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Cooking with Diana Kennedy's "Oaxaca al Gusto"

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#1 kalypso

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 10:46 PM

I will confess right up front I have been a huge fan of Diana Kennedy since I purhcased "The Cuisines of Mexico" some 25+ years ago. I've read her books like novels and they've inhabited my nightstand off and on for years. I've heard many comments over the years that her recipes are intimidating and not approachable. Funny, for me it was just the opposite, she made the food and Mexico come alive for me. If her cookbooks hooked me, my first class with her back in 1993 set the hook.

So even thought I own the Spanish version of Oaxaca al Gusto, and knew it was classic Diana, I was looking forward to the English version as I knew it would be easier for me to manage. I also knew it would be possible to cook from the book and decided to find out just how accessible - or not - it really is. I chose to make 2 easy recipes over the weekend just to get a feel for the how the book and recipes work in practice, not theory.

Arroz con Pollo
Pag. 11

I had 2 concerns with this recipe, one that it would be bland and two, with 5 cups of liquid to 8 oz of rice, that the rice would be mushy. Turns out neither were a problem.

Diana recommends leaving the skin on the chicken when poaching, which I did and just defatted the broth. There aren't a huge amount of seasonings in this dish, just some tomatoes (not even charred), garlic and salt, along with some onion, 2 tomates verde (tomatillos de milpa, i.e. wild tomatillos) 1 allspice berry, 1 clove and a sprig of parsley. This is not an assertive, in-your-face kind of dish, but the flavor profile was surprisingly potent.

I cook for my 91 year old mother who constantly surprises me with the subtleties of her palate. She can tell almost instantly when a dish is off. Not a big rice lover, she actually loved this dish, and I have instructions to make it again. The flavors all play well together with no one single flavor dominating another. Diana says the rice should be "moist", I think it walks the fine line between being soft and mushy. My rice turned out pretty well. Each grain was separate and did not clump together. The recipe called for using a whole chicken, which I did. I think when I make this again, I will probably start with 2 whole skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, each whole breast cut into 4 pieces. And because the white meat dries out so much, I'll probably poach them less than called for in the recipe and make up some of the liquid with chicken stock. This won't change the integrity of the dish for me, just the ease of preparation.

I am lucky enough to be able to source tomate verde at the Mexican markets here in San Diego. These are tiny tomatillos about the size of a marble. They are quite tart and have lots of seeds. I couldn't see how just two of them were going to impart any flavor. But the beauty of Mexican sauces is that when made correctly they are perfectly balanced and the flavors in this dish were.
The little tomatillos contributed just enough tart to counteract the tomatoes in the sauce. If regular tomatillos are all that are available, chose one that is on the small side.

This was a lovely dish, not earth shattering, nor particularly challenging, but it was easy to make and tasty to eat. I do have pictures of the dish, but I am having problems uploading them.

#2 kalypso

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 11:06 PM

Salsa de Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca
(Oaxacan Pasilla Chile Sauce)
pg. 56


Chile pasilla de Oaxaca is a dried, smoked chile. It's fairly rare and probably one of the most expensive chiles. Last December 2 kilos of them cost $460 pesos (about $35 USD, or about $17/lb). The flavor is unique and exotic; the smoked flavor is prounounced by not over powering. This chile is not often found outside of Oaxaca, not even in other parts of Mexico. I've never seen it available for purchase in the U.S.

This salsa is addictive and wonderful. It's made with 5 ingredients, 10 oz of tomate verde, 4 chile pasilla de Oaxaca, 4 cloves of garlic, a little water and some salt. The tomates verdes are diced and cooked until soft with a bit of water. The recommended way of toasting the chiles and garlic is to bury them in hot (but not red) ashes until they have softened. Since I didn't have any hot ashes handy, I just toasted them on a comal. The chiles are not seeded or soaked.

The recipe says to make this salsa in a molcajete, mine isn't big enough so I made it in the small bowl of my food processor. That worked just fine. Mince the garlic and salt in the food processor, add the chiles 1 or 2 at a time along with some water. Gradually add the tomates verdes along with a little of their water. Process to blend, sauce should retain some of it's texutre. The salsa has a wonderfully deep smokey flavor and packs a reasonable punch. It did mellow some sitting over night. It goes well with eggs, chicken, pork starches like rice or potatoes and vegetables such as corn or chayote. I also tried it with some requeson (lightly salted, cheese that is slightly wetter than ricotta) this afternoon and it paired well with that.

The photo for this dish wouldn't load either.

10 oz. of tomatillos could be easily be substituted for the tomates verdes. Unforutnately a regular pasilla can not be substituted for the chile pasilla de Oaxaca. The whole point of this salsa is the piquant smokey bite.
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#3 Jaymes

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 06:44 AM

10 oz. of tomatillos could be easily be substituted for the tomates verdes.


I'm probably showing my ignorance, but aren't tomatillos and tomates verdes the same thing? If not, what's the difference?
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#4 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 06:53 AM

Is one cultivated (and bigger) and the other wild (and smaller)?
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#5 Jaymes

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 07:02 AM

Is one cultivated (and bigger) and the other wild (and smaller)?


Are you guessing? Or do you know for sure that's it?

I don't know - when I'm in Mexico, I never hear anybody say "tomatillo." Even in the markets when I'm standing there looking at what we clearly call a tomatillo in the US, the signs and vendors refer to them as tomates verdes.
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#6 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 07:03 AM

A question, in fact, based on reading here and there and this quotation from kalypso:

I am lucky enough to be able to source tomate verde at the Mexican markets here in San Diego. These are tiny tomatillos about the size of a marble. They are quite tart and have lots of seeds.


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#7 Jaymes

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 07:10 AM

A question, in fact, based on reading here and there and this quotation from kalypso:

I am lucky enough to be able to source tomate verde at the Mexican markets here in San Diego. These are tiny tomatillos about the size of a marble. They are quite tart and have lots of seeds.



Ah ha! So then, reading and remembering! An excellent method, and one I obviously should adopt.

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#8 kalypso

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 07:34 AM

Jaymes, you've seen tomates verdes in the mercados in Mexico. You'd recognize them if you saw them. I have some pretty decent pictures of them, in the husk and out, that I keep trying to upload without success.

If I have time tonight I'll upload them to Flickr and link it.

#9 tsquare

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 05:46 PM

Tomatillos are Physalis ixocarpa, ground cherries are Physalis pruinosa. The little ones are the second. Tomato verde are the former to the best of my knowledge. And I think that matches Jaymes original post, whose experience I would trust in this matter. And it makes more sense when a recipe calls for two.

#10 rancho_gordo

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 06:02 PM

From my experience, the small ones are called Milperos, but they're tomate verde, not another plant. The milperos are often slightly purple and sweet and always small. They can naturalize in a cornfield and that's why they're known as milperos. But they're tomate verde or tomate de cascara.
I've never seen anything called a tomatillo in Mexico.
But I'm not the last word. This is just from my experience.
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#11 janeer

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 06:17 PM

Just want to thank you Kalypso for christening this book and sharing your first tries and your thoughts on the recipes. Bummer about the photos. The first recipe I plan to make is the Enchiladas de San Antonio (p 402). Odd name: they are really quesadillas (made with fresh masa), don't know if they changed the name for the American market, which may think quesadillas are those things you get in fast food places made from flour tortillas.

Regarding the salsa de chile pasilla de Oaxaca: Kennedy provides a similar recipe for it in her Art of Mexican Cooking, and suggests chipotles mora or regular chipotles as substitutes for the pasillas de Oaxaca. Elsewhere (Cuisines) she talks about chile negro as similar, which is the pasilla widely available in the U.S. I have made this sauce many times with regular pasillas and, if not exactly what you cold get in with the Mexican ones, it is excellent.

#12 rancho_gordo

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 04:04 PM

I was just in Oaxaca and bought LOTS of chiles.
Right off the bat I made the simple salsa with the pasilla de Oaxaca and it's incredible. It's smoked but it's not chipotle.

Smothered it all over eggs and chorizo this morning and it almost felt like I was still on the road.....

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#13 heidih

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 05:32 PM

Did you bring back some for sale or just for personal use? I know the availability of the ingredients has been holding some of us back.

#14 theabroma

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 06:45 PM

From my experience, the small ones are called Milperos, but they're tomate verde, not another plant. The milperos are often slightly purple and sweet and always small. They can naturalize in a cornfield and that's why they're known as milperos. But they're tomate verde or tomate de cascara.
I've never seen anything called a tomatillo in Mexico.
But I'm not the last word. This is just from my experience.


Tomate de milpa is how that variety of tomate de cascara, tomatillo, or tomate verde is also referred to. They were traditionally grown as part of the cornfield symphony, together with beans and squashes.

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#15 rancho_gordo

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 08:55 PM

Did you bring back some for sale or just for personal use? I know the availability of the ingredients has been holding some of us back.


Well, it's premature to say anything much, but I'm working on it! I met with several growers and if all goes well, it may happen. How's that for being vague? The problem is that there aren't that many growers and for the chilhuacles, the weather has been bad for several years so they haven't had great quality or yields.

But how's this for food porn? It's a field of costeño chiles drying in the sun, near Pinotepa Nacional:

Posted Image

Chilhuacle blacks on the left and I think those are more costeños on the right but I'm not sure:

Posted Image

I'll keep you posted!
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#16 AAQuesada

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 09:31 PM

WoW!

Makes me hungry!

#17 Chris Hennes

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 10:01 PM

rancho_gordo, you are a hell of a tease. Let's just say, hypothetically, that if you were to land a deal with these chile growers, I think you'd have a few customers here.

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#18 EatNopales

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Posted 23 February 2011 - 06:15 PM

On the Tomatillo / Tomate Verde controversies... you are all right, that is there are regional variations for common names in Mexico.


In the highlands of Jalisco they are undeniably called Tomatillos, and I would hypothesize that because Altenos are one of the oldest & most common immigrants in the U.S... that THEIR regional term is what came to dominate north of the border.

In Mexico City they are referred to as Tomate Verde.

In Nahuatl.. Tomatl refers to Tomate Verde / Tomatillo... wheras Xitomatl is Tomato.

With regards to the Milpa variety... the naming convention controversy follows suit because in Jalisco they are called Tomatillo Milpero whearas in Mexico City and other places in the south they are called Tomate Verde de Milpa, Tomate Milpero, or simply Milperos.

#19 rancho_gordo

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 02:32 PM

We revisited the Oaxacan pasilla salsa this weekend. I did decide I'd use the molcajete and this proved irresistible to my 10 year old son, Nico. "Please, Papa!" I was a little worried about the mess but he did fine and has a much better grinding technique than i did.

Posted Image

Making it in the blender is fine but it's with chiles and tomatillos that you really get the importance of the molcajete. (Or maybe I'm trying to justify why I have 4 and a metate). Anyway, it's incredible. The pasillas are so particular and funkier than a regular chipotle.

We used the salsa for dinner in the beans and then the next morning over eggs. We also made DK's cascabel salsa which is a really crowd pleaser, especially for kids who want to like things spicy but don't really dig the heat quite yet.

Posted Image

We also had some sauteed chantrelles. it was a good eating type of weekend.
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#20 Chris Amirault

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Posted 04 December 2011 - 06:26 PM

Any updates? I'm thisclose to deciding to cook the entire Christmas dinner from this book.
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#21 janeer

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Posted 04 December 2011 - 10:14 PM

Any updates? I'm thisclose to deciding to cook the entire Christmas dinner from this book.

where is that menu in the book? Can't easily find anything.

#22 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 06:32 AM

Sorry -- "the" should have been "my/our." I'm piecing together a few different celebratory dishes from throughout the book to try to form a somewhat coherent whole.
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#23 ojisan

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 12:44 PM

Is there a reason why one couldn't home-smoke fresh pasillas? Is there a reference somewhere on how chipotles (smoked jalapeños) are made?

Monterey Bay area


#24 Darienne

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 01:20 PM

Is there a reason why one couldn't home-smoke fresh pasillas? Is there a reference somewhere on how chipotles (smoked jalapeños) are made?

Ojisan, you must be prescient. The very thing I was going to ask, although I thinking of Poblanos.
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#25 janeer

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 08:53 PM

Sorry -- "the" should have been "my/our." I'm piecing together a few different celebratory dishes from throughout the book to try to form a somewhat coherent whole.

Ah. I hope you'll post your menu--and your success with it.

#26 Chris Amirault

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 06:28 PM

Here's the working menu. OaG is Oaxaca al Gusto; ECM is Essential Cuisines of Mexico:

Cena de Navidad de Oaxaca
Oaxacan Christmas Dinner 2011

escabeche de pescado horneado
escabeche of fish
OaG 142

salsa de camarón fresco
fresh shrimp sauce
OaG 95

* * * * *

pollo en mole negro costeño
chicken in black mole from the coast
OaG 153-4

estofado
OaG 39

calabaza tierna guisada
stewed pumpkin
OaG 214

quelites guisados
seasoned greens
OaG 87

pico de gallo
grapefruit and pasilla salsa
OaG 52

salsa de ajonjoli
sesame seed sauce
OaG 154

chiles jalapeños en escabeche
pickled jalapeño chiles
ECM 237

* * * * *
tortillas

arroz a la menta
rice with mint

frijoles negros
black beans

* * * * *

Del Maguey 100% Tobala Single Village mezcal

Chinaco Añejo tequila

margaritas Castañedas

Dos Equis XX Amber

horchata

atole de cacahuate
peanut atole
OaG 361


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#27 kalypso

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 11:35 AM

Chris, that looks like a pretty ambitious - if not tasty - Christmas dinner. But it sounds like it would be a very good one. Please let us know how it works out.

#28 Chris Amirault

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 12:01 PM

I think it's pretty doable, actually, with several components that can be prepared in advance. Then again, the outer limit of doable was this 2009 insanity, with nearly everything prepared a la minute. :blink:
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#29 rancho_gordo

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Posted 13 December 2011 - 06:24 PM

I think you're going to be very busy! But vale la pena!

I was looking through OaG and found DK's recipe for chilecaldo, which I had in Cuicatlan. It's a great dish, if you're so inspired. The chilhuacles were used some stage between fresh and dried and served whole in the bowl.
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#30 FoodMan

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 10:21 PM

Chris-
That looks like a great menu. I am curious about the Atole. Will you be making the masa per page 395? She instructs the cook to boil the corn and then send it to the mill to be ground to a smooth paste. I've always wondered if storebought prepared masa (not the dried Maseca) can be used for Atole, but I've never tried it.

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