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Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine Hardcover – October 21, 1996
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Not since his first book, Authentic Mexican, has there been such an accessible opportunity to learn about real Mexican cooking. Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen offers translations of authentic Mexican dishes that preserve their authenticity. The book opens with 14 salsas, sauces, and seasonings that Bayless calls "cornerstones of Mexican dishes." Other than some chile peppers essential to certain dishes, most ingredients are found in any supermarket. For any less common ingredients, a mail-order source or an easy substitution is provided. This brilliant book is engaging, informative, and inspiring.
From Publishers Weekly
This definitive collection from Chicago chef and James Beard Award winner Bayless, in collaboration with his wife (and fellow restaurateur) and food journalist Brownson, proves comprehensively that the best Mexican food requires?and amply rewards?dedication and, often, time. Bayless begins with 15 Essential Recipes for salsas and sauces that work as "building blocks." Substitutions are suggested for uncommon ingredients, and excellent descriptions identify fresh and dried peppers. Throughout the text, sidebars inform about such items as tortilla presses, cactus paddles, pumpkin seeds and the delicacy huitlacoche (black corn fungus). Bayless explains fat's importance in the Mexican diet and tells how to make good lard at home. The chapter on salads includes two versions of guacamole, one given a fresh twist with roasted tomatillos; the chapter on soups offers Chilied Tortilla Soup with Shredded Chard and Oaxacan Black Bean Soup. An array of authentic Mexican fare is explored in "Tacos, Enchiladas and Other Casual Fare" (Simple Red Mole Enchiladas with Shredded Chicken) and "Vegetable, Bean, Rice and Egg Dishes" (e.g, Green Poblano Rice). "Fiesta Food" includes recipes for moles and tamales. Gringo cooks can relax with simpler main dishes?Red Chile-Braised Chicken wreathed in ancho and garlic sauce, smoky Chipotle Shrimp or zesty Chile-Glazed Country Ribs. Desserts are as delectable as Modern Mexican Chocolate Flan and as unusual as Crunchy Amaranth Tart and Creamy Lime Pie. Mail-order sources and a bibliography are included. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The primary point of view which distinguishes this book from both his earlier `Authentic Mexican' book and his later PBS tie-in, `Mexico, One Plate at a Time' is that it deconstructs major aspects of Mexican dishes by breaking them down into `Essential' recipes and recipes which use these essential preparations as an ingredient.
This has a lot in common with Ming Tsai's technique in his latest book, `Simply Ming', with the difference that while many of Ming Tsai's preparations were of his own devising, Senor Bayless is presenting us with the fact that the Mexican cuisine by its very nature, lends itself to this `modularization'.
Almost all of the essential recipes are sauces and salsas. As Rick explains, the notion of a salsa is much broader to the Mexican mind than it may be to us gringos looking at the notion from the outside. The essential recipes are:
Simmered Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce
Roasted Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa from the Stone Mortar
Chopped Tomato-Serrano Salsa
Chopped Tomato-Habanero Salsa
Simmered Tomato-Habanero Salsa
Quick Cooked Tomato-Chipotle Sauce
Simmered Tomatillo-Serrano Sauce
Roasted Tomatillo-Serrano Salsa
Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa
Sweet and Spicy Ancho Seasoning Paste
Sweet and Smoky Chipotle Seasoning Salsa
Bold Pasilla Seasoning Paste
Simmered Guajillo Sauce
Roasted Poblano Rajas with Seared White Onions and Herbs
Garlicky Achiote Seasoning Paste
I reproduced all these titles here to give you the best possible sense of what is at the heart of this book. Like the Italian cuisine and its preserved meats, cheeses, pasta and vinegars, the great variety of Mexican cooking is based on a few essential ingredients and the most important ingredient family, the dried chile and corn flour, came about, like Italy's meats and cheeses, from the need to preserve important ingredients from spoilage.
If this book were nothing more than these recipes plus the dishes which can be built from them, it would be a great book of recipes, but not quite the `IACP Cookbook of the Year' winner from the Julia Child Cookbook Awards. Each recipe is presented with a variety of different methods, mostly based on alternatives between using the Mocajete (volcanic stone mortar), using the food processor, or using the blender. I give enormous credit to Bayless for not encouraging us to immediately going out and ordering ourselves a Mocajete since they are both rather expensive and (authentic versions are) difficult to find. While I am something of an atavistic cook, I may have been inclined to search one out anyway, but Bayless confession that the modern appliances are quite satisfactory in most applications leaves me satisfied with the equipment I already have.
In addition to the richly detailed and annotated recipes, there are terrific sidebars on ingredients and methods. This is the first place I have read that there is an important difference in taste between the yellow and the white onion, and that the white onion is preferred for Mexican dishes, unless otherwise specified. Senor Bayless also makes it clear that the Habanero and the Scotch Bonnet are two different plants, and identifies those features that distinguish one from the other. Note that the level of heat is NOT one of the things that separate the two fruits.
The remainder of the recipes fall into all the usual categories, with a few Mexican specialities. These are:
Salads and Other Starters
Light and Hearty Soups
Tacos, Enchiladas, and other Casual Fare
Vegetable, Bean, Rice, and Egg Dishes
Classic Fiesta Food
Wine and Margaritas
As egg dishes are one of my favorite criteria for judging a cookbook, I looked at these more carefully than the others and found more than just your usual omelets, scrambles, and fried eggs with Mexican sauces and Fritos. Mr. Bayless' version of Huevos a la Oaxaquena gives us an egg cooking method which I have not seen in any French cookbook, although the result is not too different from scrambled eggs cooked hard rather than the French preferred moist result.
One section that caught my eye was the recipes for moles (in Classic Fiesta Food). The first two recipes required 28 and 27 different ingredients respectively and the procedures for both took three pages of text. Fortunately, aside from the stock, none of the ingredients required a lot of additional preparation, but, I can easily see why moles are relegated to recipes for special occasions.
I wish I could say that Mr. Bayless' books, especially this award winning volume, were the best sources for Mexican recipes, but he has strong competition from Ms. Diana Kennedy. I have reviewed several of her books, and I suspect that if you simply want good Mexican recipes, Ms. Kennedy may have the edge, but go with Mr. Bayless if you have an interest in what it is that makes the Mexican cuisine tick.
You may have noticed Mr. Bayless little trade paperback on Salsas, which have a strong resemblance to some of the material in this book. Some reviewers believe the salsa book is lifted from this volume. This is not true. The approach is the same in both books, but the names of the salsa recipes in the two books do not exactly coincide. And, the salsa book has the added feature of giving the same recipe in several different sizes, which is simply great for entertaining and a real Mexican food junkie.
This may be the best of Mr. Bayless books to get first. His writing is better than in `Authentic Mexican' and he covers more dishes than in `One Dish at a Time'.
Easily one of my favorite cook books period.
I have tried a number of the recipes already and each one has turned out incredibly good, with rich flavors that don't just rely on heat. Indeed, my partner usually makes a face if I say I'm cooking Mexican because he doesn't do well with "spicy food" - but he's given me raves already on the pork carnitas, fish soup, and various salsas and guacamoles I've made for him so far.
I will say that many of the recipes in this book do take time to prepare, from grinding and making spice pastes to slowly simmering soups and braising meat. But the rich flavors that result are well worth the time, and I feel like I am at least really beginning to learn Mexican cooking like never before.
I also am eager now to get the rest of Rick Bayless's cookbooks if they are anywhere near as good as this one!