Mexican food? Next!

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Okay, I’m going to make a confession. And I understand if we can’t be friends anymore. Here goes: I am not a fan of Mexican food.

There, I said it.

And while I live in Los Angeles, a haven of Mexican food, I’m just not that “into” it. I mean I’ll eat it once in a while and it’s nice, but I don’t consider myself a connoisseur.

I remember when my friend moved to Japan for a while, he really missed Mexican food. We even sent him crunchy taco shells and seasoning so he could try to make it there. It wasn’t quite the same, but it was the thought that counted!

While I wasn’t super jazzed about the subject of today’s class, I ended up having a great deal of fun and learning a lot of new things. We explored the cuisine by separate regions and broke down classic dishes, examining the different cooking techniques used to create each one.

The tamale making was especially fun, one with a green chile/cheese filling and the other with a black bean mixture.

Flatten the masa out on a husk and pat to a flat rectangular shape, then add just a smidgen of filling in the center. (Don’t overfill!)

Fold into a taco-ish shape and then press together to completely encapsulate the filling.

Work into a nice little rectangular shape. Wrap, tie, steam, and EAT!

My partner and I worked on fresh homemade flour tortillas. This was the first time I’d ever worked with LARD. It gave great texture and was authentic, but I’ll stick to vegetable shortening in my kitchen. Oh yea, we pressed them individually too!

Some friends joined in the fun and we tried to knuckle and then toss the mini tortillas like pizza dough.

They’re not great for knuckle stretching or tossing, but it was still fun. We ended up with around 30 individual tortillas. Each one got cooked on a flaming hot cast iron griddle.

The next dish to really catch my eye was what I would call my favorite Mexican dish, chile relleno.

You can make chile relleno a million different ways, from thick and custardy to light and super fluffy. This started with a little flour dredge and then got dipped in a silky smooth whipped eggy batter.

Some other dishes included a delightfully spicy and pungent mole sauce, and I worked on a spectacularly rich tasting pork stew.

The winner of the “fun to make” Mexican dish was churros! I never thought about how they got their shape, but a quick piping through a star tip gives it those famous ridges.

Right into some hot oil till “GBD” (golden, brown, and delicious). We did a quick cinnamon sugar coating and the Chef melted down some 70% chocolate for dipping. Heaven!

The other fruits of our labors:

The top left corner is a stellar pumpkin seed dip, that was my #2 favorite dish of the day. We also had guacamole and a slew of different flavored freshly made salsas.

Clockwise from the top left:

Snapper with Green Olives and Herbs
Rice Pilaf (on the fly dish made with incomplete taco ingredients)
Spicy Pork Stew (My #1 favorite dish of the day.)
Black Bean tamales
Tres Leches Cake
Churros with Chocolate
Cheese and Chile Tamales
Mole Negro with Chicken
Chile Rellenos

Just outside the boundary of the above photo was the other dish I worked on, a Mexican shrimp cocktail. You start off by blanching the shrimp in the shell for about 30 seconds. After peeling and cleaning, it’s finished ceviche style with a nice citrus bath. The red onion adds bite while the roasted red pepper give it a subtle sweetness.

My plate(s):

I didn’t finish all my savory food, but I will admit that I went back for another churro bite. Mmmm, how can anyone resist anything with melted chocolate on it? I was truly powerless I tell ya.

So after this class I felt a little more enlightened and appreciative of Mexican cuisine. A lot of the dishes take a fair amount of time, hardware (we had to construct our own Culver City style tamale steamer), and technique. The flavors can be simple but very full bodied and I loved sampling dishes from various distinct regions.

This class will definitely make me think twice about answering “Do you feel like Mexican tonight?”.