Good Mexican food is still not that easy to come by in NYC. For years, I got around this sad culinary situation by working (and eating) in Texas as least once a year. Sadly, this summer marks two years without a trip to Texas, so it’s time to start cooking Mexican for myself again. On more than one occasion this summer, while working hard in sweltering heat here in New York, I have thought to myself, “If I am going to be this hot, and work this hard, I really feel that I should be in Texas with good Mexican food, a giant margarita and my Texas friends to look forward to at the end of the day.” I don’t need to be payed much. I will work for a Texas vacation that involves Benitos or Polvos. Just sayin’.
Okay, I just need to take a moment to say this…This month marks my 20th anniversary of life in New York. I do not think that I would have been able to stay here for as long as I have, if I did not have Texas friends in the city. I am not from Texas, but I have a surprising number of friends here who are from Texas or who spent time living in Texas (also people from Maine). These particular friends are a big part of what makes my life livable here. My Texas friends have barbecues in their backyard. My Texas friends go out dancing with me in my neighborhood on Jamaican Independence day. My Texas friends take care of my cats and plants when I am out of town. My Texas friends travel to the other side of the continent to my far away wedding and help me cook all the food. My Texas friends make art that rocks my world. My Texas friends meet me after work for drinks and girl talk. My Texas friends take me to the beach. My Texas friends like to eat. My Texas friends tease me. My Texas friends treat me like family. I heart Texas and all the beautiful loves who have come to me from that big state! You know who you are!
Okay back to my other big love…food.
I am trying to think of how I can encourage you to make this seasoning paste. I used to make it every summer, but for some reason in the last few years I have succumbed to laziness and have used canned chipotle en adobo in its place. Don’t get me wrong, canned chipotles en adobo are a thing of convenient beauty, but this seasoning paste is definitely worth the little bit of extra effort. It keeps for months in the fridge… but it won’t last that long, because you will want to put it in everything. It is the perfect complement to late summer and early autumn foods. Use it to improve barbecue sauce or glazes for meat and seafood. Add it to creamed spinach. Combine it with home-made mayonnaise and slather it on grilled corn with a sprinkling of queso fresco and lime juice. Throw a few spoonfuls into some black beans. Use it in a yam and swiss chard gratin. Use it to make a quick version of Silvi’s Chili Cream and Swiss Chard Soup. Use at the seasoning for steamed mussels. Make chipotle shrimp (recipe below). Treat yourself to chipotle cheese sandwiches with big slices of ripe tomato (that recipe is below too!)
This seasoning paste is from the amazing cookbook Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. If you are stuck in New York City and like Mexican food, buy this cookbook. More gushing about this cookbook can be found here. You can buy this cookbook here.
SWEET AND SMOKY CHIPOTLE SEASONING PASTE
- 1 and 1/4 cup water
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons molasses
- vegetable oil
- 4 ounces dried chipotle chilies, stemmed
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Combine the water and dark brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Put 1/4 inch of oil in your largest heavy bottomed skillet and heat it over medium flame until it is hot, but not smoking. Add as many chilies as you can fit in a single layer and stir for about 2 minutes or until they are spicy smelling. Sometimes they puff up like balloons! Scoop the toasted chilies out of the oil with a slotted spoon and drop them in the sugar-water. Repeat the process with any chilies that didn’t make it into the first batch.
- Pour off all but a thin layer of oil and return the pan to the heat. Fry the garlic cloves for about 4 minutes or until they are golden. Remove the garlic cloves and drop them into the chili, sugar-water mixture. Don’t wash the pan.
- Puree the chilies, sugar-water and garlic together in a blender or food processor until it is a smooth puree.
- Heat the pan again over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the puree all at once and scrape vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook until the mixture has the consistency of tomato paste (15-20 minutes). When it is done, it will be shiny and black.
- Store the paste in a glass jar in the fridge.
- 6 un-peeled garlic cloves
- 1 small onion, thickly sliced
- 6 ounces ripe tomato (1 medium or 3 plum)
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2-4 Tablespoons chipotle seasoning paste or finely chopped canned chipotle chilies
- salt to taste
- 2 pounds medium-large shrimp
- On a dry heavy skillet, roast the garlic cloves over medium heat. Turn them every once in a while. In about 15 minutes they will be soft. Let them cool and then peel them.
- If your skillet is large enough, you can sear your onion slices on each side for 5 minutes at the same time.
- Also at the same time, place the tomatoes under the broiler for 6 minutes on each side. Let them cool, then peel them and collect all of their juices.
- Puree all of the roasted ingredients along with the black pepper, cloves and water.
- Heat the oil in the large skillet over medium high flame. When the oil is very hot, add the puree all at once. Stir over high heat until the mixture darkens, then reduce the heat and cook for another 5 minutes or until the mixture is thick.
- Add the chipotle paste, 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting as you go, until it is as hot as you like. Season with salt to taste and remove from the heat.
- Shell the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Save the shells to make soup stock! If the shrimp have dark veins, run a sharp knife down their back and scrape the veins out.
- Bring the sauce back to medium high heat. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes. The shrimp should be just cooked through and coated with sauce. Adjust the seasoning and serve! They are also good the next day at room temperature. I like to eat them with corn tortillas and Jicama Pineapple Slaw.
CHIPOTLE CHEESE SPREAD
adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen
- 1/2 pound cream cheese
- 1/2 pound chevre goat cheese
- 3 chopped scallions
- 3 Tablespoons chipotle seasoning paste (or canned chipotle en adobo with a bit of sugar)
- a handful of minced cilantro
- the juice of 1 lime
Combine all of the ingredients and serve as a dip or spread. Spread it on toast with slices of tomato and a sprinkle of salt! So good.
That’s me in Texas, with the man who I am now married to…in a BIG longhorn mask and stilts!