Botana de Chicharrón con Salsa Verde

Mexico is a very nose-to-tail consumer when it comes to eating animals; like in many other developing countries, and often motivated by economic circumstances in an effort to use the whole animal and not leave much—if any—waste, there are a lot of delicious and unique foods that have come out of this scrappiness. One of these simple delicacies is chicharrón, made of fried pork skins. 

Botana de chicharrón con salsa verde

This botana, or appetizer, of chicharrón served with salsa verde is very typical in Mexico. Generally, these pork skin cracklings are made by boiling the skin, hanging it to dry, then deep frying it in hot oil until the skin puffs up. They’re by no means a healthy snack, so should be eaten in moderation, but they’re a guilty pleasure worth the indulgence.

They’re not quite the same as processed food pork rinds or pork cracklings you might find in a potato chip-like bag in the supermarket. For that reason, it’s best to buy them from your local carnicería or near the butcher’s counter in any Mexican market.

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FRIJOLES CHARROS

frijoles charros

For weeks, José has been bugging me to make his Tía Carola’s frijoles charros. Outside of El Charco de Las Ranas, his favorite taquería in Mexico City, Tía Carola’s frijoles charros are the only ones he has ever raved about.

Until now.

When I asked for the recipe a few weeks ago, it felt like I was playing “teléfono descompuesto” with at least three people – where something surely gets lost every time someone relays the message on to another person. José called his sister, who called his aunt; then his sister called him back and he translated the ingredients to me. Note that he only relayed the ingredient list and not the portions. And he only got a vague set of instructions. Apparently, Tía Carola is not exactly keen on lots of details and also hasn’t made this dish in at least 10 years. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about making this vaunted recipe with such a vague idea of what I was supposed to do.

I returned from the store with a big bag of frijoles pintos (in English: pinto beans). José argued with me that I had bought the wrong beans because they were supposed to be frijoles bayos. I knew that, but couldn’t find them at the store so I settled confidently on a hand-sifted bag of carefully chosen pinto beans. I settled the argument with a quick google search that ended in my favor, which had me secretly feeling proud on the inside that I knew frijoles pintos and frijoles bayos were not the same, but often interchangeable because of their similarities in taste, color and texture ‑ especially in this recipe.

I knew when José argued with me about the beans that he was going to be a tough customer to please. I lit one of my San Judas Tadeo candles (the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations) and hoped for a culinary Hail Mary pass with my limited instructions and the guesswork lying ahead. I was short on time with no room for mistakes since I was making the frijoles charros for lunch on a weekday and all I had as a backup were some emergency TV dinners in the freezer. Who could have ever imagined there could be so much pressure behind a pot of beans?

As I served the frijoles charros, my stomach was in knots. Would they live up to Tía Carola’s recipe? I waited for the verdict as he savored the first spoonful…. 

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SOPA DE TORTILLA

I love tortilla soup. I will order it just about anywhere, at any time of year, and I’ve been known to judge the entire menu of a restaurant solely on the quality of their sopa de tortilla. I’m obsessed in every sense of the word–and having not been able to find a version I deem delicious in Chicago, I learned how to make it.

This soup is very representative of a typical Mexican kitchen and uses the traditional flavors and textures of the tomato, chile, avocado, epazote and tortilla. I’ve never cared much for tomato-based soups or broths, but this soup converted me.

The secret, I’ve found, is adding a few crunchy little pieces of chicharrón (also known as pork rinds or cracklings here in the U.S.). They add a depth to the soup’s flavor that I’m convinced cannot be achieved otherwise. All of my favorite places in Mexico for tortilla soup serve it similarly; all the ingredients for assembling the soup are brought to the table separately and the waiter puts it together right in front of you, almost like a little show with your meal…. 

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