It might prepare you for piedrazo if you think of it as a grown-up version of flaming hot Doritos: a revved up spicy-tangy-salty blow to the taste buds—in a great way, of course. It’s like the crazy bar snack you keep going back to between swigs on a cold beer. A piedrazo in Spanish is a blow with a rock, so the name itself is forewarning. The rock is the chunk of hard bread a street vendor drops in the bag. The vinegar, chile and salt are the blow. I must admit: On many a stroll through Oaxaca, I’ve found myself pulling the bread from the mix, gnawing off the softening parts, then quickly dunking it back in the bag to soak up another round of dramatic flavor, impatient that it was taking so long.
Here I suggest you cut some sturdy bread into smaller pieces: rectangles for the bar snack (so they’ll stay crisp longer), cubes for the salad (so they’ll soften quicker, as for panzanella).
Potato is a player in the vegetable mixture for some vendors. Cut boiling potatoes into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup), add them to the simmering vinegar mixture about 3 minutes before you add the onion and carrot. Another version adds a large chile pasilla oaxaqueño (stemmed, seeded, sliced into ¼-inch pieces crosswise) to the vinegar mixture. You’ll likely want less chile salt and Mexican hot sauce with the chile-spiked vinegar.
4cupsbread cubes (cut them into 1-inch cubes for the salad, 1x2-inch rectangles for the bar snack) from Oaxacan pan de agua or from bolillos or French baguette
1cupapple cider vinegar
2tablespoonschopped piloncillo (Mexican raw cone sugar) or brown sugar
A fewbig sprigsof thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried)
3garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1large (4-ounce)carrot, peeled if you wish and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1medium (6-ounce)onion (white onion is typical in Oaxaca, but red gives beautiful color), sliced ¼-inch thick
About 3ouncesOaxacan quesillo or other stringable cheese like mozzarella or string cheese, pulled into thin strings 2 or 3 inches long
A littlechile salt (preferably not one with dehydrated lime like Tajin) or Oaxacan sal de gusano
A few splashesof Mexican hot sauce like Valentina or Tamazula
For serving as a spicy salad
1medium (6- to 7-ounce)cucumber, cut into ½-inch pieces
1large (8-ounce)tomato, cored and cut into ½-inch pieces
About 1/4cupolive oil
Toast the bread and make the pickled vegetables. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the bread onto a baking sheet, slide it into the oven and bake until the pieces are crisp through and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. In a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan, combine the vinegar, piloncillo, salt, bay, thyme, garlic and ¾ cup water. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Add the sliced carrot, cook a couple of minutes, then stir in the onion, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let cool.
Finish the dish. Scoop the bread into a large bowl. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, add the carrot and onion to the bread, then splash on about ½ cup of the vinegar mixture. (You can strain and reserve the remainder to use in a salad dressing.) To serve as a bar snack, scoop the mixture onto a deep platter, top with the cheese, sprinkle liberally with the chile salt and dollop on the hot sauce. To serve as a salad, stir in the cucumber, tomato and olive oil. Let stand a few minutes for the bread to absorb some of the liquid, then scoop it onto a platter or divide between plates. Top with the cheese, and sprinkle with a little of the chile salt and hot sauce.
To make chile salt: Mix together a tablespoon of ground guajillo chile, a tablespoon of salt and as much ground arbol chile as you like (it’s very spicy). I’d start with ½ teaspoon and increase from there. Chile salt is a spicy condiment.