By the Book: "Mexico: The Cookbook" by Margarita Corrillo Arronte
When we decided to do Mexican for this round of By the Book, I was more than a little excited. I am a recent transplant from Texas, and Mexican food is my love language. I have yet to sufficiently explore Cherokee Street, and I’ve been going through some serious withdrawals in a city where Taco Bell-branded items make up a significant portion of the “Mexican Cuisine” aisle in some grocery stores. No offense.
I snatched Mexico: The Cookbook up when we were divvying our choices. The publisher, Phaidon, primarily prints books on the visual arts, but has taken on systematic tomes for different national and regional cuisines. The author, Margarita Corrillo Arronte, has researched Mexican cuisine for more than 25 years, and the book itself covers over 650 recipes from every inch of the country.
The breadth of Mexico was impressive, but also a little overwhelming. Some recipes, like the one I chose, vary by literally one ingredient and the region of origin. I appreciate the commitment, but could also do with a little more guidance. I chose to cook the Mexican beef tenderloin because it sounded both challenging (I’m not a big meat-cooker) and reasonable (with no ingredients that would be super-difficult to find). I found it to be both. It’s not just a steak to grill, but it doesn’t take three days to make either. And, for the amount of effort, the payoff in flavor and richness is huge. This is serious Mexican comfort food: sliced thin, the tenderloin is fork-tender – I only ever want to cook beef with that cut and method ever again – and the ancho chile sauce is good enough to drink. With a subtle, smoky heat and enrapturing umami depth, it could be poured over anything and be 100 percent delicious, as far as I’m concerned. I forgot to serve peas with the dish, but sopped up that sauce with every ounce of the recommended mashed potatoes. I can’t wait to cook my way across the rest of Mexico.
Skill Level: Intermediate. The recipes are clear enough, but don’t hold your hand with precise descriptions of what to expect, so they require a bit of trust, as well as a sense of adventure if you’re not used to cooking this kind of food.
This book is for: Anyone interested in Mexico and Mexican cuisine.
Other recipes to try: Shrimp with cactus paddles and cilantro, pork in green sauce
The verdict: This was a close call. Mexico offered transporting, authentic food with a lot of payoff for the amount of effort required – which, we agreed, made us more likely to cook from this book again rather than Hartwood, whose recipes are so labor-intensive. However, in the end, Hartwood remained victorious due to the incredible complexity of flavor those difficult recipes produce.
Mexican Beef Tenderloin
1 ancho chile, dry-roasted
1 tomato, dry-roasted
1 clove garlic, dry-roasted
Pinch of oregano
4 Tbsp. corn oil
1 (2.5-lb/1.2-kg) beef
2 bay leaves
1 cup (9 fl oz./250 ml.) pulque or 1 cup of beer (9 fl oz./ 250 ml.) with 1 tablespoon tequila
Sea salt and pepper
• Put the chiles in a small bowl with enough hot water to cover it and soak for 15 minutes.
• Put the chile with the soaking liquid, tomato, garlic, clove and oregano into a food processor or blender and process until combined. Strain into a bowl.
• Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the beef and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Add the tomato and chile mixture and cook for an additional few minutes. Add the bay leaves and just enough water to moisten the pan if it starts to get dry. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the pulque, adjust the seasoning if necessary, reduce the heat, and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
• Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the beef to a work surface and let rest. Strain the sauce into a bowl and set aside.
• Cut the beef into slices and plate. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve with mashed potatoes and peas.
Reprinted with permission from Phaidon
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