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Oh Baby, I Was Bound For Mexico

May 5, 2011

First, I would like to offer thanks to the Residual Ninja for offering the soundtrack to today’s post. Mostly the song makes me want to drench myself in tequila. And although I have a sneaking suspicion that is not what this holiday is all about, it’s a start.

Obviously, my next stop is to pick up some tequila.

Then it’s back home for a full day in the kitchen. Because it’s cold out there today, and dammit, I still have some winter cooking left in me. Also, when you have kids, it really cuts into your going out on major drinking holidays. So all my festivities will happen within these four walls this evening.

But all is not lost, for a few simple reasons. I know my tequila cocktails will not be sullied by the dreaded sweet and sour mix. Should I make margaritas at home they will be a simple and perfect mixture of tequila, citrus and Cointreau. And while my food will be far from authentic, it will be replete with two of the principle flavors and aromas of a true Mexican kitchen: corn and beans.

I don’t even know what to call my bastardized dish.

It is not an enchilada casserole. It’s not a tamale pie. But it combines those two ideas into one easy, if time-intensive, dish. I made this over the winter for a potluck and got some pretty positive feedback. Yet, I’ve never found the time to post the recipe and technique.

First it starts with a fair amount of cornmeal mush. At least two cups of coarsely ground cornmeal and eight cups of liquid. Once it’s cooked in the pot, I divide the mixture into two different pans to cool. One large rectangular Pyrex dish, and one smaller square one. Ultimately the dish gets built in the larger pan, so it gets only a thin layer of mush on the bottom. The square pan gets filled to the top, and both are set aside to cool.

Then comes the enchilada sauce. This comes from Cook’s Illustrated, which means it’s both delicious and a pain in the ass. Randi agrees with me. What makes it even more infuriating is that the recipe calls for 16 ounces of tomato sauce, when all my cans come in 28-ounce units. So I scale the recipe up.

What I’ve come to learn is that this delicious sauce does not require a fastidious adherence to the precise measurements. Especially since it all gets strained in the end anyhow. The only thing that’s really critical to measure is the water, to make sure the sauce is the right texture.

So here’s the “quick” and sleazy way.

– In a deep saucepan heat a healthy dose of neutral oil (shy of 3T) on med-high heat
– Coarsely chop a large onion and fry it in the oil until soft
– Throw in 5 chopped garlic cloves and heat until fragrant
– Add the spices (5T chili powder, 1T coriander, 1T cumin, 1T sugar, scant 1t salt)
– Stir and cook the rawness out of the spices (about a minute, but don’t burn)
– Add 28 oz can of tomato sauce
– Add 10.5 oz of cold water and bring to a simmer

Generally I skip the chicken the recipe calls for and turn this into a very tasty vegetarian dish. But if you want the full meat scoop, you can always refer back to Randi’s write up of the actual recipe.

After several minutes of simmering, I strain the sauce through my finest strainer, and simmer the sauce further in some softened black beans. I make mine from dried beans, but you could use canned beans that have been rinsed.

Now it’s assembly time.

With a sharp knife, score the bottom cornmeal “crust” in the large rectangular pan to allow the sauce to permeate into it a bit. Dump in the bean and sauce mixture. Invert the smaller square dish of corn meal and cut into smaller pieces. Distribute these on top of the bean and sauce mixture. Top each of the cornmeal islands with cheese. Bake the whole thing in a hot oven until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubling.

I serve it with sour cream, pickled jalapenos, and Cholula hot sauce. Pulling this off in one day is a lot of work. What’s crazy is that this is my side cooking project for today. I’m also going to attempt a decidedly less Mexican pot roast, which will be for dinner on Friday. You know it’s always better on the second day.

But with enough tequila on hand to fortify me, I think it will work out just fine.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    May 5, 2011 10:56 am

    It’s a “polentada.”

  2. May 5, 2011 12:47 pm

    “This comes from Cook’s Illustrated, which means it’s both delicious and a pain in the ass.”

    Truer words were never said. :) Your casserole sounds really good, though.

    • Jenny on the Block permalink
      May 5, 2011 10:10 pm

      @KB — That’s exactly what I was going to say!

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