddle. It’s almost easier than making pancakes, and final product should be completely cooked and slightly browned on one side.
IMG_1902

Enchiladas Verde

Green enchiladas are made using fresh tortillas, which are smothered in green sauce, and topped with cheese and sour cream. To begin, the most important ingredient is the sauce.

Time to get a little saucy. 😉

The first step is to boil tomatillos or green tomatoes with two serrano chiles for 5-10 minutes.
IMG_1897IMG_1907Once cooked, the water is drained, and the tomatillos are blended with an onion, fresh serrano chiles, garlic, and parsley.IMG_1911Once blended the mixture needs to be cooked in a little oil to blend the flavors and reduce bitterness. While cooking, the chef added a bit of chicken stock and finished off the sauce with a few pinches of salt.

To make the enchiladas verde, we first fried up the tortillas in a skillet with oil and folded them into triangular wedges.
IMG_1931Then, the crispy tortillas were drenched in the green sauce, and finally sprinkled with salty cheese and drizzled with fresh sour cream and a few sprigs of parsley.
IMG_1940Voilà! 😀
IMG_1943IMG_1942

Mole Coloradito

Mole Coloradito is one of the seven moles of Oaxaca. Coloradito translates to, “a shade of red,” and this dish is also referred to as, “sauce on the naughty side.” This mole gets its name from the sauces’ striking hue of brown and red, from a mixture of both bright red guajillo chiles and reddish-brown ancho chiles, with a hint of dark chocolate as well.

We will be serving this mole with pork, so we began by boiling the meat in a pot with garlic and onions.
IMG_1896IMG_1924Next, we prepared the dried chiles for the sauce.
IMG_1915
Here is a great visual of how the chiles change from fresh to dried.
IMG_1893
After putting on some PPE or personal protective equipment, we cut the chiles’ stems and removed the seeds.
IMG_1916Then, to give the chiles a nice smoky flavor, we placed them on the griddle for 10-15 seconds to char both sides.
IMG_1917Then, similar to the green sauce, we boiled the red tomatoes for 5 to 10 minutes, then briefly dipped the dried chiles in the water to loosen up the skins.
IMG_1918 IMG_1921As a tip, we cored and cut the tomatoes prior to boiling to prevent the tomatoes from bursting while they were being cooked.
During this time, we also sauteed onions and garlic in saucepan with a bit of oil. Wish you had smell-o-vision at this point. The kitchen smelled incredible! 😀
IMG_1919After the onions became translucent, we added a bit of cinnamon, cloves, parsley and sesame seeds to the skillet.
IMG_1900 IMG_1922To complete the sauce, we blended the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chiles and spices in the blender, then cooked the sauce in a bit of oil and broth.
IMG_1925 Just check out that beautiful bright red color! 😀
IMG_1926At this point, the pork was fully cooked, and we took it from the boiling pot and added it to the rich, thick chile sauce.
IMG_1946To finish off the sauce before serving, the chef added a bit of dark chocolate and a few pinches of salt. Surprisingly, we hadn’t salted at any other point in the cooking process. We relied only on the natural salt of the pork broth, and various other seasonings to flavor the dish. The final product was creamy and decadent, with the perfect balance of sweet and spicy.

The ladies from Vancouver are also fans of Rick Bayless, and we all agreed that this mole sauce would have made him proud. 😀

Tuna Water

Now I know what you’re thinking. Fish water? How disgusting! No worries…tuna is actually the name of the prickly pear cactus fruit grown locally in Mexico. 🙂
IMG_1867 The tuna was sliced to reveal a deep dark red fruit, which is a delectable cross between a raspberry and strawberry.
IMG_1932 IMG_1933To make the drink, we simply added water and sugar to taste. It was very light and refreshing!

Guacamole

The guacamole was a blend of fresh onion, garlic, cilantro, avocado and lime juice.
IMG_1913 IMG_1934 IMG_1938Finally, it was time to sit down and enjoy all of our hard work. 🙂
The mole was incredible, and the chocolate and cinnamon taste was barely noticeable. We wanted to walk a tight-rope of flavor, and I believe that balance was achieved! 😀

We served the mole with fresh tortillas and our creamy guacamole. Absolutely delicious!
IMG_1947We left feeling full and satisfied, plus he sent us home with copies of the recipes. If you ever want to take a cooking class in Oaxaca, I would highly recommend checking out his course. 🙂
IMG_1948Well hopefully this post has inspired you to recreate some of these Mexican dishes in your kitchen as well. I’d love to know how they turn out!

At the very least, I’m sure it has prompted you to head to your nearest Mexican restaurant to enjoy some of these drool-worthy dishes, and maybe a margarita or two. 😉

Well folks, this cooking course was the just the beginning of a very long and exciting weekend exploring Oaxaca.

More posts on Oaxaca to come…until then! 😀

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