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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chicken Molcajete

Well this dish has a great story to it!  This Mexican style meat and vegetable stew has become one of our favorite Mexican dishes.  While on vacation late last year, we found ourselves stopping for lunch at a tiny little roadside restaurant complete with dirt floors and open air seating, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Northwestern Mexico. We had just visited the little town of La Noria (the restaurant being named the same).  The town of La Noria has been around since the late 1500's, and I dare say has changed very little since then.  It's a quaint little place where you can watch craftsmen making leather goods, ceramics and the like, about 20 miles east of Mazatlan.  Only a couple of the roads are paved in cobblestones, and the rest are dirt and rocks.  Nope - it's not glamorous, but it's the kind of place that your heart falls in love with when you are there - smiling babies, little old ladies and leathered old men going about their work, shy young boys running about handing you flowers.  

So, back to the restaurant and this dish....  A molcajete (mohl-kah-HEH-tay) (short e sound, like "let")  is a stone tool, often carved from volcanic rock, that is among the world's oldest kitchen tools.  It is the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle, that is used for grinding food products.  The molcajete was used by pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures (such as the Aztec and Maya), stretching back several thousand years.  The rough surface of the stone is ideal for crushing and grinding spices, and in the preparation of salsas and guacamole.  Molcajetes are also used as serving vessels in restaurants and homes. While recipes are usually not cooked in them, the molcajete stays hot for a very long time, and it is not unusual for a dish to still be bubbling a half hour after serving.  

The dish that was served to us in the molcajete that lazy afternoon in La Noria was similar to fajitas, but served in a rich, tomato based soup/stew.  Similar seasonings and meats (chicken, flank steak, shrimp, etc), similar vegetables (onions, peppers, etc).... all bathed in a bubbling stew of beefy tomato based broth... topped off with a Mexican crumbly cheese and slices of cool creamy avocado... served with tortillas that had been slightly charred over an open fire.  To wash it down? Big hand made ceramic mugs of fresh squeezed and slightly frozen, slushy limeade. All the while, colorful roosters are walking around like they own the place, checking you out, daring you to speak out against this humble little family run establishment.  Hey rooster--- keep your spurs on!  The food was AMAZING, and I'm sure we'll be back there at some point in our lives.

Please don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients.  This dish is one of those - chop, prep, and dump it all together recipes.  Very easy.  If you are not lucky enough to own an "authentico" molcajete (perhaps because TSA wouldn't let you hand carry it through security)... you can just serve it from a black iron skillet or maybe a cast enamel dutch oven.  Both of those would hold the heat very well.

Click for printable recipe
 Ingredients:  (for 2-3 adults)
  • 2 slices of bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 pound chicken tenders or boneless skinless chicken breasts trimmed and cut into strips
  • 1/2 of a large onion (a sweet variety), sliced into strips
  • a handful of colored bell pepper slices (green, red, orange, yellow - your choice)
  • 1 large tomato, cut into about 8 wedges
  • 1 large head of garlic (still in the paper skin)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 2 - 3 cups of beef stock/broth
  • 1/2 can (about a cup) of mild red enchilada sauce
  • seasoning - salt, pepper, cumin, ancho chili powder, oregano
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 - 2 limes, juiced
  • queso fresco Mexican crumbling cheese
  • shredded Mexican "quesadilla" cheese (could substitute mozzarella)
  • flour tortillas (corn tortillas are more authentic to this recipe, but we prefer the flour tortillas)
  • optional additions for garnishing and serving.... chopped cilantro and sour cream (with added lime zest)

Step-by-step
Start by getting the garlic roasting, as this step takes the longest.  You can have this going the whole time you are chopping, trimming and doing all the other prep.  Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Chop only the top of the garlic off, exposing all the little "cells" of garlic cloves.  Line a small pan with aluminum foil and place the garlic clove in the middle.  Pour the olive oil over the garlic, allowing it to go down into the cloves.  "Close up" the aluminum foil, and bake for about 45 minutes in the oven.  The garlic will become almost as creamy as butter, and the flavor will mellow out tremendously.  No longer will the caramelized roasted garlic have the "bite" associated with raw garlic.  After baking and cooling, you can just take the whole garlic head, turn it over and squeeze out the soft roasted garlic.
The head of roasted garlic
While the garlic is in the oven, start on chicken and veggie prep.  Trim the chicken of any fat and cut into strips if using whole breasts.  Season the chicken with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder and lots of cumin.  Watch that ancho chili powder - it's hot!  Cut the veggies into strips, the tomatoes into wedges.
Trimmed, seasoned chicken
Prepped vegetables.
Start the cooking.  Cook bacon pieces until brown and crisp, then remove to another plate, leaving the drippings.  Add canola oil to the bacon fat and then sear the chicken.  Flip to the other side when golden brown for a total time of about 7-8 minutes.  Next, add the veggies to the chicken, garlic last.  Give it all a good stir.  Add the tomato and enchilada sauce, then the chicken stock.   Simmer for about 10 minutes, adjusting the seasoning and adding a bit of oregano.  You can use Mexican oregano if you can find it, but I just had the regular kind.
Crisp up the bacon.
Sear the chicken.
Brown the chicken on both sides before adding vegetables.
Add the roasted garlic.
Add the crisp bacon.
Give it all a good stir.

Add the tomato sauce.
Add the tomato wedges.
Add the enchilada sauce.
Add the beef broth.
More cumin.
Add some oregano.
Needs a big squeeze of lime juice.

Put it all together.  To the hot molcajete (put it in the oven if you don't routinely have use of an open fire like in Mexico), add the broth, chicken, vegetables, and lime juice (you need the acid to brighten it up).  Garnish with a ripe avocado that has been sliced and drizzled with lemon juice, fresh cilantro if desired, queso fresqo crumbling cheese and some quesadilla melting cheese.  
Chicken Molcajete
Serve.   Serve on slightly charred tortillas, with some added creme fraiche or plain old sour cream with a little lime zest, some chopped cilantro, and maybe an extra little squeeze of extra lime juice. 

Written Directions:

Start by getting the garlic roasting, as this step takes the longest.  You can have this going the whole time you are chopping, trimming and doing all the other prep.  Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Chop only the top of the garlic off, exposing all the little "cells" of garlic cloves.  Line a small pan with aluminum foil and place the garlic clove in the middle.  Pour the olive oil over the garlic, allowing it to go down into the cloves.  "Close up" the aluminum foil, and bake for about 45 minutes in the oven.  The garlic will become almost as creamy as butter, and the flavor will mellow out tremendously.  No longer will the caramelized roasted garlic have the "bite" associated with raw garlic.  After baking and cooling, you can just take the whole garlic head, turn it over and squeeze out the soft roasted garlic.

While the garlic is in the oven, start on chicken and veggie prep.  Trim the chicken of any fat and cut into strips if using whole breasts.  Season the chicken with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder and lots of cumin.  Watch that ancho chili powder - it's hot!  Cut the veggies into strips, the tomatoes into wedges.

Start the cooking.  Cook bacon pieces until brown and crisp, then remove to another plate, leaving the drippings.  Add canola oil to the bacon fat and then sear the chicken.  Flip to the other side when golden brown for a total time of about 7-8 minutes.  Next, add the veggies to the chicken, garlic last.  Give it all a good stir.  Add the tomato and enchilada sauce, then the chicken stock.   Simmer for about 10 minutes, adjusting the seasoning and adding a bit of oregano.  You can use Mexican oregano if you can find it, but I just had the regular kind.

Put it all together.  To the hot molcajete (put it in the oven if you don't routinely have use of an open fire like in Mexico), add the broth, chicken, vegetables, and lime juice (you need the acid to brighten it up).  Garnish with a ripe avocado that has been sliced and drizzled with lemon juice, fresh cilantro if desired, queso fresqo crumbling cheese and some quesadilla melting cheese.  

Serve.   Serve on slightly charred tortillas, with some added creme fraiche or plain old sour cream with a little lime zest, some chopped cilantro, and maybe an extra little squeeze of extra lime juice.

Want more awesome Mexican Recipes?
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5 comments:

  1. "fast, flavorful, family-friendly favorites"
    I like that phrase. Pretty much sums up how I try to cook for our household.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Thanks. My husband and I have 6 six between us... so things have to move along pretty quickly here.

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  2. This is my favorite recipe from the Mexican restaurant in town and I've wanted to know how to make it for years! Thank you so much for posting. It really looks pretty straight forward and I can't wait to try it! (I appreciated your step-by-step with pictures.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carrie - I'm so glad you stumbled upon my blog! Yes. There is nothing hard about this recipe... and hopefully with the step-by-step photos, it will be like a "paint by numbers" project! :)

      Delete
  3. i varied this recipe slightly adding beef and beef broth, i also add shrimp at the very end. it taste exactly like the mexican resteraunt by my house serve's. to add the beef i just double up everything. like i was cooking a bigger portion.

    ReplyDelete

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