As my hordes of regular readers already know, our priest is teaching me to cook like a native Mexican (when he has the time). This, then, is the first in what I hope to be occasional posts of traditional Mexican recipes as taught by Padre.
As a background to how he came to be such a good cook, he told us that his mother taught him to cook when he was still a boy. He had a younger brother who had meningitis and epilepsy (he eventually died young), and whenever the brother was in the hospital Padre's mother had to stay there with him. Here in Mexico (as in many other countries) family members are expected to stay with a hospitalized person to help in their care. As the oldest child in the family, Padre had the responsibility of feeding his younger siblings during those times when his mother was gone, and he came to love cooking, which is his favorite thing to do on his day off each week.
This first recipe is a simple salsa, mixed in with pork rinds (chicharrones) to make a main dish. The salsa needn't be used with chicharrones, but I had never heard of cooking with them before so Padre wanted to show me how it's done.
SALSA CON CHICHARRONES
8 tomatillos OR 5 roma tomatoes (fresh)
5 dried guajillo chiles (can be found in the Mexican section of most supermarkets, with the spices)
2-4 piquin chiles (these are a bit harder to find, and they're also much hotter than the guajillos)
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
3 cups of chicharrones (pork rinds)
1/2 large onion
Using a griddle or large shallow pan, and without adding any oil, heat the chiles and tomatillos (or tomatoes). The heat should be on medium-high; you don't want everything to get blackened. The point of heating the salsa ingredients is to intensify the flavor. The chiles will only take a couple of minutes to darken; take them out of the pan and set them aside. The tomatillos (or tomatoes, whichever you use) will take longer; you want the skins to become somewhat translucent, but they won't be actually cooked to the point of softness:
The small red thing in the pan is the chile piquin - you can see that it's much smaller than the guajillos. Padre used 4 of these, and the Pirate and I think that 2 would be our ideal - piquant without a lingering heat.
While the tomatillos are still getting done, put the chicharrones in a pan or pot with high sides, and NO OIL, and put over medium heat, stirring regularly. This step can be skipped, but the flavor will not be as strong. The color of the chicharrones will darken somewhat. DON'T allow them to burn.
Slice the onion and add to the chicharrones along with about 2 tbsp of oil. This step should be done after the chicharrones have turned golden. If you were to put the onion in earlier, the liquid that it makes would prevent the chicharrones from browning. Continue to cook the mixture, but turn the burner down a bit, since you'll need to give your attention to finishing the salsa.
Cut off the tops of the chiles and slice them down the middle; remove all the seeds. Set one of the guajillos aside for later. Put the other chiles in a blender with the browned tomatillos, the browned piquin chiles, and the garlic cloves. Add enough water (or broth if you have some) to liquify the mixture (about 1/3 of the way up the blender container). Blend until well liquified. Voila! Salsa! (yes, I know that's French, but I can't think of a Spanish word like that).
Pour the salsa over the chicharrone mixture and turn the heat to medium. Mix the salsa in well, and stir continually until the salsa has soaked into the chicharrones so their texture has become like soft meat (this will take 5 minutes or less). Take it off the stove. Take the guajillo that was set aside and crumble it over the chicharrones; mix it in thoroughly and serve.
As you can tell, traditional Mexican cooking is done "by feel", not "by the book". I hope that this example encourages you to try other ingredients when making salsa, or other types of meats or mixed things to mix the salsa in with. Buen provecho!