MEXICAN REGIONAL STREET FOOD ...IN CHICAGO
Here was one of those moments that people who
are "obsessed" with the culinary world just feels so lucky to have had. I was in Chicago on business, and
part of my job is to meet with clients, many times that means for lunches or dinners. So I can combine my
career with a passion, and that is of course experiencing some of America's current food spots, in this case
it was lunch at a new restaurant opened by Oklahoma born Rick Bayless, hands down one of the most
respected and talented chefs who happens to specialize in Mexican regional cooking. His flagship venue is
now three restaurants all in the same building block, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and the newest piece
of the tortilla is XOCO. This is his homage to the street foods of regional Mexico, the town Plazas, the farmers'
markets, the night food stalls, that dot the map of that varied country. Unfortunately, most Americans only get
to eat the mainstream items, many times integrated with American food and culture, and we miss the
opporunity to sample the other bounties which are part of that country's culinary landscape. I've been
watching Rick Bayless for years on his many shows on PBS..He is also the current holder of the title of
TOP CHEF MASTERS which won him $100,000.00 for the charity of his choice. As luck would have it, he
walked over to XOCO as I was leaving, but was in the middle of a meeting with the kitchen staff to discuss
a new "torta" recipe....While he couldn't leave the meeting, he did allow me to snap his picture. HOW COOL
WAS THAT??? My dining partner is not a "foodista" so some of the excitement was lost there, but when I
watch Rick on PBS tomorrow afternoon, I'll be watching an old friend...(ok, that's a stretch, but so what).
This is a street food extravaganza of Mexican regionals and it is as casual as they come, set up like a Cosi'
or Chipotle restaurant...small tables and counter seating. The entrance area is a little confusing but I guess
they had to work with the buildings' architecture. You get your number, then order at the open kitchen counter.
Back to your seat where you are brought good chips with amazing salsas, one red, one green. The green wins.
I started my meal with one of the Aqua Frescas, one of the typical beverages sold by the Mexican street vendors.
They are fruit drinks, highly flavored I may add, with lots of sugar...we ordered the Limonada, the lime flavored
one, tart, sweet, and freshing all at once.
Really good. Then our lunch was served, we shared two tortas..
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torta. Simply put, a torta is a Mexican sandwich which has a variety of ingredients
and does vary from region to region. We chose the Cochinto Pibil version, and the Jamon version, both made
with pork, but both could not be more different. First, the Cochinito.
Served on a crusty whole grained roll, i'm sure
it was baked in a brick oven..this is shredded woodoven cooked suckling pig with seasonings, achiote being one
of them. Pickled onions are added (vinegar and beet juice??) served with a Habanero salsa. The salsas again
were awesome, not chunky, but they were thick. Unless your throat is coated in a fireproof mesh, go lightly on this
one...it was on the side, we ordered it that way, just in case of incindiary accidents...Using it as a sort of dip worked
well for me..The heat was there, but there was flavor as well.
The second torta was served on the more
popular style torta bread, called a bolillo. The ingredients are added and then pressed panini or cubano
style. An organic cheddar, along with LaQuercia Prosciutto Picante, avocado slices and a wonderful chipotle
mustard were pressed together under heat to meld together a winning combination of texture, salty, meat,
cheese, soft, and crusty...all at once...the creaminess of the avocado marries with the mustard and cuts right
into the saline goodness of the ham and cheese. We got a cilantro crema with this, or maybe that was for
the Cochinito. BTW, the cochinito is one of Bayless' signature dishes...must be tried...but, I'm a sucker for
cured pork products, and the Prosciutto torta, well let's say I didn't want to share the other half....
Our feast from the streets of Mexico City ended with a Mexican
Vanilla Soft Ice Cream Sundae topped with salted caramel and a struesel made of bacon and maple...salty, sweet,
salty, sweet....and a Mexican hot chocolate...the pride of the Aztecs....with a hint of spice in it...
http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco.html..there's the link to XOCO. I don't feel I can explain any dishes I
did not eat, so, the menu is there....
So to end todays' blogpost, here is MY recipe idea of how that prosciutto torta is made, I am making no claims
here that this is Rick Bayless'. For that, you will have to go to XOCO. Make a mustard spread out of 2 tbs. dijon
mustard, 1 tsp. chipotle powder, 1 tbs. mayonnaise. Add 1 tsp. of fresh lime juice and a splash of Tabasco. A
portuguese roll will work nicely, slice it in half. Slather the mustard on both sides. Place 6 thin slices of prosciutto
on on half. Then cover with two slices of a good sharp white cheddar. Now add a few medium slices of avocado.
Place the other half on and press between a panini grill for 4 minutes. Done. Slice in half , I think any additional
salsa ( or sauces) are superfluous here...it's a great hearty and rich sandwich just as is...but, since I can't be a
food dictator (ok, I am, but you're getting a reprieve here) used your favorite spiced up salsa on the side.