Fried Chicken and tacos: how to please a teenager
It was our son’s 19th birthday a couple of weeks ago. The family tradition is to order KFC and gorge on fried chicken by the bucket load. Well, the kids do anyway, while the rest of us always look forward to the alternative menu. Not that it is necessarily lighter, it just offers something other than deep fried!
Marc’s “plan B” was to have Mexican food, which we were all happy to hear since it is one of the family’s favourite cuisine ( along with French, Italian, Burgers, Thai, Chinese,…it all depends on who you ask) So I went to town, literally. Hurstville, to be exact, which is well known for its dozens of Asian eateries and the best place this side of Sydney to find fresh and exotic fruits and vegetables.
I always take on the 20mn drive with a list of specific ingredients, and end up distracted with the dumplings, the duck, the bbq pork and the various noodles on offer. Over time, my shopping visit have turned into a ritual: I always start at Hurstville Central with a visit to Tosca Seafood. The variety on display is mind boggling, from the usual snapper to the salmon or the abalone ( a favourite of the mostly asian clientele), with some harder to find species like coral trout or spanish mackerel which I never see in our local seafood. Apart from salmon and tilapia, every fish is displayed whole or as cutlets, so if you want fillets, it is a matter of picking your choice of fish and have the staff cut it for you. You then end up with not only the meat but also the head and bones for stock! That’s how I bought 2 blue eye cods, to make sure I would have enough meat for fish tacos for 17 people.
Next stop, is at Tong Li Supermarket, where I generally go crazy snapping fresh rice noodles and bunches of chinese greens. Not that I can’t find them where I live, but in Hurstville the turnover is so high that I am always sure to find the freshest produce. And the more unusual too: like jicama (known here as yam bean) or dragon fruit.
Dumplings are my weakness, and I can never resist a sampling at Ken’s Bento ( I call them dumpling on the go!).
And because I would have a riot at home otherwise, I always stop by Honk Kong Delight and buy a take-away dinner of Chinese Duck and Char Siu sausages.
By the time I came home with all my goodies, you’d think I would be preparing a chinese feast instead of a mexican one!
So, back to Cocina Mexicana my way. Planning the menu was easy: we had to have the staple guacamole, tomato salsa, fish tacos, coleslaw, with loads of corn chips and tortillas. This, in addition to the bucket of fried chicken, should have been enough. Except that I purchased a new cooking magazine while overseas and the compulsory feeder/recipe tester in me took over, and I decided on a couple (ok, a few) of extra dishes to make it more interesting. Starting with a pumpkin seeds dip, because it reminded me of a dish of chicken in pumpkin seed sauce I ate in Tabasco a few years ago. Then, I thought of cooking Pork Verde, because no party is complete without a stew of some sort, but came across a recipe for carnitas that picked my interest. And instead of potato wedges or fries, I decided to try a mexican inspired roast potato dish. The final extra dish was BBQ corn, which involved removing the silk of 17 cobs while keeping the husk intact, with the intention of rubbing some spiced butter inside, then folding the husk back. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but when the guests arrived I realised I bit more than I could chew, even though I had done most of the prep ahead of time: the fish needed cooking, the tortillas reheating, the fruits were still uncut…so I enrolled everyone to help wrap the corn in foil (forget drawing the husk back over!) and put Mr T on BBQ duty.
Thanks to copious amounts of libations and snacks, no one seemed to mind being served dinner 2 hours after walking in, then again jumping in the pool on a hot day always helps, and our family is pretty forgiving with long wait (they know what is coming!).
Dessert was meant to be Marc’s favourite chocolate cake, which I decided to experiment with at the last minute by substituting coconut flour instead of plain flour (don’t ask why!). It was a flop, turns out that the coconut flour soaked all the moisture out of the cake transforming it into some sort of dry and sandy biscuit, only redeemable as a base for an ice cream cake. So while there is more work needed there, it was a mad dash to Christopher’s Cake Shop who saved the day with their Salted Caramel creation.
Here is to Marc. First birthday feast of the year, many more to come!
Pumpkin seeds dip (Sikil Pak)
This dip is a traditional condiment from the Yucatan. The toasted pumpkin seeds give it a smokey nutty flavour and make it a delicious, dairy free alternative to guacamole. Some recipes recommend to grind the ingredients in a molcajete ( mexican mortar ) which apparently results in a creamy sort of a dip, but I used a food processor instead to save time. It made for a chunkier, pesto-like mixture which we enjoyed served with tortilla chips and vegetable dippers.
1 1/2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 medium tomatoes
1 white onion, sliced thickly
2 fresh jalapeño chiles ( or 1 habanero if you are game!)
1 tbsp vegetable oil ( I use rice bran oil, but any flavourless oil will do)
3 tbsp orange juice
2 cloves of garlic. minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp snipped fresh chives
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
A few cherry tomatoes, halved
- Preheat oven to 175C. Spread pumpkin seeds in a 38x25cm baking pan. Bake for 8 minutes or until toasted. Cool on a large sheet of foil. Increase oven temp to 230C.
- Place the tomatoes, onion slices and chiles in a baking pan, drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Roast for approx 10 minutes, until tender and a little charred. Cool slightly. Core tomatoes, remove stems and seeds from chiles, remove and discard any dry charred pieces of skin.
- Place pumpkin seeds in a food processor, process until ground. Add the roasted vegetables, orange juice, garlic and salt. Process until nearly smooth. Stir in chives and coriander. Top with cherry tomatoes.
- Serve with tortilla chips and dippers like cucumber spears, carrot sticks and halved baby capsicums.
This recipe is inspired by a slow cooked pulled pork recipe I read about in an old american magazine, I never attempted it on the boat as gas supplies were limited and slow cooking anything for for 4 hours or more was a luxury we could not afford. Of course, things are different in the house, and this particular dish simmered on the stove for 6 hours, happily giving off aromas of cumin, orange, garlic and cinnamon…
Serves 16, as part of a buffet (probably 10-12 as a main )
3 kgs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5cm cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
- Season the pork with cumin and salt and place in a dutch oven. Pack the meat in tightly so it fills the pot with no spaces. Split the oranges into quarters and squeeze the juice over the pork. Nestle the squeezed orange pieces into the pot, add the onion quarters, garlic cloves, bayleaves and cinnamon sticks, nestled into an even layer.
- Pour vegetable oil over, cover tightly and bring to the boil. Simmer, covered, on the stove for about 3 1/2 hours until the pork is fork tender. It may look like a big lump of meat stuck together, swimming in its own juice. Don’t panic, it will come apart easily.
- Using tongs, remove orange peels, onions, garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Keep simmering the meat uncovered for another 1 1/2 hour, or until most of the liquid is evaporated (do not be tempted to cook it on high heat, as chances are that you will burn the bottom of the pot and end up with dry meat – it happened to me once)
- Keep warm. Just before serving, scatter a generous amount of chopped coriander.
To eat in tacos: place 2-3 tablespoons of carnitas mixture in warm tortillas, top with guacamole, tomato salsa, and crumbed feta cheese or sour cream.
Mexican Roast potatoes
This is basically my mexican version of roast potatoes. Not too many spices, only cumin. coriander and chiles to taste. I used crumbled feta cheese as a good substitute for mexican queso.
Serves 16, as part of a buffet
1 cup vegetable oil
2 kgs red potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tomatoes, quartered
1 or 2 jalapeno chiles (to taste)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup crumbed feta cheese
Chopped coriander to serve
- In a large bowl, coat the potatoes with vegetable oil and ground cumin. Transfer to a large baking tray and roast in a pre-heated oven 180C for about 30mn or until tender.
- Add onions, tomatoes and chile, stir to combine and bake for another 15 minutes until onions and tomatoes start to soften.
- Serve in a large bowl, sprinkled with feta cheese and a handful of coriander