"There's much here for the summer cook," says food writer Bonny Wolf of Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday. This compendium of Mexican recipes earns a place in Wolf's in her roundup of summer cookbooks.
Grilled Red-Chile Steak with Sweet Plantains, Red Onion and Chipotle Salsa
(Carne Asada con Plátano Macho y Salsa de Chipotle)
Though most grilled steaks in Mexico get little more than a generous dusting of salt—maybe a little lime or garlic, too—my favorites are the steaks that combine the richness of ground ancho with the grill's seductive smokiness. Some may think that steak is too special for a weeknight dinner, but that doesn't have to be true if you grill a single beautifully seasoned steak, then carve off modest portions of thin slices that you "shingle" out for a nice (and generous) look. It's a technique almost every chef uses. Another chef's pointer: letting the grilled meat rest for 5 to 10 minutes on a cool part of the grill or in a low oven will give you the juiciest steak; the rest affords time for the meat juices to reabsorb, avoiding run-out on your cutting board.
For the Garlicky Ancho Chile Rub
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
1/3 cup ground ancho chile powder (available from national companies such as McCormick, Mexican groceries and internet sites)
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
A 1 1/4-pound flank steak (or an equivalent weight of strip steak, rib-eye, chuck steak or whatever else may be your favorite)
2 black-ripe plantains
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
About 1 cup Smoky Chipotle Salsa, for serving
Heat one side of a gas grill to medium-high. Or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the charcoal is covered with white ash but is still quite hot; bank the coals to one side.
Mix together the garlic, ancho powder, sugar, oregano, cumin, pepper and 5 teaspoons salt until thoroughly blended. Spread a heavy coating over the steak(s)—you'll need 1 to 2 tablespoons for a 1 1/4-pound flank steak. (Cover and refrigerate leftover rub for another steak.)
Cut the ends off both plantains, then split them lengthwise in half. Lightly oil both the cut surfaces of the plantain and the onion slices. Lay the plantain (cut side down) and the onion on the hot part of the grill and cook until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes; turn and brown the other side. Move the plantains and onion to the cooler part of the grill while you cook the steak(s).
Lay the steak(s) on the grill directly over the fire—I typically spray lean flank steak lightly with oil before grilling. When richly colored underneath (about 3 to 4 minutes), flip and cook on the other side until nearly as done as you like, about 2 or 3 minutes more for medium-rare steak. Move onto the cooler part of the grill and let coast to perfect doneness over the next several minutes.
Move the plantains, onions and steak to a cutting board. Slip the plantains from their skins, chop into 1/4-inch pieces and scoop into a bowl. Chop the onions to match and add to the plantains. Stir 3 tablespoons of the salsa into the plantain mixture. Taste and season with salt. Divide among four plates. Slice the steak and lay overlapping slices next to the plantain. Serve with the salsa.
Smoky Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos
(Salsa de Chipotle con Tomate Verde Asado)
I've been smitten with chipotle salsa ever since the first time I tasted it on a crusty sandwich (cemita) in a Pueblan market stall thirty years ago. It's three simple ingredients in perfect balance: the smoky spice of chipotle chiles, the lively sweet-edged tang of roasted tomatillo and the alluring complexity of roasted garlic. I like chipotle salsa spooned on practically everything except ice cream, though I'm particularly fond of it with grilled fish or chicken or beef or...here I go again.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium (about 8 ounces total) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in half
2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo (or more, if you like really spicy salsa)
Set a large (10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (if you don't have a non-stick skillet, lay in a piece of foil). Lay in the garlic and tomatillos (cut side down). When the tomatillos are well browned, 3 or 4 minutes, turn everything over and brown the other side. (The tomatillos should be completely soft.)
Scoop the garlic and tomatillos into a blender jar or food processor, along with the chiles and 1/4 cup water. Process to a coarse puree. Pour into a salsa dish and cool.
Thin with a little additional water if necessary to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon.
Seafood Salad Tacos with Tomato, Radish and Habanero
(Tacos de Mariscos a la Vinagreta)
After many years away from the twisting, jumbled market complex in downtown Mérida, Yucatán, I returned with one thing on my mind: seafood salad tacos. In the stifling heat that envelops the whole peninsula, a cool filling in a warm, just-made tortilla offers the refreshment of an oasis. Though practically any fish or shellfish can be given this a la vinagreta treatment, shrimp (purchased already cooked and peeled) is the easiest. In Mérida, they often leave out the chile and serve the tacos with bottled habanero hot sauce or the habanero version of our Roasted Fresh Chile Salsa. I think it's pretty good with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, even though tomatillos don't really play a role in Yucatecan cuisine.
1 to 1 1/4 pounds medium-small (40 to 60 per pound) shrimp, cooked, peeled and (if you wish) deveined OR 1 to 1 1/4 pounds mahimahi, halibut, bass, snapper or catfish fillets
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 small white onion, finely chopped
6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 fresh habanero (or jalapeño) chile, stemmed and finely chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup (loosely packed) chopped cilantro
12 warm corn tortillas, store-bought or homemade
If using shrimp, scoop them into a medium bowl. Or, for fish, bring about a quart of water to a boil in a medium (3- to 4-quart) saucepan and add 1 tablespoon salt. (If I have a small lime, I'll squeeze the juice into the water, even throw in the squeezed lime for more flavor.) Add the fish (it's easiest to manage if the fish is in 2 or 3 pieces). Let the water return to the boil, then turn down the heat to medium to medium-low and simmer gently 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the fish cool in the liquid while you prepare the remaining ingredients. When the fish is handleable, drain and coarsely shred it into a medium bowl.
Add the lime juice, onion, radishes, chile, tomatoes and cilantro to the bowl with the shrimp or fish. Stir, taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.
Serve with the warm tortillas for making soft tacos.
Adapted from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. Copyright © 2005, Rick Bayless. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton, Inc. All rights reserved.