Thursday, 7 February 2013

Tortillas dobladas, or How NOT to puff a panucho


So the other week, when I made pollo pibil, I intended to serve the chicken breast on top of a panucho.

A panucho is a thick corn tortilla stuffed with refried beans, a speciality of Yucatecan cuisine. It was the first type of tortilla I ever made and I was inspired to have another go when I heard my amigo Freddy made them for a dinner party.

In general, corn tortillas should puff during cooking, so they should all have a stuffable pocket. While making this latest batch of panuchos (the first time using my new tortilla press), I paid particular attention to the puffing.

Unfortunately, though the tortillas puffed beautifully, the pockets were to thin and fragile to be stuffed.

They were still tortillas, not panuchos.

Automatic FAIL, right?

Wrong.

I just changed the menu to "tortillas dobladas"!

Tortillas dobladas ("doubled tortillas") is something I came across in Diana Kennedy's Essential Cuisines of Mexico, which is currently my bedtime reading.

Kennedy's recipe, based on a snack she ate on a picnic in Mexico, is basically to spread salsa (either red or green) on a tortilla, fold it over and fry it on both sides.

The result would be a simple but delicious snack in the shape of a half-moon.

Taking inspiration from this, I spread the refried black beans over a tortilla, topped it with another tortilla (I wanted to keep the disc shape), and fried that on each side.

The result was perfect, and so much easier than panuchos that I may just switch to these from now on.

It's as good as a panucho, right?




Holy frijoles!

One of the posts I meant to write last year was about beans. Beans are a staple of Mexican cuisine and pretty much have been since pre-Hispanic times.

In fact, when my fellow food blogger Leslie Limon interviewed prominent Mexican chef Aquiles Chávez, he defined his nation's cuisine as "corn plus beans multiplied by chiles".

And yet beans are so ubiquitous you can easily take them for granted, passing them over for more complicated dishes.

It was Isabel Hood's Chilli and Chocolate that inspired me to cook my own beans (frijoles) from scratch, because she puts bean recipes first - giving them the place they actually deserve.

So last Summer, instead of just buying a tin of beans, I got a half kilo of dried black turtle beans (my favourite kind; I must have Yucatecan ancestry) and made some homemade frijoles de olla (pot-cooked beans: the classic Mexican bean recipe).

Although this took all day, I didn't get any photos. Lame, I know.

Luckily, another fellow food blogger, Lily Ramirez-Foran, has recently done a post about beans.

I basically did what she did, except I didn't use a pressure-cooker. Instead I brought the beans from cold to a vigorous boil on high heat and then reduced the heat and let them simmer for hours and hours.

Like Lily, I recommend making a huge batch and dividing it into several portions for use in other recipes. They freeze and defrost very well.

Right away I used one portion to make pumpkin and black bean soup. Another portion went into a tortilla casserole that even my three-year-old daughter loved.

And one portion got "refried" and went into my tortillas dobladas.

By the way refrito in Spanish means "thoroughly cooked", not "fried again".

In practise you often do make frijoles refritos by cooking them twice, though you can go straight to refried beans from frijoles de olla if you want to.

Either way, they're still only fried once.

I fried my beans in pork lard for an authentic flavour. One of my earliest memories of beans is asking my mother why some cans of beans were labelled "vegetarian" and finding out that beans are traditionally fried in lard in Mexico.

I have one batch of beans left: the batch with the most cooking liquid still in it. My plan is to turn it into a bean sauce and make enfrijoladas, which are like enchiladas but with bean sauce instead of chile sauce.

I'll definitely get pics of that.