The May 2011 issue of Saveur has a long feature article on some really delicious-sounding Mexican dishes. Other than tacos and carne asada, we don't get too adventurous around here when it comes to Latino food, but I wanted to give a couple of the Mexican recipes a spin last Sunday for family mealtime. The two I chose (pork in red chile sauce and Mexican rice) looked to be doable for a novice, so off we went.
As always, some of the ingredients proved to be challenging. The pork dish calls for 8 dried New Mexico chiles and 2 dried Guajilo chiles, along with 2 oz. of Mexican chocolate, none of which I could find at any of my usual grocery stores. On cooking Sunday, I happened to be in the city for a pasta-making class, so I figured I'd swing by a supermercado in Pilsen, thinking that if I couldn't find the stuff there, it's not to be had anywhere in the Midwest. I struck out immediately on the New Mexico chiles and chocolate. Furiously searching Google on my iPhone while trying my best to ignore the Mexican League soccer match on TV in the Produce section (Soccer! In the Produce aisle! Why can't us gringos do that in the burbs?), I managed to determine that Anaheim chiles are a suitable substitute for New Mexico chiles - my amigos had fresh Anaheims, but no dried ones (I grabbed 4 fresh ones just for kicks). I had better luck with the dried Guajilo peppers, finding them hidden underneath the apple stand.
Heading home with makeshift ingredients and some trepidation, I set to work on my Mexican fiesta meal. The rice was easy, basically chop everything up, throw it in the blender, and cook it on the stove. The pork, not so much. Trouble began when I decided to roast the fresh Anaheim peppers in the oven to dry them out. Ideally, I would have had 8-10 hours to do this, but I only had about 1 hour to work with, so they didn't really dry so much. The next step was lightly toasting the peppers on high heat in a pot on the stove. I was a little too aggressive on my toasting and ended up with borderline burnt peppers and a little burnt pepper residue in the pot (not good as bitter compounds from burnt food will pretty much destroy any dish). Same problem with my toasting of the almonds and peanuts - too much heat, too much browning, nearly burnt nuts (insert your own joke here). When it was time to put everything in my blender, my fear was that there would be too much liquid in the bowl (fresh peppers, for example, have more water than dried peppers) and we'd have an undesirable overflow situation (I've had these before and they're the quickest way to kill your cooking buzz), with boiling water, no less (hello, Emergency Room). To avoid this scenario, I used 4 cups of water instead of 5 and still nearly put too much in, nervously watching the many ingredients swirling around at high speeds against the blender lid, just waiting for the whole steaming concoction to spew out all over the kitchen. Miraculously, this did not happen, although I might have been a little gun shy with the puree button as my sauce was, well, chunkier than it should have been. I browned the pork pieces as well as I could, but these got pretty angry and splattered hot grease in the vicinity of the stove (overall, I was not having a good experience - this happens sometimes).
One hour of simmering later, we had Mexican pork and Mexican rice, served with tortillas and a healthy dose of stress. The pork was just ok in my opinion, especially given the work put into it. It could have been that the stew meat I used wasn't as tender as the shoulder that was referenced in the recipe. Maybe the Toll House chocolate chips don't provide the same flavor profile as the Mexican chocolate. Perhaps my choice of chile peppers and the associated prep methodology left something to be desired. Regardless, I think I'll be needing to try a different recipe from that issue next time.....