Rick Bayless is chef of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo
in Chicago, creator of Frontera gourmet foods, cookbook author and host
of Mexico - One Plate at a Time.
Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category
Friday, July 30th, 2010
What initially started as a “Fiesta at Rick’s” book release party morphed into a huge joint celebration: ”Fiesta at Rick’s” debut at #9 on the New York Times Best Seller List, AND the first pouring of Marisol, Frontera’s delicious, bright-tasting new draft beer brewed by Goose Island. Boy did I feel lucky to have the people who helped make this book what it is (my wife, my daughter, my long-tome editor, the book’s photographer, close friends and family) all together in my backyard, eating, drinking and dancing till way after the sun went down. Check out the pictures of the party (and of my live Sirius XM Radio Broadcast–we broadcasted from the party!–featuring Chef Art Smith of Table 52 and mixologist Adam Seger of Nacional 27.
Monday, July 26th, 2010
Recipe for Week 2:
” Rst 1#tomtllos,1 on,3 grlc,3 serranos;puree;sear n oil 2 thkn;simr w 2c broth,.5c crema.Oil,micrwv 12 torts,roll w rstd veg,sauce, chs, bake “
Wow, this week we received even more entries! You people really know what you are doing! It was much harder this time around to choose the winners. Again, I went with simplicity, smile-provoking beauty and mouthwatering punch. For week two, here are my winners:
First Place: Pam S.
Monday, July 19th, 2010
Recipe for Week 1:
” Sear 1.25# bnls chix brst; cool, cube. Brn 1 onion,add 3 grlc,2 poblanos (rstd,pld,slcd),6 oz chard,1c broth,1c crema.Boil2 thickn.Add chix “
Thanks SO much to the dozens and dozens of people who made such beautiful food from a cryptic 140 character recipe! You’re incredible. It was so hard to choose winners. So I went with simplicity, smile-provoking beauty and mouthwatering punch. And a gentle nudge for this week’s competition: a flash is food photography’s greatest enemy. For week one, here are my winners:
First Place: Alisa P.
Saturday, April 17th, 2010
Rick and Chris just shot a great segment on empanadas for America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. They made Crispy Wheat Flour Turnovers with Well-Seasoned Meat (Empanadas de Picadillo). Check out this delicious recipe:
Crispy Wheat Flour Turnovers with Well-Seasoned Meat
Empanadas de Picadillo
Yield: 16 turnovers
This recipe originally appeared in Rick’s first book “Authentic Mexican”. It was revised for a segment that Rick did with Chris Kimball for the America’s Test Kitchen TV show.
For the dough:
3/4 pound (about 3 cups) all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling the dough
1/3 cup lard OR 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
About 3/4 cup very warm tap water
For filling and frying:
1 recipe Minced-Pork Picadillo, cooled to room temperature (Recipe Below)
Oil for deep frying, about 2 quarts, to a depth of 2 inches
1. The dough. Measure the flour into a bowl, then thoroughly work in the fat. Dissolve the salt in the hot water, then work it into the flour mixture, making a medium-stiff dough. Knead just enough to bring the dough together and smooth. Don’t overwork the dough.
2. Resting. Divide the dough into 16 portions, roll each into a ball, set on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at least 30 minutes (to make the dough easier to roll).
3. Forming the empanadas. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a portion of dough into a 5-inch diameter circle. Very lightly brush the perimeter with water, then scoop about 3 tablespoons of filling onto one side. Fold the uncovered side over the filling, expelling as much air as possible, then press the two edges firmly together. Lay the empanada on a baking sheet; continue forming turnovers with the remaining balls of dough. Firmly seal the empanadas by pressing the two edges together with the tines of a fork or by making the rope edge described below.
4. The optional decorative rope edge. Hold an empanada in one hand; with the thumb and first finger of the other hand, pinch out a 1/2-inch section of the dough on the nearest end. flattening it so that it extends out 1/4-inch beyond the rest of edge. With your thumb, curl over the top half of the pinched-out section of dough (it should look like a wave braking), then gently press it down to secure it. Now, pinch out the next 1/2-inch section of dough, curl the top side over, and press it down. Continue until you reach the other end. Fold the last pinched-out section back on itself, finished the seal. Complete the rope edge on the remaining empanadas and return them to the baking sheet. The empanadas can be frozen at this point and held for several weeks.
5. Frying the empanadas. About 15 minutes before serving, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Fry the empanadas 2 or 3 at a time, until deep golden, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven until all are fried. Serve at once.
Minced Pork with Almonds, Raisins, and Sweet Spices
Yield: about 3 1/3 cups
This recipe originally appeared in Rick’s first book “Authentic Mexican”. It was revised for a segment that Rick did with Chris Kimball for the America’s Test Kitchen TV show.
1 1/2 pounds (3 medium-large) rip tomatoes, roasted, cored, peeled and roughly chopped
OR one 28-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
11/2 pounds lean, coarse-ground pork
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns (or about 3/4 teaspoon ground)
1-inch Mexican cinnamon stick (or about 1 teaspoon ground)
5 cloves (or about 1/8 teaspoon ground)
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 canned chipotle chile, seeded and minced
1. The tomatoes. For a picadillo using peeled fresh tomatoes, place them in a blender or food processor with 1/3 cup water, then process until smooth. Using canned tomatoes, simply puree them with their liquid.
2. The meat. Heat the oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet over medium. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 7 or 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 minutes longer. Add the pork in a thin layer and fry, stirring frequently, until cooked and lightly brown. (If quite a bit of fat has rendered from the meat, drain it off.)
3. Finishing the picadillo. Pulverize the pepper, cinnamon, and cloves in a mortar or spice grinder, then add to the skillet along with the tomato puree, raisins and vinegar. Simmer until reduced to a thick, homogeneous mass, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes.
Toast the almonds for about 10 minutes in a 325 degree oven, stir into the filling along with the minced chipotle. Season with salt, usually about 1 1/2 teaspoons, and it’s ready.
Friday, April 2nd, 2010
Read this great piece from AOL Travel writer Anne Johnson on where to travel to in Mexico.
How Safe is Mexico?
Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
It’s rare that you taste a cake with such an evocative flavor. It’s more than just fabulously good: it tells a host of stories, each one full of care and generosity. At least for me, because I grew up in a world where cakes like this were the most delectable way anyone could show support and love and concern. Rose works with my friend, Elizabeth Karmel, and though Rose has lived in Chicago for 50 years, the recipe was brought here by her Missisippi-born mother. You may have remembered seeing this cake in Saveur under the headline “World’s Best Caramel Cake.”
3 ¼ cups Swans Down Cake Flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine-grain salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ cups granulated white sugar
4 extra-large eggs or 5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups whole milk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract plus ½ teaspoon lemon extract
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
3 ¾ cups granulated white sugar
2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Sift flour with baking powder and salt and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add flour mixture alternatively with milk and vanilla, creaming until smooth after each addition. Spread batter into three prepared 9-inch cake pans.
Bake until tester inserted into cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cook in pan 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cook on rack. Let cook and frost with Caramel Icing when cool.
To make Caramel Icing: In an aluminum saucepan over high heat, melt butter and sugar and let cook until light brown, stirring constantly from the bottom—mixing sugar and butter together for about 10 minutes. Add evaporated milk and turn the heat to medium-low. Stir continuously and let cook—do not let it form bubbles or boil over—for an additional 1 hour and 50 minutes or until it gets gold brown in color and thick enough to spread. If you walk away, it will boil over. Set aside to cool.
When the cake is cool, frost all sides and layers with a generous amount of Caramel Icing. Serve immediately or let sit at room temperature and serve the next day.
Friday, October 23rd, 2009
I—and so many journalists and bloggers—have called Xoco my “street food concept.” To some, calling Xoco’s offering “street food” is just plain inaccurate: nothing is prepared or served at a stall on the street. To others, that detail is inconsequential: Xoco offers the kind of food you can find at street stalls all over Mexico. So which is right?
In my opinion, both are. But it’s a little complicated. Where and how you serve food is sometimes as important as the food you serve, and those considerations definitely affect how you think of (and how you taste) the food. Your favorite ballpark hot dog wouldn’t taste nearly as good served on a plate at your grandmother’s dining room table. Most agree: our senses are heightened when we eat outdoors, and so are the flavors we expect. Bold, earthy, gutsy, spicy are street food flavors that captivate us, even though the many very sophisticated techniques may have been used to create dishes that show those flavors off. I’m thinking here of my favorite stall at Mexico City’s Sunday morning Lagunilla market, in its cramped quarters with one table and rickety collection of stools—never enough for everyone to crowd onto. Yet, perfectly ground fresh blue-corn masa is kept at just the right consistency for hand-patting oval tlacoyos filled with ground fava beans. They’re baked on a hot metal slab until just set (try it sometime and you’ll realize how hard that is to do), then topped with a variety of fillings. My favorite involves griddle-seared nopales and a salsa that combines just the right balance of roasted tomatillos, garlic and three dried chiles—gutsy, spicy and earthy … and very hard to get right.
Or I think of my favorite street vendors in Bangkok who make voluptuous little steamed rice-noodle dumplings filled with sweet preserved daikon or braised garlic chives and served with an eye-poppingly spicy dipping sauce. I bought the steamer set up, worked with a traditional cook to learn the intricacies, and finally gave up, deciding I’d have to quit my day job in order to have enough practice time to truly get them right.
The best street food—and I’m speaking here of what’s made in cultures that have developed vibrant street food cultures—delivers a full-throttle experience without skimping on high-level cooking skills. And my favorite street vendors around the world create their offerings from unique local offerings, often being able to tell you who grew or raised or baked or preserved the ingredients they’re working with. A vendor friend in Yucatan raises his own pigs for the cochinita pibil he sells at his stall; his mother-in-law cultivates the achiote for the marinade; one neighbor takes care of the sour orange trees that provide the tang while the other grows habaneros for salsa. Often, when a national passion for street food develops, “you can only eat this here” becomes the mantra of both cook and eater.
And just because it’s served in humble surroundings, doesn’t mean folks expect it to be cheap. Maybe cheaper than what they’d pay in a full-fledged restaurant, but certainly not dirt cheap, not 99-Cent-Value-Meal cheap. Last Christmas in Oaxaca, I paid the equivalent of $5 for the huge, charcoal-seared street “taco” they call a tlayuda. That’s in Oaxaca, where I think nearly everything costs about half what I’d expect to pay in Chicago. In Barcelona three years ago, four of us spent over $200 at a stall in the Boquería market for amazingly prepared street food made from what swims in the Mediterranean. As a fast-food nation—one who’s priorities have included spending less and less on food—we’ve confused fast food with street food and cheap with good. Or perhaps more accurately put, we’ve confused processed food—manipulated as it is to use less real food, bolstered by artificial flavors to make it taste like what we really wish it was—with street food. With maybe an exception or two, every bite of street food I’ve had anywhere in the world has been handcrafted from natural raw ingredients.
It’s hard to separate the food from the experience, though. There is a tantalizing immediacy to food served on the street. You walk right up, take in the sight and the aroma of what the cooks are making, order what appeals and watch it all go together. Often fueled by a wood or charcoal fire, mixing its primal smell into that of damp earth, asphalt and car fumes.
So how does Xoco fit into this street food world, given it’s not literally street food? Well, I didn’t want it to go the way of what I’d heard about Singapore’s vibrant street food cultures. When the government moved the vendors into large food courts, promising the public a more sanitary way to grab a quick bite, I heard that a lot of the gutsiness fizzled out of both the ambiance and the food. The lighting was brighter, the seating more spacious, the cooking equipment better, the air cleaner (no wood fires), the ingredients kept colder—and no need to keep the food robust to match the roughness of typical street-stall atmosphere.
Knowing I had to serve my street-style offerings inside—meaning I couldn’t rely on damp earth, asphalt and car fumes to create the robust environment—I decided to create atmosphere in two ways: a big wood fire and a food preparation area that you literally walk right into. I wanted every person that walked in the door to experience something rustic, elemental. A hearth, delicious-looking food, ingredients being crafted into finished dishes—many of them by coming in close proximity to glowing embers.
And though I had to build the place to satisfy a fussy landlord, an even fussier health department and a lot of downtown customers who are used to—and expect to pay the price for—creature comforts, decided to create a menu that grew out of my downtown atmosphere, but resonated for me far beyond it. I wanted each dish to reflect the craftsmanship and local sourcing that I respect in the world’s best street food. But I wanted it to have enough “my god, that’s great” punch to fit into even the most rustic locale. So, I tasted each dish we developed for Xoco with closed eyes, imagining myself in one of my favorite street spots in Mexico, asking myself if it stood up to true street food rigors. Then I opened my eyes, looked at my cramped little Xoco dining room, and ask if the dish had the strength to straddle the two worlds. Only time will tell.
Friday, October 2nd, 2009
A lot those who follow me on Twitter (@rick_bayless) have asked me why I post—more specifically, why I take time to answer followers’ questions. The broad answer is pretty simple: I love to share the beauty of the world I live in (after 3 decades as a food professional, I still find the world I work/live in really beautiful and fascinating) and I love to teach. Couple those two reasons with my dedication to sharing (read: awaken Americans to) the full range and complexity of Mexican cooking, and you’ll understand why Twitter is exactly the right format for a busy guy like me to connect with folks. (The thought of writing a blog everyday seems daunting to me, and a whole lot less interactive.)
On Twitter, I can do three things: I share photos of what’s going on in the restaurant (behind the scenes as well as finished dishes I’m really excited about); I share photos of cool food (and food-related things) I find outside my restaurant (markets, restaurants, events either in Chicago or away from home), and I answer some of the questions that are posted to my Twitter account.
Because I love being able to more fully open my world to folks through the Twitter portal and because I love being part of the community Twitter can create, I’ve decided to devote 15 or 20 minutes to it each day. That amount of time is typically what I can find while I’m waiting on a meeting to start or waiting for an elevator or drinking a cup of coffee.
Can I answer every question that’s posted? Not by a long shot—there are often several hundred a day. I typically look for recurring questions and answer one as representative. For a total of five or seven. Anything that can easily be answered from my web site I tend to skip (I’ve made some exceptions with the opening of Xoco, knowing that people might not know where to look for answers about take-out, hours, etc.). Just as I skip questions I can’t retweet easily or ones that can’t possibly be answered in 120 characters or ones that I’d have to do research for or ones that have absolutely nothing to do with why people follow me. (Honestly, I don’t think most people who follow @rick_bayless are interested in what brand of shoes I wear or if I have a good recipe for goulash—true questions I’ve been asked.)
So, yeah, unlike many folks who are in the public eye, I actually DO answer questions on Twitter nearly every day (I’m really the one doing the answering) and I like doing it. Unfortunately, I can’t get to everyone’s query. So I apologize in advance if yours is one that goes unanswered. Thanks for following….back to 140 or less. RB
Wednesday, September 16th, 2009
The lead-up to Xoco’s opening actually started about 2 years ago when I was brainstorming with some of our chefs, lamenting the fact that it was almost impossible to find a place on the Frontera and Topolo menus for a few of the flavors we’d fallen in love with on our many teaching and research expeditions through Mexico—flavors that aren’t focused on the long-simmered moles and sauces that those restaurants specialize in; flavors that slap you in the face with their simple, bold brightness; flavors that you only find in Mexico from some of the street vendors and marketplace cooks. That, plus the fact that for decades now, being the live-fire-cooking aficionado I am, I’ve wanted a wood-burning oven in our restaurants for doing overnight cochinita pibil and barbacoa, but simply had no space. All complicated by the fact that I don’t have much interest in opening a taquería. There are already so many taquerías and Mexico has so much more to offer than just tacos. I want everything I tackle to broaden our American perspective on Mexican food, not reinforce stereotypes.
So we designed the place around the oven, we came up with the idea of using the overnight braises to fill tortas, and we decided to add some of the rustic street-food char to the tortas by toasting them in the wood-burning oven. But we knew we could never reach financial sustainability (let alone pay River North) rent on tortas alone, given our commitment to small-scale local agriculture, hiring skilled chefs and paying living wages, so we decided to flesh out the menu for breakfast lunch and dinner. We’d been playing around with grinding our own chocolate in the restaurants, like they do in the market in Oaxaca City, so we made the commitment to grind chocolate right in the front window, for making into Mexico’s iconic hot beverage. Churrería El Moro has forever been a favorite in Mexico City (I used to live within walking distance; I’ve written about it for Saveur), so why not pair the fresh-ground chocolate with churros to offer during the morning hours.
And for evening? There’s nothing better than a steaming bowl of pozole or caldo de pollo or mole de olla from a street cart in the chill night air in Mexico’s mountainous communities.
A Balancing Act
I am a chef who likes to cook more than proliferate and manage restaurants. That’s why Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and, now, Xoco are all together. I can slide from one kitchen to another, tasting and training and coaching and cooking. Cooking is why I became a chef, and I never want to get too far from it.
And I’ve been pretty successful with my chosen path. I’ve created busy restaurants that employee 110 people—now 130 with Xoco—and I knew I could do nothing to unstabilize the well-oiled organization of what we already had going, risking the livelihood of so many families. So everything in Xoco is designed to offer something new and different from what we’ve done before: order at a counter, simpler and different and less expensive fare, communal seating. My hope is this: When you’re celebrating a special occasion, want to impress out-of-towners or are looking for a truly remarkable gastronomic experience, you’ll think of Topolobampo. When you’re in the mood for great Mexican antojitos and a plate of mole enchiladas, tacos al carbon, birria, wood-grilled fish a la veracruzana, and the like … plus a few rounds of fresh-lime margaritas … you’ll think of Frontera. When you’re looking for a lighter, simpler meal—but one that’s packed with flavor just like the other two spots—with a fresh-fruit agua or a beer, you’ll think of Xoco.
And as with street food around the world, the “kitchen” is in full view, everything at Xoco is made right in front of you; in fact, it’s kitchen is in the front window, so you don’t even have to come inside to watch what we’re cooking. Street vendors—and Xoco—offer live Food Network.
Hopefully, as we work through balancing food costs, labors costs, rent and management, we’ll have created a thriving business that will not only successfully employee more Chicagoans, but create a better quality of life here in Chicago.
During Opening, What Went as I’d Expected
We carefully planned what we considered a very strong menu for opening. There are about a dozen tortas that range from more mainstream (chicken, shortrib) to more exotic (suckling pig, head cheese/tongue), six caldos that seem to have wide appeal, and we beefed up the churros and chocolate by offering variety of hot chocolates (from Oaxacan style made with water) to thick and rich (more like they serve in Spain); plus we thought we’d have a few baked goods for those who didn’t want churros.
You have to have a few people to practice on, so most restaurant openings include a mock service for friends and family. It’s for the restaurant to practice and work out kinks, not really for the guest. Mock service is not an opening party.
Our menu and food seemed well received during the six mock services that we did, except that folks seemed to be looking for savory food at breakfast. So we added it. Otherwise, we seemed headed in the right direction; we just needed more practice to come together as a team. And we decided we needed a few more team members and they’re not easy to get on a moment’s notice. A little concerned, but I figured we’d make due until we could add staff.
We opened our doors on Tuesday, September 8 at 7 am, and the menu started selling pretty much as we’d expected, and the line started moving as it had during mock service—except, of course, that we were a little more practiced and had corrected a number of oversights that had come to our attention.
Well, almost everything
During Opening, What Didn’t Go as I’d Expected
I’d made the commitment to be at Xoco for one full week every minute it was open—7 am to 9 pm. That’s the only way I know to develop a real understanding of a new enterprise’s rhythms, strengths and weaknesses. P
lus I love the whole restaurant birthing process, the chance to train and solve problems and cook and tailor the food to the vibe of the place.
Right away I realized that our savory breakfast creations were going to take off. And, being a last-minute addition, we weren’t at all ready for it. We needed more staff and a different way to serve. When a fellow came in and ordered 25 scrambled egg empanadas to take to his office, we knew we were in for trouble. Hand-made dough, hand-formed empanadas: 1 cook, 3 hours to make 50 from start to finish. The sustainability equation was instantly thrown out of whack and we’re still trying to right it. Stay tuned.
We stop serving the savory breakfast offerings at 10:30 to allow time to set up the line for 11 am torta offerings. Except that there were so many people waiting for breakfast stuff at 10:30 we couldn’t pull breakfast until 10:50, making torta set up a crazy mad dash right in front of the customers who’d already started lining up to order tortas—remember, our kitchen is completely open to view. But we more-or-less made it, looking up to see that torta line had reached the door. And within a few minutes had gone out the door to a place down the street I couldn’t see.
That, I never expected. Of course, any restaurateur worth his salt does a business plan, estimating how many customers he’ll serve, what menu prices need to be based on ingredient costs, labor and overhead, hours and days of operation. And I felt good with ours, knowing what our break-even point would be. And I planned our prep sheets based on it and our cooks were ready.
Except that I hadn’t based that business plan on a line out the door and down the block for 4 hours. So about 1:30 we started using the prep for dinner and by 5, when the line reached the door again, we were half done with everything we’d planned to use for dinner.
So what I thought was going to be a more observational role, helping out and training where needed, became a 5 day, all day, line position at Xoco. Amado Lopez and Shaw Lash, Xoco’s two chefs, had to turn their attention to getting in more product and prepping it.
At the end of day one, we knew we were in trouble with product. We work with a lot of small farmers: you can’t just call up and say you’d like to triple your order. They have to grow it. Nor can we call the rent-a-cook agency and say send over people who can make red chile adobo and achiote paste.
The Frontera and Topolo staffs rallied, especially Quique Gomez, who is in charge of the sauce kitchen for those restaurants—the very heart of our operation. He gave up his right-hand cook, Adriana, to work just for Xoco. And Hector Catorra, who does all our purchasing, kept finding real, honest-to-goodness product (not just commodity stuff from a national purveyor) for us to cook.
That was the start of the wild ride, the roller coaster that never stopped to let us off until 9 pm on Saturday night. My anticipation of 400 guests a day needed to be adjusted to 600 by close on Tuesday, to 950 by close on Saturday. I don’t think any person on the staff has worked less than 13 or 14 hours a day since we opened Xoco. “We need more …” has started practically every sentence I’ve spoken this week.
No, the staff hasn’t completely gelled yet, but we’re moving in that direction. No the food’s not 100% where I want it. But, by god, we got through the week without running out of any food. I’m more proud of that than anything else. And only once all week did I have to turn to the line of customers that was standong right in front of me and ask their patience while we close down the line for 10 minutes, clean things up, restock, re-collect and breathe. Only once. I was actually pretty proud of that. It avoided the train wreck I knew we were inches from.
About Rick Bayless