Tag Archives: Rick Bayless

‘More Mexican Everyday’ On Sale Now!

More Mexican Everyday_9780393081145HUGE news here at Frontera.

The moment has finally arrived. “More Mexican Everyday: Simple, Seasonal, Celebratory,” the ninth cookbook from Chef Rick Bayless, is available in stores nationwide.

The book is all about inspiring you fans of the kitchen to more freely cook for the sheer pleasure of it, rather than frantically checking (and re-checking) a recipe.

“This is home cooking at the next level up. This is the type of cooking I do when I have these ingredients,” Bayless said.

You’ll find chapters on go-to recipes to know by heart,  slow cookers, how-to’s on using salsas and adobo to speed up weeknight cooking and expert guidance on substitutes and variations.

And there are vegetables. Tons of vegetables. Three dozen vegetable recipes detailed in brilliant, vivid color. Vegetable recipes that will animate every visit to your farmers’ market or grocery store.

(Don’t worry — there are plenty of desserts too.)

We’re incredibly proud of the latest book, and we again hope it helps bring your family and friends to the table.

The book can be all yours for $35 by placing an order at this website, visiting your favorite local bookstore or online retailer, or stopping into Frontera Grill.

A Photo Album From Our Staff Trip in the Yucatán

When we depart for Frontera’s annual staff trip to Mexico , we know we’re in for a whirlwind of food and culture.

We always return to Chicago full of energy, and our chefs at Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and XOCO create insanely great menus inspired by our annual destination. This year, we traveled to the Yucatán Peninsula, an area perhaps better known to Americans for its popular resort towns than its ancient Mayan culture.

But to experience the Yucatán only through cozy, all-inclusive comfort is to miss out on a wonderfully vibrant and colorful culture, one that expresses itself through food, art and devotion to history.

We visited a chaotic market in the capital city of Mérida. We traversed ancient Mayan ruins. We dined on authentic Yucatecan poc chuc (“seared pork”) at Principe Tutul-Xiu. We were welcomed into the home of David Sterling, the “Yucatán” cookbook author and culinary expert, at his beautiful home.

Best of all, we unearthed authentic cochinita pibil —that’s suckling pig marinated in achiote, wrapped in banana leaves and slow-roasted in underground pits—and had an amazing meal.

Below is a photo gallery of all-too-brief time in the Yucatán, all taken by XOCO manager Arthur Mullen, who blogged about XOCO’s new Yucatán-inspired menu.

A Sad Day in Mexico

In Mexico yesterday turned out to be a very sad day–some would say a day of immeasurable cruelty. A judge overturned the 2013 ban on growing GMO corn, in the country that gave us corn, that offers us more corn diversity than anywhere on the planet. What do we have to look forward to now?

Several things, I think.

First, fewer of Mexico’s unique landrace varieties will be grown. GMO corn is so seductive to farmers. It’s usually easier to grow, more disease resistant and more productive. Why bother, then, with all the hundreds of local varieties, each evolved to provide Mexico’s grain staple for a unique parcel of land, a unique climate, a unique community?

If we’re only talking productivity, there’s little reason to bother with them. But a myopic pursuit of productivity hasn’t always proven wise. Especially when a crop is so thoroughly identified with a culture. As they say in Mexico, “Sin maíz, no hay país,” “Without corn, there is no country.”

If (when?) GMO corn eventually blankets mountains and valleys, high plains and jungles of Mexico, what will this uniquely diverse “culture of corn” have become? Perhaps more than anywhere on earth, Mexico has experienced thousands of years of vital cultural heterogeneity–Aztecs, Mayas, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, Huichols, Triques, Purepechas, to name a few, overlaid with Spanish, French, North American, Lebanese and more). Will we see that Mexico’s beautiful diversity has faded into bland homogeneity, bland and characterless as the lab-manufactured corn that’s providing daily nourishment?

Second, no matter what you think of GMOs (I think the topic is way more complex and less straightforward than some may suggest), we can be certain of one thing: Genetic drift from GMO corn will likely contaminate some of the Mexico’s hundreds of unique corn varieties, rendering them compromised at best when we need these uniquely hearty soldiers to defend against unforeseen blights or to offer unthought-of options as climates and soils change.

And third, I think it’s pretty certain that GMO corn in Mexico will rob us of flavor. Now, I know in the United States until recently, we’ve opted for big and beautiful and durable and shipable over anything flavorful. But now there is a groundswell of voices who are taking a stand for quality of life. Delicious flavor makes life worth living, and anyone who says differently is either a ruthless capitalist or simply not paying attention.

Until someone offers me a GMO corn with the wonderful richness of bolita from Michoacan or popcorn nuttiness of tuxpeño from Oaxaca, I think that corn has little to offer. Maseca brand masa harina has sadly already had far too much luck convincing Mexico that one single, solitary bland corn flavor is all Mexico needs. Planting GMO corn through out the country may be the last and final argument in that discussion.

We all do what we can. At our restaurants in Chicago, we buy organically grown landrace corn from Michoacan (thank you Masienda for searching it out and importing it for us!). It’s boiled and stone-ground in the ancient style. And we hand-press and griddle-bake tortillas from that beautiful nixtamalized corn during lunch and dinner service. Preserving heritage, whether in Mexico or here in Chicago, preserves not only a way of life, but the opportunity to appreciate the full range of delicious flavor this world has to offer us.

Al Pastor, Always and Forever

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So, this isn’t going to be true tacos al pastor.

For the absolute best version, you’d need at least 20 pounds of thin-sliced marinated pork, a charcoal-fired contraption like the ones used for roasting Greek gyros and a long knife to slice off slivers of the succulent roasty meat into waiting fresh corn tortillas.

Assuming you don’t have any of that, I’m going to offer up my backyard-grill version of Central Mexico’s most iconic taco, which food historians say came to Mexico after a great number of Middle Eastern immigrants brought vertical spit cooking.

Quick tip: The longer you marinate the meat, the more its texture will resemble cured ham; marinate for an hour or so for fresh-pork texture, overnight for cured texture. The marinade itself will hold for a week or more, covered and refrigerated.

And if you can’t find achiote paste locally, you might want to consider buying a pouch of Frontera Al Pastor marinade to do the work for you.

Tacos al Pastor
Recipe from Season 7, Mexico—One Plate at a Time
Servings: 20tacos, enough to serve 4 to 5 as a main course
Print

Ingredients

  • A 3 1/2ounce packageachiote paste
  • 3canned chipotle chile en adobo, plus 4 tablespoons of the canning sauce
  • 1/4cup vegetable or olive oil, plus a little more for the onion and pineapple
  • 1 1/2pounds thin-sliced pork shoulder (1/4-inch-thick slices are ideal—the kind Mexican butchers sell for making tacos al pastor)
  • 1medium red onion, sliced 1/4- inch thick
  • Salt
  • 1/4of a medium pineapple, sliced 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 20 warm corn tortillas
  • About 1 1/2cups raw tomatillo salsa

Instructions

In a blender, combine the achiote paste, chiles, canning sauce, oil and 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth. Use 1/3 of the marinade to smear over both sides of each piece of meat (refrigerate the rest of the marinade to use on other meat or fish). Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Light a charcoal fire and let the coals burn until covered with gray ash but still very hot; bank the coals to one side and set the grill grate in place. Or, heat one side of a gas grill to high. Brush both sides of the onions slices with oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay in a single layer on the hot side of the grill. When richly browned, usually just about a minute, flip and brown the other side; move to the cool side of the grill to finish softening to grilled-onion sweetness. Oil and grill the pineapple in the same way. Finally, in batches, grill the meat: it’ll take about a minute per side as well. As the meat is done, transfer it to a cutting board and chop it up (between 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces). Scoop into a skillet and set over the grill to keep the meat warm. Chop the onion and pineapple into small pieces as well, add them to the skillet and toss everything together. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Serve with the tortillas and salsa for your guests to make soft tacos.

An Easy Fish Dish Worthy of Company

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By themselves, pan-seared trout fillets cook quickly and provide an easy, if uninspiring, main dish.

Top them with a mix of chorizo, caramelized onion and dark Mexican beer, though, and the flavor catapults into another stratosphere. The maltiness of the beer pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of caramelized onion and the soul-satisfying richness of the sautéed chorizo.

But the secret weapon here, if you can call it that, is patience. When you’re making the chorizo-onion-beer mixture, you want the beer to reduce to a glaze, creating a thrilling amalgam of flavors … not a soupy sauce.

It only takes a few minutes, and, well, you do have the rest of that beer to help you pass the time.

Looking for a good side dish? Try this garlicky white rice.

Trucha con Chorizo y Cerveza
From Season 9, Mexico—One Plate At A Time
Servings: 4
Print

Ingredients

  • 1/4cup (2 ounces)Mexican-style chorizo sausage, casings removed
  • 2 to 3tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1medium red onion, sliced 1/8” thick
  • 1teaspoon sugar
  • 2teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1cup dark Mexican beer, such as Negra Modelo
  • 1 to 2tablespoons loosely packed, chopped parsley or cilantro, thick bottom stems removed, plus extra for garnish
  • Salt
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 skin-on, boneless trout fillets (they should weigh about 6 ounces each)

Instructions

In a very large (12-inch) skillet, brown the chorizo over medium-high heat, about 8 minutes. Add one tablespoon of the oil. Add onion and sugar to the pan, and cook until the onion softens and begins to brown, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the Worcestershire, beer, herbs and salt, usually ½ teaspoon, and simmer until most of the liquid has reduced and the flavors have blended. Taste and season with more salt if it needs it.  Scrape the mixture into a small pan and keep warm over very low heat or in a low oven.

Pat the trout skin dry with paper towels and season with salt. Wipe out the skillet, add the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons of the oil and set over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot, carefully lay the trout fillets in the skillet, flesh side down in a single uncrowded layer. Cook until the trout is barely done, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Sprinkle with black pepper.

Remove the trout fillets to a plate and top with the warm chorizo and onion mixture. Garnish with more chopped herbs and serve immediately.

Announcement! Rick is Starting a New Culinary Training Program

 Chef Rick Bayless is starting a culinary training program for low-income students at The Hatchery, a food and beverage business incubator on the city’s West Side.

“I believe this program can help surmount two big challenges in the city — lack of cooks to fill our restaurants’ kitchens and a lack of both solid preparation and career opportunities for the youth of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods,” Bayless said. “There’s a reason I think this program can make a difference: I can say that some of the most valuable people in our kitchens are ones that we’ve brought up from the most entry-level jobs, taught basic skills and self-respect, and seen flourish.

“I believe our city is rich with untapped resources. If we can develop a way to cultivate them, both our restaurants and our community will be the better for it.”

With its shared commercial kitchen space and classrooms, The Hatchery will be a perfect venue for the training program, which aims to prepare high school and college-age students for careers in the culinary industry.

Students will pay a nominal fee for a curriculum that includes basic culinary skills (think knife work, cooking techniques and product identification), lessons from top Chicago chefs and a pipeline to internships in the kitchens of Chicago’s premiere restaurant groups. A successful internship will be required to graduate the program.

Some of Chicago’s most notable chefs have expressed interest in helping out, including Paul Kahan, Grant Achatz, Stephanie Izard, Matthias Merges, Jason Hammel, Cosmo Goss, Erick Williams, Paul Fehribach, Chris Pandel, Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowksi, Genie Kwon, Bill Kim, Jim Ortiz, John Manion, Mark Hellyar, Jason Vincent, Dan Salls, Bruce Sherman, Brian Enyart and Abra Berens.

The program is expected to debut with the opening of The Hatchery, a nonprofit food and beverage incubator that will be opening in the fall of 2018 in the East Garfield Park neighborhood. The Hatchery Chicago is a joint venture between two prominent nonprofits: micro-finance lender Accion Chicago and small business incubator ICNC, and two corporate partners, the Kellogg Company and Conagra Brands. The 67,000-square-foot facility will support local food and beverage entrepreneurs by providing them with tools and resources to reach success. The approximately $34 million facility is expected to create an estimated 150 jobs in the first year and 900 jobs within five years.

“Accion Chicago and ICNC are thrilled to partner with Chef Bayless and many other top chefs to create more opportunities for young Chicagoans to work in our city’s best kitchens,” said Brad McConnell, CEO of Accion Chicago. “The Hatchery is designed to help food and beverage entrepreneurs grow their businesses, and this training program will help prepare our job-seekers to work with these growing companies and in some of the most creative kitchens in the world.”

We’ll have much more to announce in the coming weeks and months, but for now we wanted to let Chicago know about the great things happening on the West Side.

Announcing the 2017 Frontera Farmer Foundation Grant Winners

Here’s just a small taste of what the grant money awarded by the Frontera Farmer Foundation will be used for in 2017:

A Milwaukee mushroom farmer will buy mixing and bagging equipment allowing him to turbocharge his production.  A suburban Chicago church will erect two hoophouses and storage facilities for its expanding CSA program. A Northwest Illinois-based farm will build an on-farm butcher shop. 

Together, these are just a few of the projects adding up to a whole lot of good: With this latest crop of grants, these family farms will expand their operations and make more good food available in the Midwest.

The Frontera Farmer Foundation is proud to be a part of this growing good food movement.

A nonprofit started by Rick and Deann Bayless and the staffs of  their restaurant, the Foundation started in 2003 with the mission to support the growth of small family farms and to highlight the variety and abundance of local agriculture within Chicago’s culinary world, CSA’s and Farmers’ Markets.

Since 2003 the foundation has awarded about $2 million in small capital development grants for projects both big and small. To learn more about the Frontera Farmer Foundation, past projects and ways to donate click here.

It is with great pleasure that we announce this year’s grant recipients. We strongly encourage you to seek them out at farmers’ markets and CSA programs throughout the Midwest!

All Grass Farms
Dundee, IL
Project: Purchase of large mobile coops to extend the chicken raising season, boost efficiency and decrease the mortality rate. 

BIOS Farm
Blue Island, IL
Project: Purchase of a small utility tractor, allowing this small farm to double their production area.

Froggy Meadow Farm
Beloit, WI
Project: Adding electricity, a walk-in cooler and processing facility to this previously off-the-grid farm.

GlennArt
Chicago, IL
Project: Installation of automated milking machine, pasture fencing, raw milk processing parlor at this urban farm on Chicago’s west side. 

Good Worx
Darien, IL
Project: Purchase of containers, organic soil and tools to build the “Sunny Patch Community Micro-Farm,” an offshoot of  their community garden project, geared toward those with special needs and young adults. 

Grani’s Acres
Fairbury, IL
Project: Purchase of dehydration and food processing equipment and commercial kitchen space to dehydrate vegetables and make them shelf stable. 

Harrison Market Gardens
Winnebago, IL
Project: Purchase of tractor and cultivator implements to increase efficiency for the family’s U-Pick and CSA programs.

Lonely Oak
Sparta, MI
Project: Construction of an on-farm greenhouse. (Previously, farmer Joe Kuenhold schlepped to rented greenhouse space 22 miles away.)

Mighty Greens
Elburn, IL
Project: Purchase of harvest equipment — bins, hand tools, tents, dryers – to eliminate production bottlenecks on harvest day. 

Mother’s Carr’s
Lynwood, IL
Project: Construction of a greenhouse, plus washing, tilling and infrastructure equipment required for the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (“GAP”) certification

Mushroom Mike, LLC
Milwaukee, WI
Project: Purchase of automated mixing machine and bagging equipment allowing the farm to produce 1000-1400 parceled bags of mushrooms an hour instead of 22.

Oriana’s Orchard
Skokie, IL
Project: Installing a new cold storage facility and refrigeration system approximately doubling the size of their current cooling facility while also adding a heating element for cold weather.

Painted Rock Farms
Amherst Junction, WI
Project: Constructing a new well with more efficient plumbing providing clean, fresh water to the farm’s animals, gardens, high tunnels and certified kitchen. 

Chicago Patchwork Farms
Chicago, IL
Project: Expanding grow space in Chicagoland, constructing new on-site compost system and installing hydrant-based irrigation systems at both farm locations.

Riemer Family Farm
Brodhead, WI
Project: Purchasing new skid loader and installing fencing on farm property.

Sol Gardens
Yorkville, IL
Project: Constructing a nursery greenhouse for seedling propagation allowing the farm to produce all seedlings on-site under complete control of the farmer.

Spence Farm
Fairbury, IL
Project: Purchasing sprayer and amendment spreader in addition to repairing two existing tractors.

Stoney Acres Farm
Athens, WI
Project: Purchasing a stone mill to process the farm’s organic winter wheat for local sale and pizza dough production.

UP Farms
Chicago, IL
Project: Constructing a second tier of vertical grow sites allowing the farm to double its current capacity and keep up with the demand of the farm’s heirloom micro-greens.

Waldbeser Farms
Cissna Park, IL
Project: Purchasing a combine to custom harvest several small acres of wheat, heirloom corns, non GMO corn and sunflowers.

Walnut Acres
Walnut, IL
Project: Building butchery for processing hogs and cattle.

We Grow
Westboro, WI
Project: Completing construction of vegetable washing station and packing shed.

Wind Ridge Herb Farm
Caledonia, IL
Project: Purchasing 35 hydrostackers and lighting generator to meet existing and growing demand of local, organic herbs in Chicago.

Announcing: Catering by Fonda Frontera!

Fonda Frontera, our outpost in Wicker Park, has launched its BRAND NEW catering service, which is basically the best of its menu, delivered to your home, office or wherever else you want soul-satisfying Mexican food. A few of the highlights:

• TACO BAR! With oven-braised or wood-grilled meats and fresh handmade corn tortillas. Think classics like carnitas, cochinita pibil, barbacoa, etc. 10 people? 200 people? We got you.

• Super-fresh ceviche and seafood coctel spreads.

• Specialties that made Frontera famous – mole poblano with wood-oven roasted chicken, simmered pork shoulder in chile negro, braised beef in guajillo sauce, shrimp in slow-roasted garlic mojo and wood-grilled vegetables.

• Guacamole bar with fresh tomatillo-garlic guacamole with two salsas and housemade tortilla chips.

• Taco lunch boxes – handsome, Individually packed taco lunch boxes for groups up to 30. Your office lunch will never be the same.

• Churros! That’s right, we’ll bring all of the golden, crispy churros your party can handle. Bean-to-cup chocolate ganache for dipping, too.

• We’ll even bring you a punch bowl full of margaritas and a build-your-own michelada bar with a 12-pack of ice cold Modelo. That’s honestly how we like to roll.

Ready to order? Plan your perfect fiesta at Fondafrontera.com

Full catering menu: http://ow.ly/A7Lg30eXYE1

Cochinita Pibil on the Grill: The Summer Recipe You’ve Been Waiting For

TacoTuesdayLogo_blueTo watch the unearthing of Yucatecan cochinita pibil is like watching a rustic sort of magic happen before you.

The once-green banana leaves, now brittle from hours spent under the earth in rock-lined pits called pibes, are moved aside to reveal a steamy, aromatic treasure — little pigs marinated in brick-red achiote seasoning and sour orange juice.

That tender meat gets shredded and folded into palm-sized warm tortillas, then garnished with pickled red onion and spine-tingling habanero salsa.

It is one of the best tacos on the planet.

Now, even though I’ve been known to really get into pit cooking — as evidenced by the pit I have in my backyard (and the occasional burn marks on my arm) — this cochinita pibil recipe is adapted for the backyard grill.

I’m using a ceramic kamado cooker here, but the same low-and-slow principles apply if you’re using a charcoal or a charcoal or gas grill.

Print

Ingredients

  • 1/2of a 3.5-ounce package preparedachiote seasoning
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (divided use)
  • 1/4cup orange juice
  • Salt
  • 1/2of a 1 pound packagebanana leaves, defrosted if frozen (optional)
  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • About 1/2cup roasted-chile salsa or bottled habanero hot sauce (I like Yucateco and Frontera brands)

Instructions

Place the half package of achiote seasoning in a small bowl, pour in ½ cup of the lime juice and 2 teaspoons salt, then use the back of a spoon to work the two together into a smooth, thickish marinade.

Marinating the meat. In a large bowl or large plastic food bag combine meat and marinade, turning the meat to coat it evenly. (Though achiote has tenacious coloring properties, I suggest you do this quickly with your hands.) For the greatest penetration of flavor, let the meat marinate refrigerated (covered if in a bowl) for several hours, or even overnight.

Slow-grilling the pork. Heat a gas grill to medium-low (approximately 300 degrees) or light a charcoal fire and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash and very hot. If using a kamado cooker, bring the temperature to a steady 300 degrees. Using scissors, cut off the hard edge you’ll find on most banana leaves (where the leaf attached to the central rib). Cut 3 sections of banana leaf, each about 1 foot longer than the length of a large roasting pan. Line the bottom and sides of the roasting pan with the leaves, overlapping them generously and letting them hang over the edges of the pan. Lay the meat in the pan, drizzle with all the marinade. Fold in the banana leaf edges over the meat. Cut 3 more sections of banana leaf slightly longer than the pan. Lay them over the top of the meat, again generously overlapping; tuck them in around the sides. Pour 4 cups of water into the pan. When the grill is ready, either turn the burner(s) in the center to medium-low or bank the coals of the grill for indirect cooking.

For the charcoal grill, set the grill grate in place. Set the pan on the grill grate and close the grill cover. On a kamado cooker, place the pan on the grill grate (or even directly atop the ceramic plate setter.) Grill until the meat is thoroughly tender and reaches about 205 degrees, usually about 4-5 hours. If your grill has a thermometer, aim to keep the temperature at 300 degrees. To maintain an even temperature with charcoal, add more charcoal regularly (usually a few pieces every half hour or so).

Simple pickled onions. While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions. Scoop the onions into a non-aluminum bowl. Pour boiling water over them, wait 10 seconds, then pour the onions into a strainer. Return the drained onions to the bowl, pour on the remaining ¼ cup lime juice and stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Cover and set aside until serving time.

Serving. Remove the top banana leaves. Tip the pan to accumulate the juices in one end and spoon off the fat. Season with more salt if necessary.You may want to remove the bones and cut the large pieces of meat into manageable serving sizes, but I suggest you leave everything right in the roasting pan for serving. Set out your cochinita pibil with a large fork and spoon (for spooning up all those juices). Drain the red onions and set out in a serving bowl to top each portion, along with the salsa to cautiously dab on each portion.

Working Ahead: If you’re the plan-ahead type, make the marinade on Day 1, reblend it and marinate the meat on Day 2 and then slow-roast the meat for serving on Day 3. The marinade will hold for a week or more in the refrigerator. Once the pork is marinated, cook it within 24 hours. The finished dish will keep for a couple of days, covered and refrigerated (meat and juice only—no banana leaves), though the texture of the meat won’t be quite as nice as fresh-from-the-oven. Warm refrigerated cooked meat slowly (a 300 degree oven) in the juice, covered. Pickled onions will keep for a week or so in the refrigerator, well covered.

Variation: The pork can be baked in a 325 degree oven instead of on the grill; cover the meat rather loosely with foil before baking. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explore Topolo’s New Menu – “Mexico: Taste & Time”

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Chileatole | Fresh-ground corn masa "porridge,: charred fresh corn, serrano chile, wild greens, bitter herbs, quail egg, flowers
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Quail, Escabeche | Grill-roasted Texas cross quail, wine escabeche (olive oil, caramelized onion, sweet spices, sherry, wine and pineapple vinegars), crispy peasant bread, pea shoots, radishes
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Mextlapique | Corn husk-roasted Alaskan black cod, herby butter (lavender, parsley, dwarf basil), salsa of orange güero, garlic and snails, caramelized eggplant purée, snail caviar
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Chiles en Nogada Roasted poblano chile, pork picadillo, (roasted tomato, fall fruit, almonds), creamy nogada sauce (walnuts, goat cheese, cream, sherry), pomegranate, parsley
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Braised Shortrib, Clemole Oaxaqueño Crispy braised Creekstone shortrib, Oaxacan clemole (pasilla & ancho chiles, nuts & seeds, garlic, avocado leaves, epazote), charred chayote purée, patty pan squash, knob onions
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Bien Me Sabe Airy cake, Chartreuse drizzle, orange flower pastry cream, candied ginger & apricot, sugared nuts
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Chocolate, Olive Oil, Cactus Mexican chocolate-pumpkin seed cake, Mexican chocolate-olive oil mousse (with damiana), prickly pear gastrique, dragon fruit, Mexican sea salt

A well-known fact: In order to know someone intimately you must eat their food.

But tastes are not static. Cuisine is ever-evolving. Flavors change over time.

This menu invites you to get to know Mexico intimately over the last 500 years, from Aztec days, through its Spanish domination and evolving independence, to today’s modern kitchen.

Reservations

Farmers Market Mexican is Back Again

Even as the long summer days begin to wane,  our local farmers markets remain wonderfully filled with amazing produce.

What to do with that beautiful bounty? If you’re unsure, let Rick guide the way with our next installments of Farmers Market Mexican.

This time around, we’re away from the Frontera test kitchen and in Rick’s backyard, where he’s cooking up seasonal local foods through a Mexican lens.

Quick side note: These latest four episodes—featuring Greens and Beans Tacos, Squash Blossom Soup, Beer Can Chicken and the Mexican street snack esquites—are part of Rick’s brand new YouTube channel, which has (already!) garnered thousands of subscribers.

Here, we’ll save you the click and post them all below. Enjoy!

Greens and Beans with Red Chile and Fresh Cheese

Squash Blossom Soup

Beer-Glazed, Beer Can Chicken

Esquites

Hola, Fonda Frontera

fondafrontera_logo_rgbWe heard you, Wicker Park. We’re leaving the Xoco Bistro name behind and evolving into Fonda Frontera, our Mexico City-inspired neighborhood restaurant.

“Like the fondas in Mexico City — those homey places serving classic, local food — ours is warm and comfortable, and embodies the essence of Frontera: Mexican spirit, local heart,” said Chef Rick Bayless. “Our goal is to make Fonda Frontera the best neighborhood Mexican restaurant in the city. It is, after all, in my neighborhood.”

Menu here

The bar at Fonda will retain its robust local craft beer lineup, but our bartenders will be mixing up some pretty delicious new cocktails created by spirits director Jeff Walters. There are craft cocktails (yes, you can get a Topolo margarita), mug cocktails and carafe cocktails, all featuring a wide array of mezcals, tequilas and local spirits. Our wine director, Jill Gubesch, who has created some of the most talked about wine pairings for Topolobampo, is creating a rotating list of standout great value wines.

Chef John Sullivan has introduced a raw seafood bar, rich with ceviche, cocteles and oysters, and added more soul-satisfying entrees from our wood-burning grill and oven — some modern, some classic. All very Mexico City. For the XOCO loyal, we’ve kept your favorite tortas and caldos on the menu. As ever, our tortilleras will continue hand-pressing and baking tortillas from fresh heirloom Oaxacan corn masa.

Chef Jose Ramirez continues his reign at the pastry kitchen, kicking out vibrant, Mexican-inspired desserts. (Yes, the golden delicious churros are staying on the menu. We’re not crazy.) 

And because Fonda loves niños, we’ve created what we think is the most amazing $6 kids menu anywhere: quesadillas, fideos en mantequilla (toasted Angel Hair noodles tossed in butter and añejo cheese) chicken noodle caldo and more, all served with agua fresca AND churros AND a ramekin of soft-serve ice cream. They’ll love it!

Fonda Frontera, 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park, opens on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Bring the friends and familia.

It’s Taco Tuesday and it’s Time for Mexican-Style Zucchini Tacos

TacoTuesdayLogo_blueOK, this week’s Taco Tuesday takes me back to my time as a student living in Mexico City, where this mixture of tatume squash and roasted poblano in a tomato-crema sauce quickly became my go-to order at the taqueíra down the street.

Nostalgia aside, it’s still one of my favorite tacos of all time.

It all starts with the flavoring base, a simply satisfying tomato-onion-garlic mixture that serves as the foundation for the roasted chiles, corn and herbs. A big dollop of Mexican crema lends the mixture an irresistible richness. (If you stir it in al the very last moment, Greek yogurt can stand in for the crema.)

These are downright perfect as a vegetable option for dinner, but if your crowd is more carnivorous, these will be super good with the addition of small pieces of pork tenderloin (simmered along with the with the squash), shredded rotisserie chicken or, of course, some crispy fried bacon.

Tacos de Calabacitas a la Mexicana
Servings: 6
Print

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 pound (2 medium-large round or 6 to 8 plum) ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped OR two-thirds of a 28-ounce can good-quality fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2large fresh poblano chiles
  • 1large ear corn, husked and kernels cut off (about 1 cup) OR 1 cup frozen corn
  • 4medium (about 1 1/2 pounds total) zucchini—or use the Mexican round or teardrop-shaped, light green calabacitas—trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 5 cups cubes)
  • 1sprig epazote, leaves roughly chopped OR 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2/3cup Mexican crema, crème fraîche or heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1/2cupcrumbled Mexican queso fresco, or other crumble fresh cheese, such as salted pressed farmer's cheese or feta
  • 24warm fresh corn tortillas

Instructions

1. Preparing the flavoring base.  Measure the oil into a large (12-inch) skillet set over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until richly browned, about 8 minutes.  While the onion is cooking, coarsely puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.  Add the garlic to the browned onion, cook 1 minute, stirring, then add the tomatoes.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. (Cover the skillet if you think it’s reducing and thickening too fast.) Remove from the heat.

2. Roasting the chiles. Roast the poblanos directly over a gas flame or on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, turning regularly until the skin has blistered and blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes for open flame, about 10 minutes for broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes.  Rub off the blackened skin, then pull out the stem and seed pod. Rinse briefly to remove stray seeds and bits of skin. Slice into 1/2-inch strips.

3. Finishing the dish. Uncover the skillet and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir in the poblanos, corn, zucchini, epazote (or cilantro) and the crema (or one of its stand-ins). Cook, stirring frequently, until the zucchini is crisp-tender and the liquid has thickened enough to coat the vegetables nicely, about 8 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.  Serve in a decorative bowl, sprinkle with the crumbled cheese and pass the hot tortillas separately for do-it-yourself tacos.

Join Us in Donating to Earthquake Relief in Mexico

Our friends and family in Mexico need help after the devastating September 2017 earthquakes claimed hundreds of lives and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage throughout the republic.

Yet the determination of the Mexican people continues to inspire us. Under cries of “Mexico Unido!” people have banded together to help, whether through exhausting and emotional recovery efforts or through the simple, noble act of providing food to their friends and neighbors.

We ask you to join us in supporting the relief effort. Through Oct. 15,  our Chicago restaurants Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Fonda Frontera and Leña Brava will send proceeds from our special “Fuerza Mexico” mezcal cocktail to Global Giving’s Mexico Relief Fund. We feel it’s important to give directly to organizations that are deploying boots-on-the-ground aid where it’s needed most. This group has received top ratings from the agencies who monitor charities and we feel our financial support (and yours) will have the most impact.

The fund will initially “help any first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, medical care and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts run by local, vetted organizations responding to this disaster.”

If you can’t make it into one of our restaurants this month, please consider making a donation directly to the fund. You can do so by clicking the button below, which will lead you to a secure website to complete your donation.

Let Topolo Take You to Another Oaxaca

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Oysters on the Coast: Shigoku oysters, homemade chamoy (guajillo, apricot, lime), tomatillo-mezcal raspado, sal de guzano
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Taco Corridor: Wood-grilled ribeye tasajo and pork chorizo, Fermín Ibérico smoked pork loin, avocado-chile de agua salsa, grilled knob onions, charred tlayudas, cucumber, radish
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Caldo de Piedra: “Stone soup” of wild mushrooms, ayocote beans, local squash, Oaxacan dumplings, black garlic broth
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Fish a la Talla: Wood–grilled walleye, red chile adobo and chipotle-garlic mayo, fresh tomato-arbol sauce, warmed romaine and radishes with butter and lime
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Shortrib, Estofado de Boda: Gilded slow-cooked shortrib, estofado de boda (ancho and guajillo chile, three fruits, tomato, sweet spices), custardy plantain, turnip espuma, charred pineapple
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Frozen Hillside: Sorbet of prickly pear cactus and lime, sweetened tomatillo water, Honey Crisp apple salsa
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Mole Dulce: Spiced buttercream, Oaxacan chocolate ice cream, red mole

Oaxaca is legendary among Mexico’s regional cuisine. It is, of course, the land of the SEVEN MOLES! But it’s a whole lot more. And that’s where Topolo’s latest menu will take you.

First we head to to the beach for oysters and a little mezcal. Then we’re off to the infamous, smoke-filled “taco corridor” in downtown Oaxaca City for a little primal goodness.

In the Chinantec highlands, there’s a rustic “stone soup” cooked right in its serving vessel, a technique we’ve emulated at your table.

And all along the Pacific coast, folks are grilling red chile-glazed fish a la talla over wood fires.

Out in the wind-swept Isthmus of Tehuantepec cooks spend days creating ceremonial estofado de boda.  

But wait! No mole on the Oaxacan tasting menu? Yes, a little chocolate-laced mole coloradito—perhaps a touch sweeter and chocolatier than usual—with your spiced layer cake and Oaxacan chocolate ice cream.

Expect anything — Oaxaca is always filled with surprises.

Make Mexican for Memorial Day


TacoTuesdayLogo_blueNo, I’m not expecting you to dig a classic Mexican backyard pit to cook lamb barbacoa for your Memorial Day taco party. (If you
really want to, though, here’s my step-by-step procedure…)

But I can suggest an alternate version, one where a lamb shoulder, wrapped in aromatic leaves and marinated in red chile, roasts in your slow cooker until it’s fall-apart tender. Folded into a tortilla, splashed with salsa and showered with fresh onion and cilantro, these succulent tacos offer a true taste of Mexico.  

Don’t be intimidated by my call for agave leaves (pencas de maguey) here. If you’re near a Mexican grocery store, you’ll typically find them in the meat or vegetable department. (Banana leaves make a decent substitute; you can find those in Mexican and Asian markets.)

Barbacoa de Borrego
Servings: 6
Print

Ingredients

  • For the lamb
  • A12-inch chunk of an agave leaf (penca de maguey) or 1 large banana leaf, optional
  • 2tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
  • 112-ounce bottle of beer (optional but I love this!)
  • Salt
  • For the marinade
  • 2dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
  • 2dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 1canned chipotle chile en adobo
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
  • 1/2 teaspoondried Mexican oregano,
  • For serving
  • Your favorite hot sauce or salsa
  • A little chopped white onion
  • A handful of cilantro leaves

Instructions

Roast the agave leaf being careful not to touch the exposed flesh of the agave) over an open flame, turning every few minutes until pliable and charred, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness.  (If using a banana leaf, run it briefly over an open flame to soften it.)  Cut into 3 pieces.

In the stovetop-safe insert of your slow cooker or in a very large (12-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high.  Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel, sprinkle generously with salt and lay it in the insert of skillet.  Cook, turning occasionally, until richly brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Fit the insert into the machine or transfer the meat to the slow cooker.

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender with 2 cups of water and blend to a smooth puree.  Pour through a medium mesh strainer into the slow cooker. Nestle the pieces of agave leaf or banana leaf under and around the meat and pour the beer over the top, if you are using them.  Cover and turn on the slow cooker to high.  Your barbacoa  will be done in about 6 hours, though you can hold it for longer. (My slow-cooker can be programmed to switch from high after 6 hours to a “keep warm” temperature for up to another 6 hours. Some slow cookers click to “keep warm” automatically; others need to be switched manually.)

When you are ready to serve, coarsely shred the lamb and arrange it on a warm platter.  Skim any fat from the sauce that remains in the slow cooker, then taste it.  If you feel it would be better with a more concentrated flavor, pour it into a medium saucepan or remove the insert and set it over high heat.  Boil for a few minutes to reduce that quantity, then taste and season with salt if it needs it. Spoon as much as you like over the lamb or beef.  (I like to sprinkle coarse salt over the meat at this point.)  Serve the barbacoa with the hot sauce or salsa, onion and cilantro.  Grab some tortillas, if you like, and you’re ready to make some delicious tacos.

 

No slow cooker?

 

In a large (6- to 8-quart, at least 12 inches in diameter) heavy pot (preferably a Dutch oven), combine the ingredients as described.  Set the cover in place and braise in a 300-degree oven for about 3 hours, adding water occasionally if necessary to ensure the liquid stays at about the same level.  Finish as described.

Presenting the 2017 “Art Menu”at Topolobampo

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That Misunderstanding Smoky tomato cocktail with mezcal. Tender octopus, king crab, shrimp, cucumber
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Surprise Package Tortilla pillow, spring vegetables, roasted poblano-ramp crema, farm egg
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Bliss of the Inner Fire Slow-cooked Atlantic tilefish, salsa macha (pasilla chile, pine nuts, Baja olive oil, Szechuan peppercorn) caramelized onion with black pepper, local morel mushrooms
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Unimagined Memories Braised short rib, time-honored red chile sauce, potato (sweet, white). Enchilada or creamy rice, depending on your upbringing
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The Odyssey Squab three ways, Oaxacan black mole, seared foie gras. (Beans, nettles, plantains, almonds.)
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Unexpected Prizes Ice cream, chocolate, spiced chocolate peanut butter cream
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Starburst Pistachio, guava, lemon, chocolate, cherry, kafir lime, prickly pear. And whipped cream on top of the tart

I think we can all agree: Food can make us feel good. It can make us feel comforted, too. Or nostalgic. Or giddy with pleasure and desire. Or even a little uncertain. Sometimes I feel surprised, even shocked, by what I taste. Art can evoke feelings, too, of course, whether it’s in the form of a novel, a movie, a song or a painting.

Tonight, I and the Topolo chefs invite you to taste the dishes we’ve created to evoke familiar feelings — betrayal, anticipation, euphoria, triumph, wonder, exuberance. Then reflect on paintings and lithographs we’ve chosen from our highly lauded collection of Mexican masters. We think you’ll be pleased with the resonance.

Presenting the Topolo Art Menu 2016

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TIERRAS (Detail) Rolando Rojas (b. 1970)
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EXUBERANCE Wild Salmon, Veracruz Tsunami Alaskan king salmon, sea urchin, roiling flavors of Veracruz (tomatoes, jalapeños, capers, olive oil, herbs)
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BICICLETAS Y CONSTELACIONES Enrique Flores (b. 1954)
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DESIRE Ostiones Cachondos Poached oysters (pasilla chile, truffle, black garlic), crema, creamy foie gras, paddlefish caviar, truffle slices
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UNTITLED Rodolfo Morales (1925-2001)
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UNCERTAINTY Carnes Apache Tartares (ribeye cap, yellowfin tuna), east-west spice, citrus, nutty sesame salsa macha, kohlrabi crunch
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UNTITLED (Detail) Filemón Santiago (b. 1958)
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SERENITY Pastured Chicken, Squash Blossom Porridge Slow-cooked Gunthorp chicken, slow-cooked rice porridge infused with squash blossoms, crema & rich chicken stock, crispy chicken crumble, roasted serrano "salsa"

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IGUANA IS EATEN IN THIS HOUSE (Detail) Román Andrade Llaguno (b. 1959)
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NOSTALGIA Am I in a 1960s French Restaurant? Braised Creekstone short rib, woodland mushroom bread pudding, creamy wild greens, white sweet potato, mole de olla (rich beef broth infused with guajillo chile & aromatics)
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EL CRITO (DETAIL) Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)

I think we can all agree: Food can make us feel good. It can make us feel comforted, too. Or nostalgic. Or giddy with pleasure and desire. Or even a little uncertain. Sometimes I feel surprised, even shocked, by what I taste. Art can evoke feelings, too, of course, whether it’s in the form of a novel, a movie, a song or a painting.

I and the Topolo chefs invite you to taste the dishes we’ve created to evoke familiar feelings — exuberance, desire, uncertainty, serenity, nostalgia, betrayal, joy. Then reflect on paintings and lithographs we’ve chosen from our highly lauded collection of Mexican masters. We think you’ll be pleased with the resonance.

Reservations

Raise Your Labor Day Grilling Game with “Brava” Steak

Mexican_lightblueLogo_POST_170x177-copy

You know you want to grill this long holiday weekend, and you want something good but something easy. Something that can feed a crowd, but not the same old crowd-pleasers.

Let’s talk about Brava Steak, a recipe for marinated ribeye that derives its signature “brave” spiciness from a pungent marinade of roasted serrano (or jalapeño) chiles and garlic, plus a little sparkle from lime juice.

And because we like to keep Mexican Weekend relatively simple, I dress the steak with salsa huevona—I’ll politely translate that as “lazy salsa”—because all you’ll do is char the ingredients on the grill, then chop or pulse them into a rustic consistency.

One final tip: Balance out all of the heat in this dish with something sweet, like, say, in-season sweet corn. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can serve it with sweet corn tamales like we do at Frontera. You can find that recipe here.

Carne Asada Brava
Recipe from Season 6, Mexico—One Plate at a Time
Servings: 6
Print

Ingredients

  • 6large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 4fresh serrano or 2 fresh jalapeno chiles, stemmed
  • 1/4cup fresh lime juice
  • 2tablespoons tablespoons vegetable or olive oil, plus more for the steaks
  • Salt
  • 6 ribeye steaks about 1-inch thick (they'll weigh about 10 to 12 ounces each)
  • Salsa Huevona for Serving

Instructions

In a small ungreased skillet, roast the unpeeled garlic and the chiles over medium heat, turning occasionally, until both are soft and blotchy black in places - 5 to 10 minutes for the chiles, 10 to 15 minutes for the garlic. Cool, then peel the garlic. Place both garlic and chiles in a food processor along with the lime juice and oil. Run the machine until the mixture is as smoothly pureed as possible. Season highly with salt, usually about 1 1/2 teaspoons.

Smear the mixture over both sides of the steaks, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Light a charcoal fire and let the coals burn until they are covered with gray ash; position the grill grate and let it heat for a couple of minutes. Spray or brush the steaks on both sides with a little oil. Lay on the grill grates and let cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until the grates have nicely seared beautiful grill marks into the meat - don't attempt to move the steaks until you can see nice grill marks. Flip the steaks and cook until as done as you like (typically about 2 to 3 minutes longer for medium rare). I like to let the steaks rest for a few minutes (on a cool part of the grill, a grate suspended over the back of the grill or a very low oven) before serving to allow the meat to reabsorb all the juices. Serve with Lazy Salsa or another salsa or hot sauce of your liking.

Rick to Host “Fonda Fridays” in Wicker Park

Chef Rick Bayless is headed to the kitchen in Wicker Park making some amazingly tacos for the “Fonda Fridays” series.

“Occasionally, it’s nice to get out of downtown and just have fun in the kitchen.  I can promise some different, delicious and downright joyful tacos. These tacos will be unlike any thing else I’ve done,” Bayless said.

The “Fonda Fridays” series takes place beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, Nov. 17 and Nov. 24 at Fonda Frontera, 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave.

In addition to Fonda Frontera’s full array of Mexican comfort food, the menu for Nov. 10 includes three mouthwatering taco specials: Octopus CarnitasSmoked Brisket with Salsa Negra and Roasted Chicken with Maitake Mushrooms and Jalapeño Crema. (Other tacos in the series might include crispy sweetbreads with tomamole, lobster with esquites, tongue two-ways with foie gras crema, dry-aged beef with salsa huevona and lamb birria with Chicago-style giardiniera.)

Fonda Fridays will also mark the first time beer from Cruz Blanca Cervecería, Bayless’ brewery in the West Loop, will be served in any of his restaurants outside the Randolph Street locations. First up? CDMX, brewer Jacob Sembrano’s  bright pilsner with a delicate fruity German hop aroma balanced by a smooth, clean and soft bitter finish.

Good food, plus guests can also use the dinner series as an excuse to get a jump on holiday shopping – Rick will be signing cookbooks when he jumps off the line.

The launch of the Fonda Fridays series coincides with other changes at the restaurant, including a move toward Friday brunch, the debut of a new catering service and the introduction of a fall menu, which includes seasonal stars like Roasted Butternut-Bacon Tlayuda and a Spiced Tres Leches Cake with Red Chile-Apple Salsa.

Rick’s Holiday Cookbook Gift Guide

Searching for recipes online is great — we have thousands for you to browse — but there’s just nothing like the feeling of propping open a real ink-and-paper cookbook, getting down to business and staining the pages as you work through your favorite recipes.

And there’s nothing like giving or receiving a present.

To that end, consider giving the gift of soul-satisfying Mexican cooking with any of Rick’s cookbooks. Here’s a quick “cheat sheet” (written by Rick!) to help you pick the right one. Buy from our online store and you’ll get a signed copy.

Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico My first book: a snapshot of what folks were cooking in every part of Mexico in the ‘80s.  I spent 5 years living in Mexico while writing it.  A true reflection of the culture. Buy here 

Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine I spent a decade cooking at Frontera & Topolobampo, then came out with this master-class book of traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine. Hard-won knowledge gained from cooking everyday in the restaurants. Buy here

Salsas that Cook Wanna know a handful of salsas (perfect for making in large quantities and freezing or canning!) that can be used to flavor all kinds of dishes? Paperback, unexpected fun. Buy here

Mexico One Plate at a Time Mexico’s most well-known classics, each with a contemporary variation that most cooks find really intriguing.  Lots of test kitchen notes! Buy here.

Frontera Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks A small book that explores loads of recipes for two of our most important food groups. Great gift for drinkers and dippers! Buy here.

Mexican Everyday Simple, lean, quick dishes with vibrant Mexican flavor.  Great “get started” cookbook; lots of “riffs” are included to encourage improvisation. Buy here.

More Mexican Everyday Volume two, but greater emphasis on techniques of quick cooking, flavorings to keep on hand, uses of vegetables from the farmers market. Buy here.

Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Foods for Great Times with Friends Like throwing big, blow-off-the-top parties? This is the book for you. Step-by-step recipes, cocktails, even some of my favorite party playlists make this a go-to manual for your next fiesta. Buy here.

If you’re looking for more gift ideas, don’t forget the brand new(ish) line of Rick Bayless cookware (featuring all sorts of cool Mexican kitchen essentials), DVDs of past seasons of Mexico: One Plate at a Time, gift cards to our restaurants and a whole bunch of products from Frontera Foods. The “Rare Specialties” line of small-batch sauces, olive oil, jams and the incredibly tasty Aztec chocolate sauce makes an excellent present for the gourmet cook.

Taco Tuesday: Crunchy, Cheesy, 420 Tacos

TT420DropshadowHeyyy maannnnn,

It has come to my attention over the years that a good number of people think my mellow enthusiasm for stuff I taste or cook is a result of—I’ll just say it—a little weed. While those that know me find that a little hilarious, the truth is I never touch the stuff. Well, certainly not recently (remember, I came of age in the ‘60s). Besides, I’m a mezcal man.

Nevertheless I find the presumed connection between me and a little weed just hilarious enough to do a 420 edition of Taco Tuesday dedicated to some tacos worthy of late-night munchies.

First, we start with bacon. (I mean, obvious, right?)

Then, we’ll caramelize some onions in all of that beautiful bacon fat, which is then used to fry a big mess of diced potatoes. And since these tacos wouldn’t be complete without some gooey melted cheese, we’ll add just enough to blend with all that delicious crispy bacon and onion caramelized in bacon fat. (I’ll bet you’re thinking about a one-hitter, aren’t you?)

Oh, and there’s some healthy splashes of Mexican hot sauce. And a handful of crumbled chicharrón (hey, potato chips could work here, too) for some crunchy, salty goodness.

Ok, maybe not everyone who partakes craves indulgent eats, but trust me, you’re going to want to make these — “enhanced” state of consciousness or not. 

Servings: 4to 6
Print

Ingredients

  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 2 to 4ounces (2 to 4 thick strips) bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2pounds red skinned potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
  • 1/4cup shredded melting cheese, like Jack cheese
  • Hot sauce
  • 1piece chicharrón

Instructions

In a large (10-inch) skillet set over medium heat, cook the bacon and onions, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crispy and the onions are golden, about 10 minutes.

Scoop the potatoes into a microwave-safe bowl and splash with a few tablespoons of water. Cover with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave at 100% for 3 minutes, until mostly cooked. Tip out the water and add the potatoes to the pan, raise the heat to medium-high until the potatoes begin to crisp, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the skillet with cheese and hot sauce. 

Scoop the mixture into warm tortillas and top with chicharrón and more hot sauce.

Taco Tuesday: Put Some Huevos On It

TacoTuesdayLogo_blueThis being Taco Tuesday, I’m taking one of the most classic preparations of the Mexican kitchen—huevos a la Mexicana—and folding it into warm corn tortillas for the most delicious speedy tacos I know how to make.

All these tacos require are a hot pan, melted fat, whisked eggs and the a la Mexicana part—that’s tomatoes, green chiles and onion.  And, of course, some tortillas. (See? Simple.) The garnish of avocado and cilantro are optional, but are always a good call if you have them on hand.

So is this breakfast? Lunch? Dinner?

To tell the truth, I’ve eaten huevos a la Mexicana at all hours of the day, and you will too after learning the basics of this Mexican staple.

Huevos a la Mexicana
Servings: 4
Print

Ingredients

  • 3tablespoons lard, vegetable oil, bacon drippings, fat rendered from chorizo, or even butter
  • 3 serrano chile OR 1 large jalapeño, stemmed
  • 1small onion, diced
  • 1ripe medium-large tomato, cored and diced
  • 8large eggs
  • 1scant teaspoon salt

Instructions

1. The flavorings. Melt the lard or other fat in a medium-size skillet set over medium heat. For a milder dish, seed the chiles then chop them finely and add to the skillet, along with the onion and tomato. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened but is not brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

2. The eggs. Beat the eggs with the salt, just enough to combine the whites and yolks. Add them to the skillet and scramble until they are as sone as you like. Taste for salt, then scoop them into a warm dish and serve right away.

The Pork Carnitas Recipe You’ll Treasure Forever

purple_170x177When it comes to carnitas, let’s assume you don’t have the time or energy to heat a huge cauldron of pork lard and cook a cut-up pig.

Instead, you might head to a restaurant that’s known for carnitas and buy some to bring home.

But this near-effortless version of the classic Mexican preparation allows you to make your own — good news for those of us who don’t have a great carnitas restaurant nearby.

Cooking pork submerged in its own fat—what chefs have classically called confit—produces a lusciously tender and juicy result that you’d never achieve by roasting or simmering.

In the traditional Mexican kitchen, carnitas are typically cooked first at a high temperature to promote browning, then simmered low and slow until they are richly tender. Here, we’re doing the reverse, cooking the pork slowly in its own fat in a slow cooker (it requires much less fat and much less tending), then browning it when it’s time to serve.

Quick note: carnitas demand a big stack of warm tortillas for making tacos. And what’s a carnitas taco without some guacamole to spoon on it, plus a little salsa and a smear of beans.

It’s a big dish, to be sure, but a simple salad on the table really completes the meal.

Cena Completa de Carnitas de Puerco
Servings: 6
Print

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
  • salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2cups freshly rendered pork lard (you can buy good-quality lard from a local butcher or Mexican market; I don't recommend the hydrogenated lard that's sold in bricks)
  • 3serranos (or 2 jalapeños) stemmed, seeded if you wish
  • 10 unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 4 1/2cups cooked beans (and kind you like), drained, cooking liquid reserved (this is the quantity you'll get from three 15-ounce cans)
  • 115-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2cup chopped cilantro (divided use)
  • 3 or 4limes (divided use)
  • 3ripe avocados, pitted, flesh scooped from the skins
  • 2dozen corn tortillas

Instructions

Cut the pork into 2 ½- to 3-inch pieces and sprinkle generously on all sides with salt. Scoop the lard into a 6-quart slow cooker and turn on high.  When the lard is melted, fit in the pork in a single layer (there should be few gaps between the pieces and they should be barely covered with the fat).  Cover and cook until thoroughly tender, about 3 hours.  Turn off, uncover and let cool while you prepare the accompaniments.

In a very large (12-inch) non-stick or seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat, roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic, turning regularly until they are softened and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for the chiles, 15 minutes for the garlic.  Cool, then slip the garlic from its skins and put into a food processor. Pulse the garlic until it’s finely chopped.

Set the skillet over medium heat and spoon in a few tablespoons of the pork fat from the carnitas.  Add the beans and 1/3 of the chopped garlic.  Mash with an old-fashioned potato masher or back of a large spoon until as smooth as you like—I like mine to retain a little texture—adding bean cooking liquid (or water) a few tablespoons at a time until the beans have a slightly soupy consistency.  Scrape the beans into a serving bowl, cover with a piece of foil and keep warm in a very low oven.

Divide what remains of the garlic between 2 medium serving bowls.  Without cleaning the processor, pulse the chiles until finely chopped.  Divide between the two bowls.

Again, without washing the processor, pulse the drained tomatoes until they resemble salsa texture.  Scrape into one of the bowls with the chile and garlic. Stir half of the cilantro into the tomato salsa bowl and season with a tablespoon or two of fresh lime juice. Thin the salsa with a little water if it needs it, then taste and season with salt, usually about a ½ teaspoon.

Scoop the avocados into the other bowl and mash with the potato masher or back of a spoon until smooth or chunky—whatever your favorite guacamole texture.  Stir in the remaining cilantro and squeeze in a little fresh lime juice—1 tablespoon is usually enough to brighten the flavors.  Taste and season with salt, usually about a ½ teaspoon.

Cut the remaining limes into wedges and scoop into a serving bowl.

Remove the pork to a cutting board, leaving behind as much fat as possible.  (You can refrigerate the lard to use for another round of carnitas, to season beans or fry potatoes or the like.) Shred the carnitas into very large, coarse pieces.  Set the cleaned bean-cooking skillet over medium heat. When the pan is very hot, spoon in enough carnitas-cooking fat to film the bottom generously.  Scoop in the pork, spreading it out evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes, until it is richly browned and releases itself from the bottom of the pan.  Gently turn the pieces to brown the other side. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt (coarse salt is welcome here, if you have it). Serve on a warm platter with the beans, salsa, guacamole, lime wedges and warm tortillas.

The Reader’s Readers Pick Rick

Best of Chicago

We’re on the Chicago Reader’s radar.

The venerable alt-weekly just published its annual “Best of Chicago” issue and our very own Rick Bayless topped the readers’ poll for Best Chef. Check it out here.

Thanks, readers!

The whole “Best of Food and Drink” is worth a read, as it highlights some of the coolest, undiscovered, offbeat and/or important players in the city’s food scene. And the quick feature on Nance Klehm’s ambitious food waste and composting program gets a special shout-out, which we think is awesome.

In a separate feature, food critic Mike Sula cooked the Mole de Olla recipe from Rick’s latest cookbook More Mexican Everyday, praising the slow-cooker soup as “magnificently rich and deeply beefy.”

“I’ve cooked out of all of [Bayless’s nine] cookbooks, and I’ve not once come across a bunk recipe,” he writes.

And let’s not forget that last month, our chef de cuisine Andres Padilla earned a victory at the publication’s “Key Ingredient Cookoff” in the “Best use of Cactus” category for preparing a spicy, umami-packed take on ensalada de nopal (cactus salad).

So thanks again to the readers of the Reader. You keep doing your thing and we’ll keep doing ours.

Photo Illustration: Colleen Durkin for the Chicago Reader

The Topolo Timeline Menu Offers the Best of the Past Decade

Over the last decade, the chefs at Topolobampo have had the opportunity to explore first hand many of the rich regional cuisines of Mexico.

When you taste dishes that have been made by traditional cooks in Villahermosa, say, or Oaxaca, Veracruz or Chiapas, you can’t help but respect the generations of experience that have led to a perfect taste.

Those flavors form the bedrock of our inspiration in Topolo, the springboard for creating beautiful dishes that prove how seamlessly tradition plays in the contemporary kitchen.

We looked back at some of our favorite dishes over the past decade and offer you our 2016 interpretations. — Chef Rick Bayless

Head over to Topolo’s page to see the new menu.

These Mushroom Tacos with “Lazy-Ass” Salsa Aren’t Much Work

TacoTuesdayLogo_blueThese grilled mushroom tacos are an unexpectedly delicious diversion from meat-centric, over-the-top fiesta food that typically arrives with summer barbecue season.) I’m thinking about the ribs and twice baked potatoes I’m making in a couple of weeks …)

Now, before you click “delete,” let me tell you what we’re working with here. It’s anything but your typical “vegetarian option.” A bold, citrusy marinade provides a dynamic counterpoint to the earthy portobellos. The salsa huevona adds rustic fire and char and just the right amount of pungency to every bite.
(That salsa, by the way, couldn’t take less effort. It’s name means–as you Spanish speakers know–“lazy ass” salsa, resulting from the fact that you throw tomatoes, chiles and onions on the grill and just leave them there until they’re charred.)
Quick note: You’ll notice that I leave the gills of the mushrooms intact. They don’t bother me like they so some cooks, but by all means feel free to scrape them off, if you wish, before applying the marinade.
Hongos asados al ajo con salsa poblana
Servings: 4as a light meal
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Ingredients

  • 1medium white onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (keep the rounds intact for easy grilling)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
  • Salt
  • 64- to 5-inch (about 1-3/4 pounds total) portobello mushrooms, stems removed and caps wiped clean (you can use a spoon to scrape out the dark gills on the underside of the caps, though it's not really necessary)
  • A little vegetable or olive oil for the onion
  • 12ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 to 6 plum) ripe tomatoes
  • 3medium (about 9 ounces total) fresh poblano chiles
  • 3tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 12warm fresh corn tortillas

Instructions

Marinating the mushrooms: In a food processor or blender, combine 1/3 of the onion, the garlic, 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process to a smooth puree. Lay out the mushroom caps in a nonaluminum baking dish. Using a spoon, smear the marinade over both sides of each mushroom cap. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Preparing the salsa: Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash and very hot. Either turn the burner(s) in the center of the grill to medium-low or bank the coals to the sides of the grill for indirect cooking. Set the cooking grate in place, cover the grill and let the grate heat up, 5 minutes or so.

Brush or spray the remaining onion slices with oil and lay in a single layer in the center (the least hot part) of the grill, along with the tomatoes. Set the chiles over the hottest part. Roast, turning everything occasionally, until the chiles' skin (but not the flesh) is blistered and uniformly blackened all over, about 5 minutes, and the onion and tomatoes are softened and browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size and the heat. When the chiles are done, remove them and cover with a kitchen towel. Set the tomatoes aside on a plate. Finely chop the onion and scoop it into a bowl.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull off their skins. Use a mortar to crush them, or place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely pureed. Add to the chopped onion.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles, then pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse briefly to remove any stray seeds and bits of skin. Chop into small bits and stir half into the tomato-onion mixture along with the remaining 1 tablespoon, lime juice and the cilantro. Taste, season with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon, and then scoop into a serving bowl.

Grilling the mushrooms: Remove the mushrooms from the marinade, spray or brush them with oil and lay gill side up over the hot part of the grill. Cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes, then flip and move to the center of the grill - the cooler part - and continue grilling until they feel a little limp but still have some body, about 10 minutes more.

Serving the tacos: Cut the mushrooms into 1/4-inch strips. Scoop into a warm serving dish and mix with the remaining chopped poblanos. Season with salt, usually about 1/4 teaspoon. Set the mushrooms on the table along with the salsa and hot tortillas - everything you need for making wonderful soft tacos.

Working ahead: The mushroom caps can remain in their marinade for as long as 24 hours, covered in the refrigerator. The salsa will keep nicely (covered and refrigerated) for a day or so. The mushrooms are best cooked shortly before serving.

Topolo Earns Four More Stars From the Chicago Tribune

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UNTITLED (Detail) Simon Sparrow (1925-2000)
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DESIRE Once is Not Enough Puckery cucumber ice, sweet-spicy sea scallop, lime-infused jicama, smoked pineapple, sour salted plum, sweet honey Manila mango, edible gold leaf, toasted hazelnuts
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MAGIC ACT Rubén Leyva (b. 1953)
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EXUBERANCE Spring Has Sprung A riot of herbs and flowers, creamy green "flan" (local goat milk and cheese, garlic chives and ramps), trout roe, fresh peas and shaved asparagus
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UNTITLED Paula Pia Martinez
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COMFORT Beans and Rice Heirloom Mexican beans three ways (creamy white been puree, three varieties braised whole, chipotle-black bean sauce), crispy homemade rice-sesame cracker, house-cured suckling pig ham, aromatic wild ramp mojo
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UNTITLED (Detail) Filemón Santiago (b. 1958)
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WONDER All's Right Wood-grilled Alaskan halibut, rich-and-meaty roasted poblano broth, spring snap peas and favas, spicy chamomile-infused carrot crema, pea tendrils

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THE CRY (Detail) Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
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SURPRISE After the Fall Black garlic-glazed lamb shoulder and freshwater eel, black zapote sauce, black salsa (chile pasado, cuttlefish ink, roasted rhubarb), yesterday's bread, charred broccoli
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WOMAN CARRYING A CATHEDRAL Felipe Morales (b. 1959)

Chicago Tribune food critic Phil Vettel has bestowed some lavish praise on Topolo in years past. 

Last year’s four-star review, the one where our fearless chef de cuisine Andres Padilla was credited for “triumphs of technique and scholarship that stimulate the mind as much as they do the palate,” simply blew us away.

Imagine our delight, then, when Vettel published his latest review of our Art Menu, a seven-course culinary journey designed to elicit an emotional response.

The verdict? Four stars.

“‘Art,’ ultimately, is fascinating,” Vettel writes. “It’s Topolobampo’s most overtly collaborative menu ever, and shines a well-deserved light on lesser known members of Topolo’s team (Bayless’ name isn’t associated with a single dish, and Padilla’s only once).” 

As Rick put it, we’re “button-busting proud” that our sous chefs, those hardworking creative souls, are not only credited by name in the review (how often does that happen?) but that their contributions to this special menu were so incredibly well-received.

Of Lisa Despres’ opening dish, a “tart, teasing plate” appropriately named “Once is Not Enough,” Vettel said “there’s enough heat and acidity in the dish to make one salivate, and, true to the title, I wanted more of this.”

Pastry chef Adriana Martell’s dish, called “Birthday Party,”  is “a symphony of chocolate and coffee flavors,” while Joel Ramirez’s “Spring Has Sprung” is described as an “explosion of “herbs, vegetables and flowers.”

For Vettel, Ramirez’s “After the Fall” dish was the “best dish of the night” for it’s “remarkable composition” of lamb and eel, as well as the daring, suprising manner in which it’s plated.

As ever, sommelier Jill Gubesch’s wine picks, are “unerring.”

News of the four-star review broke while Rick was out of the country.

But in this electronic age, news travels fast and transcends time zones, so Topolo’s guiding force was quick to post his kudos to his staff by way of his popular Facebook page.

“I’m button-busting proud, not just because I’m chef-owner of the place,” Rick wrote, “but because Mr. Vettel focused on each of the brilliant chefs who created these stunning dishes that explore flavor, art and emotion.”

Topolo’s Chefs Get Evocative with the 2015 Art Menu

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UNTITLED (Detail) Simon Sparrow (1925-2000)
Slide background
DESIRE Once is Not Enough Puckery cucumber ice, sweet-spicy sea scallop, lime-infused jicama, smoked pineapple, sour salted plum, sweet honey Manila mango, edible gold leaf, toasted hazelnuts
Slide background
MAGIC ACT Rubén Leyva (b. 1953)
Slide background
EXUBERANCE Spring Has Sprung A riot of herbs and flowers, creamy green "flan" (local goat milk and cheese, garlic chives and ramps), trout roe, fresh peas and shaved asparagus
Slide background
UNTITLED Paula Pia Martinez
Slide background
COMFORT Beans and Rice Heirloom Mexican beans three ways (creamy white been puree, three varieties braised whole, chipotle-black bean sauce), crispy homemade rice-sesame cracker, house-cured suckling pig ham, aromatic wild ramp mojo
Slide background
UNTITLED (Detail) Filemón Santiago (b. 1958)
Slide background

WONDER All's Right Wood-grilled Alaskan halibut, rich-and-meaty roasted poblano broth, spring snap peas and favas, spicy chamomile-infused carrot crema, pea tendrils

Slide background
THE CRY (Detail) Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Slide background
SURPRISE After the Fall Black garlic-glazed lamb shoulder and freshwater eel, black zapote sauce, black salsa (chile pasado, cuttlefish ink, roasted rhubarb), yesterday's bread, charred broccoli
Slide background
WOMAN CARRYING A CATHEDRAL Felipe Morales (b. 1959)

“Draw what you see; paint what you feel.” – Francis Boag

Let us now alter the artist’s bromide to explain the challenge issued to Topolobampo’s chefs for creating the restaurant’s 2015 Art Menu: “Cook what you see; taste what you feel.”

“Much like absorbing an intriguing painting, eating brings forth powerful bursts of emotion. That’s the territory we’re exploring here,” said Chef Rick Bayless.

The concept for the 2015 Art Menu began when Rick asked Topolo chefs Andres Padilla, Joel Ramirez, Lisa Despres and Adriana Martell to list the different feelings associated with dishes they love to eat.

They eventually settled on six: desire, exuberance, comfort, surprise, wonder and nostalgia, tying each emotion to a painting found in the plush collection of Mexican art adorning the restaurant’s walls.

The tasting menu begins with Lisa Despres’ “Once is Not Enough,” blending sweet, sour, spicy, smoky and salty flavors that will leave you desiring ever more. It ends with Martell’s magic, nostalgic “Birthday Party,” which arrives at the table like a fine dining dessert but with one bite transports you immediately back to warm, wistful childhood.

In between, the dishes will take diners on a journey designed to elicit an emotional response.  The full menu, complete with descriptions, can be viewed here. 

We invite you to experience it for yourself.

To make a reservation, visit this page or call us at (312) 661-1434.

 

 

Topolo’s Stunning New Menu: Chicago’s Winter Bounty

No one believes it (certainly no one expects it): a luxurious menu of local ingredients…in the winter…in Chicago. Still, the deliciousness that unfolds on this menu celebrates joyously that it can be done.

In fact, Chicago cooks a century ago wouldn’t have understood what the fuss was about. They cooked with local ingredients all winter in those days — they had no choice — which I learned nearly 30 years ago from our restaurant’s first farmer (an octogenarian) who’d grown up on a winter-producing farm west of town.

What’s old is new again. Which is why we choose the winter to showcase local farmers’ bounty. Much is freshly harvested or produced, some comes from the modern root cellar, some we’ve preserved for just this occasion.

You’re Invited to a “Dinner Like No Other” 2017

Tickets are on sale now for the “Dinner Like No Other,” our unforgettable fundraising party for the Frontera Farmer Foundation. The event takes place at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo on Sunday, Oct. 15.

This year’s theme? “A Night at the Circus.” Prepare to be dazzled with a never-before-seen five-course themed menu (hint: expect lots of color), super-smooth margaritas and expertly curated wine pairings from our longtime sommelier Jill Gubesch. Of course, Rick will be there working the room and cajoling guests to raise a little more money. It’s a blast.

BUY TICKETS ONLINE

We’ll also have a raffle and silent auction with wildly great prizes generously donated by places like Butcher & Larder, Half Acre Beer Co., Waldorf Astoria Chicago, Goose Island, Big Green Egg, Vitamix, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Kitchenaid and so much more. And for lovers of good wine, Jill’s jaw-dropping wine auction is not to be missed.

The full 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit the Frontera Farmer Foundation, our volunteer-run nonprofit that awards capital development grants to small Midwest family farms.

We are incredibly proud to have awarded more than $2 million in small grants  — all of it in chunks of no more than $12,000 — since the foundation’s inception. (Here’s a look at the 2017 winners; here’s the rest going back to 2004.)

These hardworking Midwest family farmers need our help, and that’s the very reason we throw an unforgettable fundraising dinner each year. With this grant money, these farmers have been able to expand their operations and make more good food available in the Chicago area.

It’s in their honor we host this annual extravaganza. We hope you can join us. (And even if you can’t make it to the party,  you can still donate to the FFF at this page.)