Taste of Mexico cooking demo showcases modern Mexican cuisine
VAIL CO, Colorado
Assembling a menu of foreign dishes can seem like a daunting task, fraught with hard-to-find ingredients and peppered with tildes, umlauts and accent marks.
But it doesn’t have to be a panic-inducing catastrophe.
The Sebastian Hotel in Vail hosted its inaugural Taste of Mexico celebration in conjunction with the Taste of Vail this past weekend, inviting guest chefs from Mexico and featuring wine dinners, seminars and cooking demos, all designed to showcase Mexican products and dishes and take the mystery – and fear – out of creating culinary masterpieces from south of the border.
Friday’s cooking demo, led by Chef Solange Molina, of Restaurante Manzanilla in Ensenada, Baja California, focused on seafood and a supporting cast of simple herbs and straightforward techniques.
Start with a piece of fresh, high-quality fish – tuna, sea bass, whatever strikes your fancy. A blender will do most of the work for this dish.
“This is the easy way to make ceviche,” Molina said, assembling citrus fruits and various herbs around the blender.
Along with fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juices and a bit of salt and olive oil, Molina added fistfuls of cilantro, basil, mint, parsley and epazote, a Mexican herb, to the blender.
“The more herbs you put in it, the more flavor you get,” Molina said. “Be careful with herbs that are more strong.”
Stronger herbs can overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish – in this case, tuna, Molina said. In Baja, she said it is common for chefs to put the fish through a grinder to make ceviche, but she prefers not to prepare the dish that way.
“I cut it into little square pieces, so you can taste the fish,” she said. “I like to feel that you are chewing on a big piece of fish.”
Once blended, Molina poured the ceviche marinade over the chopped tuna and allowed it to bathe for a bit before scooping it onto round, baked tostadas and serving it with mescal and Mexican beer.
Molina said that in Baja, oysters, clams and mussels are farmed sustainably, unlike other varieties of fish that aren’t native to the area and have to be transported long distances.
“Whenever I see salmon on the menu in a restaurant in Mexico, it makes me sad,” she said.
The mussels are prepared in a very Mexican way, Molina said, with tomatillos, chorizo, garlic and cilantro. First in the pot was the chorizo, which was browned.
Manzanilla serves “Mexican modern food,” Molina said, as she quartered a handful of tomatillos and added them to the pot, followed by the cilantro and garlic. “We create everything from scratch with the ingredients,” she said.
Once the other flavors had cooked and combined, Molina added the mussels and wine to steam them. She used white wine but said red wine or even beer would work, too.
“Just make sure that it’s not strong enough to take the flavor away, no?” she said of the wine. “Don’t get fancy with it. The fancy stuff – drink it.”
Wine is a big part of the culinary culture in Baja California, especially in the town of Ensenada, where Molina’s restaurant, Manzanilla, is located. When Molina first arrived in Ensenada, she cooked with a lot of wine from local winemakers.
“Wine is part of the whole community,” she said. “A table of four will drink four bottles of wine, and if you give them a bottle of Scotch, they will be there for two months.”
After shaking the pot a few times to help open the shells, the mussels were plated with bits of tomatillo. As the aspiring chefs in the room chased the meat out of the shells and into their stomachs, pursued by sips of mescal and tequila, Molina had one more bit of advice:
“If you start cooking, life will be better,” she said.
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