Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fiesta Week: Day Two

As far as I’m concerned, when planning a fiesta there is only one man to turn to for sound advice and authentic Mexican recipes: Rick Bayless. With his help, Americans are beginning to open their eyes to a whole new realm of Mexican cooking: real Mexican cooking.

Flipping through the channels at around 2:30 in the morning, I first found Rick on PBS wetsuit-clad and descending down into a sink hole in the Yucatan jungle. The hole opened up to one of the peninsula’s marvelous and mystifying underground freshwater caves that were once considered sacred to the Mayans. After snorkeling in the crystal clear water and gathering an appetite for fish dinner, Rick later watches as real-deal ceviche is prepared right on the beach from fresh caught fish. Maybe it was because I was already half asleep, but his Mexican adventures seemed like an absolute dream.

For a moment, I hoped I could just close my eyes and end up on a beach in Mexico eating ceviche and chilling out with Rick. Since that wasn’t happening, the closest thing I could do was buy one of his cookbooks. I searched the bookstore for the renowned Chicago chef’s Authentic Mexican with no luck. Instead, I ended up stumbling upon and purchasing the companion to the PBS series that originally introduced me him, Mexico One Plate at a Time. I pulled several recipes out of this book for my fiesta, including those for two of my starter dishes: crispy potato sopes and you guessed it, shrimp ceviche!

Sopes or corn masa boats are a very traditional Mexican preparation. Formed from a slightly thick cake or tortilla made from either smooth-ground corn masa or reconstituted masa harina flour, the edges are pinched upward to make a little boat shape to hold fillings. Since it was my first try at sopes I followed the more “contemporary” and easier recipe that utilizes potatoes for the dough. Making the dough and forming the sopes turned out to be much simpler than I had thought (see slideshow under recipe for step-by-step images). They are fried to finish which produces a crispy texture and flavor similar to a good French fry.

The filling for the sopes was Rick’s recipe for Salsa Roja or Red-Chile Tomatillo Salsa, topped with goat cheese and fresh herbs. The salsa calls for hotter dried chiles such as arbols or chipotles, but I used milder ancho chiles. The end result is bona fide Mexican flavor that melds perfectly with the goat cheese. Serving the golden sopes was something really different to present to guests, and they all seemed to enjoy it.

Lime is one of my favorite flavors in the world, and you need a lot of them for a fiesta (I bought 20 and still had to get more!). It is no wonder why I love ceviche—it is fresh fish marinated in fresh lime juice. In Rick’s recipe for Shrimp Ceviche Cocktail he creates a sauce made from hot sauce and ketchup, in addition to the lime juice. When those flavors marry with the shrimp, cilantro, crunchy onions, cucumber, and jicama, it is amazing. The shrimp ceviche was by far my personal favorite of the fiesta, and a real hit with my guests as well. It is an absolute must-try. Thank you Rick Bayless!

Crispy Potato Sopes (Masa Boats) with Salsa, Goat Cheese and Herb Salad
Rick Bayless, Mexico One Plate at a Time 

Yield: 18 sopes/ 8-9 as a pass-around nibble

- 2 medium (about 8 ounces) baking potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 8 ounces (1 cup) fresh smooth-ground corn masa for tortillas OR 1 cup powdered masa harina mixed with ½ cup plus 2 Tbs warm water.
- Salt
- Vegetable oil to a depth of 1/2" for frying
- About 1 ½ tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
- ¾ cup salsa
- 2 generous cups loosely packed torn herb leaves (watercress, arugula, mizuna, basil)
- About ½ cup crumbled goat cheese

• The dough for the Sopes: In a medium pan, boil the potatoes in salted water to cover until thoroughly tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and cool. Push the potatoes through a ricer or medium-mesh strainer into a bowl. Scrape the potatoes into a measuring cup. Discard about 1 cup of the potatoes, return 1 cup to the bowl and knead in the masa (fresh or reconstituted) and ¾ teaspoon salt. The dough should be the consistency of soft cookie dough.
• Forming and baking the sopes: Heat a well-seasoned or nonstick griddle or heavy skillet over medium. Divide the dough into 18 portions, roll into balls and cover with plastic to keep them from drying out. One by one, form the fat little tortillas that will become the sopes: cut two squares of plastic (to be on the safe side, cut them from a food storage bag, the thicker plastic works better). With your hands, gently flatten a ball of dough between the sheets of plastic to about 2 ½ inches in diameter (it should be about 1/4” thick). Peel off the top sheet of plastic. Use your thumb and index finger to push up the dough into a border about ½” high around the edge to form the sope, the little boat. Flip the sope—uncovered side down—onto the fingers of one hand, then gently peel off the second piece of plastic. Now, flip the sope over onto the griddle or skillet, flat side down. After about a minute, when the sope has loosened itself from the cooking surface, remove it from the griddle. This cooking is just to set the bottom surface, not to cook the masa all the way through. While the first sope is cooking, continue shaping and adding others to the griddle or skillet. After cooking, to keep them from puffing oddly during frying, prick the bottoms of each one with a fork, being careful not to go all the way through. Cool, then cover the sopes with plastic to keep them from drying out.
• Finishing the sopes: In a deep heavy medium skillet or saucepan, heat ½” of oil to 350 degrees (if you do not have a thermometer you can judge the temperature by dipping the side of a sope in the oil—if it sizzles vigorously, it’s ready). Stir in the balsamic vinegar (if using) into the salsa and set out the herbs and crumbled cheese. A few at a time, fry the sopes until they are a rich golden brown, about a minute. Drain them upside down on paper towels, then keep them warm in the oven. When all the sopes are done, arrange them on a serving platter. Spoon about ½ Tbs of salsa onto each one, top with herbs and sprinkle generously with cheese.

Salsa Roja: Red Chile-Tomatillo Salsa
Rick Bayless, Mexico One Plate at a Time

Yield: about 1 ¾ cups
- ½ ounce small hot dried chiles, stemmed
- 6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1 pound (10-12 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
- Salt
- Sugar, about ½ tsp (optional)

• In an ungreased skillet over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring for a minute until they are very aromatic (some will have slightly darkened spots on them). Transfer to a bowl, cover with hot water and rehydrate for 30 minutes. In the same skillet, roast the garlic, turning regularly, until soft and blotchy-dark in some places, about 15 minutes. Cool and slip off the papery skin. Roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes on each side. Cool, then transfer the contents of the baking sheet (including any juices) to a blender or food processor.
• Drain the chiles and add to the tomatillos along with the garlic. Puree, then scrape into a serving dish. Stir in enough water to give a spoonable consistency, usually about ¼ cup. Season with salt, usually 1 tsp, and the optional sugar. Refrigerated, the salsa keeps for several days.

Shrimp Ceviche Cocktail
Rick Bayless, Mexico One Plate at a Time 

Yield: 3 cups/serves 6 as an appetizer
- ½ cup plus 2 Tbs fresh lime juice
- 1 generous pound unpeeled, smallish shrimp
- ½ medium white onion, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
- ½ cup ketchup
- 1-2 Tbs vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
- About 2 Tbs olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
- 1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or ½ cup of each)
- 1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed
- Salt
- Several lime slices for garnish
- Tostadas or tortilla chips for serving

• To cook the shrimp, bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 Tbs of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Peel and devein shrimp. Toss the shrimp with remaining ½ cup lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.
• In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jicama and avocado. Taste and season with salt. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.
• Serving: spoon ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.


Adelina said...

I do love Rick Bayless! I love your photographs. Everything you made looks so flavorful!

Lazaro Cooks! said...

Great job with this post. Lovely photos of your creations.

As some one who just posted a ceviche, Bayless's recipe is interesting I must say.

Be well

Evan @swEEts said...

If this doesn't scream fiesta then I don't know what does! Everything looks so fresh and delicious!

Rick said...

Not usually a big fan of Rick Bayless, I do like his name, but these look good! He was just kinda mean on Top Chef Masters. He needs to calm down.

Marisa said...

Thanks everyone! I appreciate all of your comments!

Rick, I have never seen Rick Bayless of Top Chef Masters. I can't believe he was mean!? lol I wouldn't have expected that.

christine said...

I love love love sopes! I found a recipe for them several months ago and have made them multiple times. My boyfriend calls them 'corn howdies' (he's a weirdo).