Remember the name-dropping I did last week? Well, here's some more...
My friend Stephanie bought us two seats to Rick Bayless's cooking demonstration & book signing in St. Louis (which took place yesterday) for my birthday. While it was only an hour-long demo, I learned a lot from the American authority on Mexican cooking.
Confession: Rick Bayless reminds me of Kermit the Frog.
In a good way.
That's a compliment.
First, let me say how much I like Chef Bayless. This is the third time I've met him (brag!). The first was at his Chicago restaurant Topolobampo several years ago. As I was having dinner there (I remember, by the way, that the raw oysters were the BEST I've ever had. In Chicago even!), Chef Bayless walked through the dining room. I was shocked to see him. At the time, I'd never seen "celebrity" chefs actually IN their restaurants. When I asked our server about it, she informed me that he's there every day because...HE WORKS THERE. At the end of our meal, Chef came to our table to ask if everything was ok. He was gracious enough to sign a menu for me, too.
I saw him again just this past summer at the BlogHer conference. He is one of the nicest, most sincere people I've met. He seems genuinely interested in teaching people about Mexican cuisine. He even routinely answers questions about cooking on his Twitter profile!
At this cooking demo, Bayless made two tomatillo salsas (recipes below) & used them in a few other recipes (guacamole, chicken tostaditas, & shrimp in chipotle cream). Here are some highlights from the notes I took:
- Roasted tomatillos provide the "perfect tanginess" in salsa.
- "Don't trust a jalapeno." The heat varies to0 much from pepper to pepper; some are super spicy while others are mild like a green pepper. Use serrano peppers instead.
- Serrano peppers have a "wonderful, rich, grassy-green, green chili flavor."
- Always use white onions, instead of yellow onions, when a recipe calls for raw onions. Yellow onions are too "murky" when raw, but are good when cooked.
- When you use chopped raw onion, be sure to rinse it with water to remove that pungent, unpleasant bite. This is called "deflaming the onion."
- Don't chop cilantro like parsley; it's too tender. Instead, treat it like basil (bunch up the leaves tightly & slice until you reach the stems).
- His Frontera brand jarred salsas start with fresh food, never processed ingredients.
- He was working on a PhD in Anthropological Linguistics when he decided to focus on culture & FOOD instead of culture & language.
- The cookbook he uses most often at home is the one he wrote with his daughter, Rick & Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures.
One of my favorite parts of his talk was when he told us about being on Top Chef Masters. He said it was pretty hard! The chefs did NOT know what to expect from each challenge. He said there is little you don't see on screen when it comes to the challenges, as in there are no behind-the-scenes tricks. They even had to wash their own pots & pans DURING the challenges! He also said they did all the cooking themselves for each challenge, no sous-chefs! In fact, they weren't even allowed to help each other on some of the elimination challenges.
Roasted Serrano-Tomatillo Salsa
Salsa Verde Cruda
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
1 pound (about 11 medium) tomatillos, husked & rinsed
About 5 fresh serrano chiles (less to taste)
2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
- Roasting the key ingredients: Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet & place 4 inches below a very hot broiler. When they blister, blacken & soften on one side (after about 5 minutes), turn them over & roast the other sides (about 5-6 minutes more). Cool completely.
- Roast the whole chiles & unpeeled garlic on an ungreased, heavy skillet (or griddle) over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots & soft (5-10 minutes for the chiles, about 15 minutes for the garlic). Cool, the pull the stems from the chiles & peel the garlic.
- The puree: Scrape the roasted tomatillos (and any juices on the pan) into a food processor or blender, along with the roasted chiles & garlic. Pulse the machine until everything is reduced to a rather coarse-textured puree--the unctuously soft tomatillos will provide the body for all the chunky bits of chiles & garlic.
- Scrape the salsa into a serving bowl, then stir in somewhere between 1/4 & 1/2 cup of water, to give the sauce an easily spoonable--but not watery--consistency.
- Scoop the onion into a strainer & rinse under cold water. Shake off the excess & stir into the salsa along with the cilantro.
- Taste & season with salt.
To make a chipotle salsa, simply substitute 1 chipotle pepper (the kind you find in a can with adobo sauce) for the serrano.
Tangy Green Guacamole
Makes about 3 cups
3 large ripe Hass avocados
1/2 cup tomatillo salsa
1/2 cup grilled red onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Remove the little nub of stem that is usually lodged at the top of each avocado. Cut avocados in half by slicing straight down through the spot where the stem was attached, until you reach the pit, then rotating the knife all the way through the pit. Twist the two halves apart, then take out the pits.
- With a spoon, scoop out the soft flesh from the skins. Add to a large bowl & coarsely mash with a potato masher (I use a pastry blender! ~Kelly).
- Gently stir in the tomatillo salsa, onions, & cilantro. Taste & season with salt.
- If you feel sassy, top with cooked & crumbled bacon.
- Serve with tortilla chips and sliced cucumber, radish, & jicama.
- Hass avocados are a cross between the Guatamalian strain & the Mexican strain. It was developed by a guy named Hass in California in the 1940's.
- You can hold ripe avocados in the warmest part of your fridge for 4-5 days.
- Check an avocado's ripeness by pushing on the bulbous end (not the stem end).
- Placing the pit in a bowl of guacamole does NOT keep it from browning. Instead, add an acid (like tomatillos or lime), keep the guac cold, & store covered with plastic wrap against the surface.
Once again, thanks to Iron Stef for the photos!