Ingredients of Mexican and Southwestern Cooking - 3
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 face--eyes in particular--until 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 tops.
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 cinnamon.
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 ground.
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.