I go deep-sea fishing in Key West just about every year and that’s where we first discovered one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth… the Cuban Sandwich. Since the 1800’s, there were a great many Cuban workers in Key West in the cigar factories, and this was their favorite go-to lunch. And since Cuba is only about ninety miles away, families sailed back and forth with ease to Kew West for more than a hundred years. Most folks in Key West claim the Cuban sandwich originated right there, although the folks in Tampa and Miami would probably beg to differ. But one thing is for sure… I often heard an old expression… “the Cuban sandwich was born in Cuba and educated in Key West”.
This is an authentic fiesta from central Mexico, it is not Tex/Mex in origin. This deceptively common meal takes its inspiration from the varied dried chilies, spices, fresh vegetables, jungle fowl and wild pig (peccary) perfected by the Aztec Empire. The spices they treasured are actually closer to the exotic and aromatic spices of India than the flavors from the beef culture of West Texas. Coriander, allspice (the taste of cloves), oregano, anise, cinnamon bark, wild onions and garlic vine were all available to the Aztec people, and they cooked over a smoldering fire, which made their chili perfectly smoky as well.
This feast is a charred meat umami bomb straight out of West Texas, originally made in the 1800’s with beef strip steaks… in fact sometimes cowboys were paid in meat and not money. Those were tough times, and it was a harsh rugged job. So if you want to cowboy up, or just enjoy a real fiesta, this is the real deal. This time we switched it up and used seared chicken! You can also use shrimp! Serve with tons of salsa, sour cream, cilantro, guacamole, hot sauce and warm tortillas. And several ice cold beers. Enjoy!
I have always been fascinated by the Basque people, not just for their unique soulful cuisine, but also for the fact that no one really knows for sure where they come from or even where their language originates. Whenever folks go looking for the Basque origins, it turns out they were right there in their Basque Country homeland in the Pyrenees mountains all along, bordering both Spain and France, long before the French or the Spanish even existed.
This meal is real soul food from the heart of central Mexico and very different from the familiar restaurant style Tex/Mex cooking. Rebekah and I have been making this little feast for at least twenty five years… I think a good portion of our four kids’ DNA is made up of this family favorite. We always make two or three casseroles at once, and it makes endless lunches and dinners, and if frozen in the glass casserole dish, is an easy dinner for four any time you need it. It is hearty, healthy, spicy, addictive and deeply satisfying, a comfort food that is a real protein bomb… in which the flavors are both separate and yet married in a magical way.
This deceptively simple South Central Mexican feast gets its intense flavors from the reducing of tomatillo and green chilis, and the patina that is formed by simmering chicken with this reduction sauce in a cast iron pan. We find tomatillo sauces very seductive, smoky and exotic, and they penetrate the chicken in a nearly magical way.
The impression most Americans have of Mexican cuisine comes from the innumerable restaurants that serve the ubiquitous food often referred to as Tex/Mex, popularized from along the borders of Texas and Arizona… hearty and filling fast food like refried beans, tacos, burritos, and the melted cheese-smothering enchiladas. But a long ways from this food in both style and miles are regions in Mexico where the cuisine is light and elegant, haunting and sophisticated, with vivid fresh flavors in salsas with aromatic herbs and spices. There is still a focus on chilies, but there are at least fifteen to choose from, all subtly different from each other, from the fresh chilies like habaneros, serranos, and poblanos and the game changing smoked and dried jalapeños called Chipotle, to the aromatic and haunting dried chiles like ancho (dried poblano), guajillo and negro. There are restaurants in Mexico City that rival those in LA or New York, but for me, the epicenter of this cuisine is the region of Yucatan and the port city of Veracruz. I find this cuisine to be exuberant and startling, like a new found love.