Milk Street Secrets of Oaxaca (Ep 321)

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Oaxacan Green Mole with Chicken

Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes | Servings: 4

When we think of mole, we most often think of mahogany-colored mole negro. But as we learned in Oaxaca, there is a wide variety of moles, each with a unique character. Mole verde—or green mole— traditionally is made with pork and gets its bright, fresh flavor from a blend of fresh chilies, tomatillos and herbs. For our version, we opted for quicker-cooking but equally tasty chicken thighs, and we sought out supermarket substitutes for hard-to-find epazote and hoja santa, two herbs that are standard ingredients in Mexico (we mimicked their flavors with mint and fennel seeds). Oaxacans thicken this stew-like soup with masa, the corn dough used to make tortillas and tamales. For ease, we opted to use what we were taught is the second best option: corn tortillas softened in liquid then blended until smooth.

Don’t brown the vegetables too darkly under the broiler. Light charring provides complexity, but too much will muddle the fresh herbal notes.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • Seven 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 medium tomatillos, husked and halved
  • 1 medium poblano chili (about 4 ounces), stemmed, seeded and quartered lengthwise
  • 1 small white onion, root end intact, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1⁄2 cup lightly packed fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 8 ounces small Yukon Gold potatoes (1 to 11⁄2 inches in diameter), halved
  • 6 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium yellow zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups)

INSTRUCTIONS

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a large pot over medium-high, combine the tortillas and broth, then bring to a boil. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tortillas (they will have softened) to a blender, add 1⁄4 cup water and blend until smooth, about 1 minute.

Pour the puree into the boiling broth and stir to combine; rinse out the blender and reserve. Add the chicken to the pot, cover and reduce to low. Cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer, until a skewer inserted into the chicken meets just a little resistance, 30 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the broiler with a rack about 4 inches from the element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Arrange the garlic, tomatillos, poblano chili and onion in an even layer on the baking sheet. Broil until the vegetables are lightly charred, about 4 minutes, then flip them and continue to broil until the second sides are lightly charred, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to the blender.

Add 1⁄2 cup water to the blender, then puree until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the cilantro, parsley, mint, fennel, cumin, 2 teaspoons salt and 3⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Blend until smooth and bright green, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides as needed. You should have about 2 cups of puree; set aside.

When the chicken is ready, stir the potatoes, green beans and zucchini into the pot. Bring to a simmer over medium and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the skewer inserted into a potato meets no resistance, about 15 minutes. Stir in the puree, then taste and season with salt and pepper.


Oaxacan Refried Black Beans

Start to finish: 23⁄4 hours (35 minutes active) | Servings: 6

In Oaxaca, black beans are a part of almost every meal. Though they often are served whole, we especially liked the balanced, complex flavor and smooth, velvety consistency of refried black beans. Lard gives these beans a rich meatiness, but coconut oil is a good vegetarian substitute. For a quicker version, see our pressure cooker variation. The beans can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. We liked this topped with cotija and fresh cilantro.

Don’t soak the beans before cooking. Unlike other types of dried beans, black beans soften readily without soaking. And don’t forget to reserve the bean cooking liquid; you’ll need 2 cups when pureeing the beans in the food processor. And if you’ll be making black bean soup, you’ll need 3 cups to thin the beans. The liquid also is useful for thinning the beans when reheating (they thicken as they stand).

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons lard or refined coconut oil, divided
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 5 guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 pound dried black beans, rinsed
  • 10 medium garlic cloves, peeled and kept whole, plus 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon aniseed
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

INSTRUCTIONS

In a large pot over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of lard until barely smoking. Add the onion, tomatoes and guajillo chilies, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is well browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the beans, whole garlic cloves, bay and aniseed, then stir in 10 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover partially and reduce to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are completely tender, 11⁄2 hours to 2 hours.

Stir in 2 teaspoons salt. Set a colander in a large bowl and drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the bay leaves from the beans. Transfer the drained beans to a food processor and pulse a few times to break up the beans. With the machine running, add 11⁄2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid and process until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Taste and season with salt, then set aside.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining lard until shimmering. Add the minced garlic, cumin, coriander, chili powder and oregano, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the pureed beans and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown on the bottom, 8 to 10 minutes. Continue to cook and stir, adding reserved cooking water as needed, until the mixture has the consistency of mashed potatoes, 5 to 7 minutes. Off heat, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon lard, then taste and season with salt and pepper.


Gonzalo Guzmán’s Pozole Rojo

Start to finish: 5 minutes, plus chilling | Makes 11⁄2 cups

Chef Gonzalo Guzmán’s pozole rojo (pork, red chili and hominy stew), from his book “Nopalito,” is boldly flavored with ancho chilies, herbs, cumin and aromatics. He blends some of the hominy (dried corn kernels treated with alkali, then cooked until tender) with some of the braising the liquid, then adds the puree back to the soup to give the broth body. Guzmán says garnishes are a key component of pozole and encourages piling them high onto individual servings. A long list is included here, but you can offer as many or as few as you like. The pozole can be made a few days in advance, then reheated for serving.

Don’t discard the chili soaking water after removing the chilies. You will need some of it to thin the chili mixture in the blender so that it breaks down into a smooth puree.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
  • Boiling water
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, divided
  • 1⁄2 large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • Kosher salt
  • 1⁄4 medium yellow onion
  • 4 cilantro stems
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 cups rinsed and drained store-bought canned hominy (from two 29-ounce cans)

For serving:

  • Shredded green cabbage
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Chili powder
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Tortilla chips
  • Lime halves

INSTRUCTIONS

Place the chilies in a medium heatproof bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let stand until the chilies are softened, about 20 minutes. Remove the chilies from the water and transfer to a blender; reserve the water. Add 1 garlic clove, the white onion, oregano, cumin and a generous pinch of salt to the blender, then puree until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the jar as needed and adding just enough of the soaking water to form a thick, smooth paste.

In a piece of cheesecloth, wrap the remaining garlic clove, yellow onion, cilantro stems and bay; secure with kitchen twine to form a small bundle. Set aside.

Season the pork with salt. Place the pork, chili puree and cheesecloth bundle in a large pot. Stir or whisk in 3 quarts water. Season generously with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until a skewer inserted into the pork meets no resistance, about 1 hour. Remove from the heat.

In the blender, puree 1⁄2 cup of hominy with about 1⁄2 cup of the braising liquid from the pork until smooth, about 20 seconds. Stir the puree and the remaining 31⁄2 cups hominy into the pot and bring to a simmer over medium- high. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5mminutes. Using a wide, shallow spoon, skim off and discard the fat on the surface.

Bring the pozole back to a simmer over medium-high. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Ladle into bowls and serve with cabbage, radishes, red onion, oregano, chili powder, cilantro, tortilla chips and limes.

PHOTO CREDIT: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES