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Mexican Cooking Tips (3 of 6)

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Category: Cheese, Mexican

 Ingredients List

  • Dictionary of MEXICAN Cookin
  • (This is part 3 of 6)


CHILI SAFETY: The flesh, rips and seeds of chilies are rich in irritating
burning oils. When preparing chilies, always wash your hands and the
utensils in soapy water. Be especially careful not to rub your faceeyes
in particularuntil the oils have been thoroughly washed away. When
processing chilies in a blender or food processor, avert your face as even
the fumes are burning. Some cooks who work with chilies for any extended
length of time, wear plastic gloves. There is a higher concentration of
capsaicin in the ribs of chilies; remove them for a milder chili.
ROASTING CHILIES: Recipes often call for chilies to be roasted. This
enhances the flavor and makes them a snap to peel. Roasted chilies may be
frozen before peeling, a convenience if you roast a big batch at once; wrap
them airtight in plastic wrap.
BROILER METHOD: Set oven control to broil. Arrange whole chilies with
their top surfaces about 5 inches from the heat. (Some people cut a small
slit in the shoulder of each chili, to prevent it from bursting.) Broil,
turning occasionally, until the skin is blistered and evenly browned (NOT
burned). Remove chilies to a plastic bag and close tightly; let chilies sit
for 20 minutes, then peel. Anaheim and poblano chilies will roast in 12 to
17 minutes; jalapeno and serrano chilies in about 5 minutes.
GAS STOVE TOP METHOD: Spear a whole chili on a long handled metal fork
and hold it about 5 inches from the flame. Turn the chili so that it
roasts evenly. Place roasted chilies in a plastic bag and close tightly;
let chilies sit for 20 minutes, then peel. The disadvantage of this method
is of course that you can't roast a number of chilies at once.
ELECTRIC STOVE TOP METHOD: This involves a little ingenuity on the
part of the cook. Arrange a sturdy heatproof metal rack (such as a cake
rack) so that the grill sits about 4 to 5 inches above the electric burner.
Place whole chilies on the rack over high heat. Turn the chilies on the
rack so that they roast evenly.
Remove chilies to a plastic bag and close tightly; let chilies sit for
20 minutes and then peel.
CHILI POWDER: This is a mixture of ground dried red chilies blended with
other spices and herbs. It is said to have been invented by Willie
Gebhardt, a Texan in 1892. Most brands include cumin and oregano. Often
chili powder formulas contain paprika, coriander and salt. Chili powder is
not to be confused with ground red chilies.
CHOCOLATE: The Aztecs are credited with the discovery of chocolate.
It was probably first used to flavor a bitter drink favored by their
mystics. Another Mexican invention, the molinillo, is a wooden whisk used
to whip hot chocolate. The handle is rolled between the palms of the hands,
whipping the mixture until it is frothy. Today, block Mexican chocolate
frequently contains cinnamon, vanilla, clove and ground almonds.
CHORIZO: This spicy smoked pork (or pork and beef) sausage is available
both in links and in bulk.
CILANTRO (Mexican Parsley, Chinese Parsley, fresh Coriander): This herb
bears a resemblance to flat leaf parsley, but the flavor is entirely
different: strong, fresh, acid. Cilantro is perishable; store it in the
refrigerator with the stems in water and plastic loosely covering the leafy
CINNAMON: This is truly a spice of Mexican cuisine, used in dishes sweet
and savory. It is available ground as a powder or in tightly rolled dry
quills. Sometimes the bark of the cassia tree is sold as cinnamon; the
flavor is similar but neither as true nor as intense. Look for authentic
CORIANDER: This spice is the seed of the plant that gives us cilantro. It
has a dusky flavor that is often associated with Eastern cooking. It may
be purchased ground or as whole dried seeds.
CORN HUSKS: Dried corn husks, softened by soaking, are used to wrap food
before it is cooked. They make a sort of natural jacket that holds a
mixture together as it steams. Remove any silk clinging to the dried husk
before using. Several small corn husks may be overlapped for a larger
wrapping as for a tamale.
CORNMEAL: Dried corn is of course the staple of southwestern larders.
When cornmeal is called for, use yellow or white, coarsely or finely
CUMIN: This is the powerful, sometimes dominating spice so often used in
traditional southwest cooking. Recipes may call for whole cumin seed or
ground cumin.
DUCK: This bird is considered "game" less and less, perhaps because it is
widely available, frozen, in supermarkets. Wild duck, indeed, tastes gamy,
and in fact the flesh of water fowl may take on a distinctly fishy taint.
Commercially bred ducks, though, are well fed and succulent.
FRIJOLE: Spanish for BEAN. See Beans.
GAME: Americans tend to consider the following animals game: Buffalo,
Duck, Goose, Pheasant, Quail, Rabbit, and Venison. Generally speaking,
farm-raised game animals haven't had to scratch for a living and so is
meatier and has a flavor somewhat less "gamy". It is traditional to serve
any game with foods upon which it feeds. For example, serve game birds with
berry sauces and wild rice.
GROUND RED CHILIES: This is pure chili powder from finely ground dried
red chilies. It is not blended chili powder.

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