So I am in Mexico at the moment, enjoying some sun and culture. Did you know the Mayans invented Bubblegum! Nor did I until yesterday, but as often happens synthetics and mass production take over and what was an organic by product of the Manilkara Chicle tree is now artificial, and full of all sorts of ‘stuff’.Having spent a few hours with the delightful Executive Chef/Tutor Karla Enciso, at the El Pueblito Cookery School at Mayakoba my senses have been kick started, I am now of the firm belief that Mexican food has been much maligned by mass production and marketing by multi-national brands, I am sure you know who I mean.
Being extremely fortunate to be awarded a ‘prize’ for hard graft again, I found myself the holder of a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Mexico, and this included some spare time to enjoy the resort we are staying at, in between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on the ‘Riviera Maya’.Mayakoba is a ‘complex’ with a number of hotels, a championship golf course, and a small ‘village’ where the cookery school resides. I had booked 3 hours of 1-2-1 cooking, just me and the lovely Karla.
On arrival a ‘station’ had been prepared for me with various ingredients, and a couple of ‘Molcajete’ which are rough stone pestle and mortar type implements. As I used them it struck me that they were much more effective than the version I had a home, and generally seen available in the U.K., the surface was much rougher due to the use of stone rather than a smoother marble like product.Karla has a couple of assistants that do a very fine job of supporting the session, washing and cleaning and putting together the ingredients for each of the dishes, after a quick cup of coffee which they also supplied on demand, we set to start the first dish, a Green Tomatillo Salsa.
Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a food processor, set it to maximum ‘whizz’ and pour out some green ‘Kermit sludge’ a few seconds later.
NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!
There IS a skill and element of precision to making Green Tomatillo Salsa properly, its takes time, and a great deal of precision. Yes, you DO whizz, but not after some careful attention to the process, but for that you are going to have to come to Mexico and learn for yourself. Oh, I should mention I personally paid for this course and received no discounts etc. so this is a honest view of what I experienced.Being a 1-2-1 session we were able to interact a lot and I was frequently asking questions and getting to the ‘why’s’ and ‘where’s’ of each dish which was very interesting.
One thing that really struck me was the detail around getting to the right taste which you cannot learn from a cookery book. Ingredients are different so one Tomatillo contains more or less water than the next, is riper or less ripe so the flavour can change significantly, this was the ‘magic’ of this session jointly debating more Salt, more Lime, more Chilli, lets add some Black Pepper and the result was really delicious.So next was a simple Molcajete Salsa, yeah right. You might recognise the next paragraphs context.
Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a pestle and mortar, smash them to bits and pour out some multi-coloured stuff a few seconds later.
NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!
This time we were going to ‘roast’ the ingredients within various seconds of their individual lives on this planet, why, because we were developing some serious intense smokey pungent flavours and this was the way it should be done.At this stage we are about half way through making the Molcajete Salsa, who’s name comes from the Mexican pestle and mortar I was going to use to complete the dish. More notes, another cup of coffee, further debate etc. As an aside, at the beginning of the session I was asked what music I liked and during our cooking we had RUSH, and Yes playing which being a couple of my favourite groups added to the atmosphere!This Salsa was a massive surprise, it had a deep intense flavour and was something I had never tasted before, when combined with the Guacamole we made next, on top of a thin Tortilla crisp, wow, awesome. I will be definitely making this when I get home.
Having made various important and tasty side dishes we set to work on the Tacos Dorades, and Sopes which involved more techniques for me to learn, which was great.The ‘Masa’ had already been prepared, a dough made from processed corn which is a staple of Mexico and used to make a variety of dishes including ‘Tamales’ which we had last night, 50m down in an amazing ‘cave experience! I will be publishing a separate post on the overall trip with an obvious food focus when I get back to the U.K. next week.If you remember that multi-national comment I made earlier, well I made (pressed) the fresh Masa into Tortillas, they then got a quick fry on both sides before being stuffed with Chicken boiled in Chicken Stock (adds more flavour and keeps the meat moist), and rolled. These are then fried again to crisp up, and topped with whatever you fancy, they were bl@@dy good! I went with the spicy and rich Molcajete Salsa on top of Lettuce and some Cream, and a little Mexican Cheese.Next was ‘Sopes’ these are like shallow cups made using a similar principle, but a bit different! You know where to come to learn how to make them. It was really good fun and having nibbled and munched through Tortillas and the numerous Salsa’s and Guacamole I was ready to sit down for a light lunch, and the Sopes do need eating as soon as possible after they are cooked so that was what we did.
You can see in the pictures above the process of layering re-fried Beans, Chicken, Lettuce etc. into the Masa cup and finishing with a Mexican Cheese called ‘Cotija’.
I have to say that the few hours with Karla went too quickly but I learnt absolutely loads and for the money it was well worth it.
If ever you find yourself anywhere near Mayakoba and fancy a go a authentic Mexican cooking the El Pueblito Cookery School comes highly recommended, the session is long enough to learn loads but to too long that your start to get distracted. Before joining you have a choice of a number of ‘menus’ to pick so there are lots of different techniques available to learn.
…………………………………Until next time………………………..L8ers……………………