Mexican food is a complex cuisine with so many regional variations that it would be crazy to try to sum it all up in a book. So instead, what Roberto Santibañez did in his latest book “Truly Mexican: Essential Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Mexican Cooking”, was to focus in what he believes lays the backbone of Mexican food: its sauces and salsas. These are, according to Santibañez, what different dishes share in common. He doesn’t strive to offer a comprehensive guide of all Mexican sauces either, what he intends to do is to teach us the fundamentals, the basic techniques that will allow us to understand and enjoy Mexican cuisine, and in doing so getting the necessary skills to master other recipes as well.
Roberto Santibañez was born in Mexico City and he is currently the chef of Fonda, a Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn, and also the culinary partner of The Taco Truck in New Jersey, USA. In “Truly Mexican”, he sets to transform his readers “from people who would love to cook Mexican food to people who cook Mexican food that they love”. And he does it right, indeed.
The book is divided into 7 chapters: Basics, Salsas, Guacamoles, Adobos, Moles & Pipianes, More Ideas for using Mexican sauces and, finally, Sides. The book doesn’t just provide us with recipes for sauces, but gives us also recipes and ideas for dishes to use them. The introduction and tips included in each chapter are interesting and helpful. I found the chiles chart and product description in the Basic chapter immensely useful, and I imagine they will be of great help if the need to look for substitutes arises. If finding a particular ingredient turns out to be difficult there is a Source Guide at the end of the book that lists some internet vendors.
RECIPE: Guajillo Chicken Tacos - recipes adapted from Truly Mexican: Essential Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Mexican Cooking
(makes 12 to 16 tacos)
- 2 pounds chicken, cut in small pieces
- 1 tsp fine salt, or 2 tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup basic Guajillo Adobo
- About 1 tbsp mild olive oil or vegetable oil
- 12 to 16 warm corn tortillas, homemade or store bought
- 1 cup salsa, such as Simple Roasted Tomato salsa with Onion and Cilantro
- 1 finely chopped white onion
- chopped Cilantro
- lime wedges
- PAT the chicken pieces dry, season them with the salt, then coat them generously with the adobo. Let them marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.
- HEAT a grill pan or heavy skillet over medium high-heat. Lightly oil the grill pan and brown the chicken, cook until done but juicy. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- SERVE everything family style, let everybody make their own tacos themselves. Not assembling the tacos beforehand will ensure the tortillas remain warm and won’t get soggy.
Basic Guajillo Adobo
- 1 ounze Guajillo chiles (4), wiped clean, stemmed, slit open, seeded and deveined
- ¼ cup water for blending, or more if necessary
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ teaspoon fine salt or ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ⅛ scant teaspoon ground cumin
- HEAT a comal, griddle, or heavy skillet over medium-low heat and toast the chiles 2 at a time, turning them over and pressing down on them with tongs frequently, until they are fragrant and their insides have changed color slightly, about 1 minute per batch. Soak the chiles in enough cold water to cover until they are soft, about 30 minutes. Drain and discard the soaking water.
- PUT the ¼ cup of water in the blender jar with the chiles and the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth, at least 3 minutes, adding a little more water if necessary to puree. If you’d like a silky texture, strain the adobo through a medium-mesh sieve. This highly flavored puree can be used as a meat and seafood marinade, or as a sauce for eggs, beans and enchiladas. This adobo keeps in the refrigerator for up to five days or in the freezer for up to one month.
Maria del Carmen Pottage, as a good Peruvian, has a crush on all things food. Currently, she is a graduate student in Food Studies at NYU, with an emphasis on Food Culture.