Mexican Cooking Tips Straight from Marinitas
Marinitas chef Frank Villa gave away some tips of the trade and some of his secrets at a demonstration at Marinitas the other day. Here are his tips for cooking authentic Mexican cuisine and getting the most flavor out of your cooking.
Chiles are a staple in the Mexican kitchen, here is how Chef Villa picks a pepper.
A few favorites -
Chile de Arbol – an 8 out of 10 on the heat factor.
Chile Poblano – a mellow pepper with hardly any heat. A 5-6 out of 10 on the heat factor. Except, and this is an interesting factoid, for about one month a year, only in the hot months, this pepper turns hot. What makes a pepper turn hot? Weather and soil.
Ancho chile - An ancho chile is a dried poblano. You let the chile mature and then dry it. “It’s my favorite dried pepper to use” says Villa. “You can use it in sauce, stuff them with cheese, veggies, squash, sweet potato, whatever is in season.”
- With any chile you use try toasting it. It brings out the oils and pectin, which thickens sauce and brings out flavor.
- Fresh vs. Dried – With dried peppers the heat is on the inside, when cooking with fresh peppers, the heat is on the outside. So be careful and use gloves when handling peppers!
-When you shop for dried peppers, make sure that the pepper is still pliable, if it crumbles it is an old pepper and there is no flavor left in it.
Avocados are in season and they’re good for your brain, Chef Villa says, “Make some guacamole!)
-How to choose an avocado? Just give it a little squeeze. If it’s too soft then it’s bad. The problem is, they get over handled at our super markets. “Everyone is squeezing them so it’s hard to tell,” says Villa “What I do? I get them green and ripen them at home.”
-I shop for green avocados, stick them in a bag with whole bananas. The greener the banana the better because more gas will release which will ripen your avocados faster.
-How do you tell if it’s a good avocado. When you cut it, then you should be able to twist and it should come away from the pit nice and clean. Trick: Use the base of the knife to remove the pit, this way you will avoid cutting yourself.
- Warning: Once you cut the avocado, it’s done, that’s it. You can’t put it back together again to ripen more.
Myth debunked: There is no reason to put a pit in guacamole. It does not keep the guacamole from turning brown. If your avocado is good and ripe then there is enough oil and it wont oxidize and turn brown.
Storing avocados – leave them out in room temp, not in the fridge.
-Masa is the corn paste that you find in tamales. You can get masa in 2 different colors – yellow or purple.
-Masa is different than corn. To make masa you dry the corn for one year. Soak it in lye, boil it, the husk comes off, then the kernels are ground in a molino.
-You can get fine masa – masa fina, or you can get masa querada, which means broken masa. Masa querada is better for tamales.
Masa is made with pork fat.
Best Mexican groceries for finding masa:
“Make Tamales, be adventurous!” says Villa. “It doesn’t take that long.”
MOLE 101 -
The word Mole means chile with spices. So chile is the building block of all Mole.
Mole poblano has chocolate but it is a myth that all moles have chocolate. Actually only one does. There are many other kinds like green mole, dark brown, yellow. “There are endless amounts of mole,” says Villa. “Oaxaca alone has almost 30 different kinds of mole.”
The basic ingredient is any pepper, except green mole is made from tomatillos.
For mole you use a 4 and under pepper.
SIMPLE SYRUP 101 -
Use dark sugar, cane sugar, it will give you better flavor. 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and use a blond molasses for more flavor.
Shop for limes with smooth shiny skin. They will be riper and yield more juice.
How to de-gas your beans. Ad the epazote leaf which is a leafy aromatic plant.
Key to good beans. Put a good oil in your beans to get creamy beans. 1 and a half cups oil with onions. In his special beans, Villa uses, cinamon, cloves, bay leaf, all spice and black pepper. Let the sit over night in the fridge and eat them the next day.
“Anything that tastes good has fat”
The key to good cinamon – you crack it, it snaps. If it crumbles – it’s stale.