Monday, 7 April 2014

Going Mexican

I haven't harvested anything significant from my garden this past week, so I'm not entering the Harvest Monday forum this time, and I want instead to describe the meal I cooked on Saturday evening.

Regular readers of my blog know that we eat a very varied diet, with meals from any number of different cuisines. This time when it was my turn to cook I decided to do a Mexican-style meal. I say "Mexican-style", because it's probably not very authentic, and the purists would probably dismiss it, but to me it is near enough Mexican to qualify!

Spicy Pulled Pork with corn tortillas

My meal was this:
Spicy slow-cooked pork with corn tortillas, guacamole, tomato and chilli salsa, shredded lettuce, and spring onions.

It starts with a piece of meat. I bought a 685g pork shoulder roasting joint, complete with skin for crackling. At £2.73 I thought this was excellent value. The first step was to marinate the meat in a spicy rub. It doesn't look very pretty in the photo, but just imagine what is smelled like. For the marinade I used crushed Garlic, grated fresh Ginger, Chilli flakes, Chipotle powder, Fennel seeds, Ground cloves, Ground Allspice, Ground Cinnamon, and some All Purpose Seasoning, and I moistened the mixture with a little vegetable oil so that it would stick to the meat.

Meat marinating

After the meat had had about an hour or so in the marinade, I softened some onions in a big pan, put the meat on top and added about a litre of beef stock, along with all the marinade. Then it went into the oven with the lid on for four hours on a low heat. I checked it once or twice, turning the meat over and basting it with the liquid, but not adding any more water or stock. Over the four hours cooking time the meat became very tender and the "gravy" reduced to a sticky sauce. It is important not to let the dish dry out!

Meat before cooking

The final part of the process with the meat was to remove and discard the skin (shame about the absence of crackling, eh?) and then shred the pork into small pieces, using two forks. I then mixed it thoroughly into the remaining sauce and returned it to the oven to keep warm.

Earlier I had made the tomato and chilli salsa, using an appropriate receptacle for it:

Isn't that a fun dish? The salsa inside was made with chopped tomatoes (seeds removed), finely chopped yellow "Aji Limon" chilli (seeds also removed) and loads of Parsley. To be authentic, I know I should have used Coriander, but that makes me ill, so Parsley it had to be. The garnish on top is actually a couple of Leaf Celery leaves - which conveniently look very like Coriander.

Tomato, Chilli and Parsley salsa

I also prepared some shredded crunchy Romaine lettuce and some chopped spring onions, but they are not particularly photogenic so no photos of them! Shortly before serving time I made some guacamole. Mine was made simply with avocado, lots of lime juice and a small amount of salt, all zuzzed up in the food-processor. I served it in an authentically-Mexican hand-made dish, which we bought some years ago on the day we explored the Mayan ruins at Tulum. This is very much the sort of souvenir we buy when on holiday, because using it really does help us to remember the good times we had all those years ago.


Then finally the "piece de resistance" - the tortillas. I don't have much experience of making these, but I'm a quick learner with this type of thing. [Note to self: practice makes perfect. Make them more often!]. I used the tortilla-press that we bought some years ago (in Vancouver, of all places!):

Authentic Mexican tortilla-press made by "Estrella"

After some experimatation I have decided that (in the absence of authentic Masa), the best sort of dough for making tortillas is made with a 50:50 mix of fine polenta (cornmeal) and ordinary plain flour, moistened to the right texture with water. The technique is then to form the dough into small balls (perhaps a bit smaller than a golf ball) and squash them flat in the tortilla-press, between two plastic bags. I found the most difficult part of the proceedings was to persuade the dough not to stick to the plastic bags. I tried greasing them with a squirt of PAM non-stick cooking spray, but got better results with a dusting of flour.

Then I cooked the tortillas on the thing we call a "Tava" (this is the name used in India. The Mexicans would call it a "Comal".) Basically it is a heavy disc of cast iron that is laid directly on top of a gas ring. It gets very hot, and maintains a very even heat. A tortilla cooks on one in about a minute. Mid-way through cooking you flip the tortilla over and cook the other side - aiming to achieve a nice "blistered" effect.

Tortilla cooking on the Tava
I cooked about a dozen of these tortillas, keeping them warm in a dish covered with a tea-towel, in a very low oven. This is necessary because it is only practical to cook one tortilla at a time!

Anyway, at this point the various elements of the meal were all ready, and it was just a case of assembling them all. We ate our meal from trays, in front of the TV. I served the pork and some tortillas on a dinner-plate with a selection of the other items in a bowl alongside, which allowed us to assemble the filled tortillas as desired.

The full meal

I was pleased with the result. The pork was very tender indeed. It had a warm but not searingly-hot chilli tingle and a deep mellow flavour from all the spices. The tortillas came out well too. They had a firmer texture than commerical ones, which I often find to be unappetisingly flaccid, and the polenta gave them a good flavour too. The sign of success here was the fact that none of the tortillas got thrown away. Sometimes when you're making pancakes the first one doesn't turn out right - possibly because the pan is not really hot enough - and I had half expected this to happen with my tortillas. But No, they were all fine, and we ate the lot!


  1. Look so yummy! I don't eat pork, maybe I will use chicken. Thanks for sharing

  2. You really are Mr Gadget aren't you? The pork looks good enough to eat!

  3. Oh that is a fun chilli dish for the salsa (I am coveting it). I totally admire you for making your own tortilla - I've never attempted ityet. Good tip for 50:50 ratio as its hard and expensive to get hold of masa harina in the U.K. I have a tava and a Welsh griddle (for Welsh cakes), so who knows may give it a try one of these days, but I tend to cheat and buy supermarket ones. I'll be making some Mex inspired dishes at the w/e for my stall, namely Tamale Pies!

  4. I don't know anyone with as many kitchen gadgets as you have, you must have lots of kitchen cupboards. I'm surprised you don't use a slow cooker though, in many of your recipes you say that you've cooked the meat slowly for a number of hours and a slow cooker would be perfect for things which require a long cooking time. I love your chilli dish, perfect for a recipe like this.

    1. Jo, we've had a bit of bad luck with slow cookers. After having an old workhorse of one that lasted us for many years until the crock broke and we had to replace it. We've had three different ones sine then and had problems with them all. The current one tends to get far too hot in some places and not warm enough in others, so things are both burnt and undercooked at the same time. I had a bad experience slow cooking pork in it a couple of weeks ago and Mark didn't want to repeat my problem!

    2. Ahhh, I did wonder why, with all your gadgets, you didn't use a slow cooker. Such a shame you're having problems with them but it's definitely no good if the heat isn't distributed properly.

    3. The old slow cooker we owned had a ceramic bowl (as in "crock-pot"), whereas new ones mostly seem to have metal bowls, which are evidently not so good. I also think that it is not as easy to adjust the consistency of a sauce in a slow-cooker.

    4. I've got a Morphy Richards and it has a crock pot, but I've had it a few years. I thought they all had crock pots, I didn't know that some had metal bowls now. You know I'm not an adventurous cook as my family are very plain eaters, but I don't have any problem with the sauces or gravy I make in the slow cooker. It may be different for you with your wonderful concoctions.

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  6. Yum. I keep thinking of getting a tortilla press. My mom had one and made tortillas a lot (with masa). Homemade ones are so much better than the premade ones at the store.

  7. Wow, that looks absolutely delicious!
    ...And I like your chilli blog header!

  8. Dinner looks delicious! I also love your colourful plates and bowls. Your tortilla press reminded me of our roti maker. Now I'll be on the look out for a bowl shaped like a chilli.:)

  9. This looks great Mark. Tacos are one of my favourite meals, but I enjoy mine with lots of cilantro.
    I also love the chili bowl, great for salsa.


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