Can you guess what's missing from this photo of the dessert portion of the chilaquiles fiesta we held here yesterday?
Yes, I know it's hard to take your eyes off the exquisite fruit platter assembled by our friend Keith, laden as it is with passion fruit and mangos and prickly pear. And friend Susan's version of Mexican wedding cookies have been almost completely consumed. No, it must be Janice's churros, of which only a few scant crumbs remain. They were definitely a huge hit, made with fresh pate choux, deep fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar.
And that was after the chilaquiles--red and green versions--all muddled with tangy crema and queso fresco. And Yayo's perfectly cooked Spanish torta. And the chorizo sausage. And the poached eggs.
Most of the party is a blur for me. That's what I get for agreeing to make chilaquiles a la minute for 40 people. You are familiar with chilaquiles, yes? I like to think of them as the Mexican equivalent of French bread. The French call their stale baguettes "pan perdu," or "lost bread. They make economical use of it by soaking the bread in egg and frying it. In Mexico, tortillas are eaten with every meal. It's common for families to buy a tall stack of them in the morning. Should any go stale, you can fry them in some oil to make chips, then toss them in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and chipotle chilies.
Having thrown this party the last several years, we continue to refine our technique. Last year I struggled with the poached eggs. Now I think I have cracked that nut: a couple of hours before guests arrive, poach three dozen eggs as usual in a large skillet of simmering water with white vinegar (use the freshest eggs possible). Instead of dropping the cooked eggs into a cold water bath, however, cook them just to the point of doneness and spread them on lightly greased sheet pans. The eggs will continue to cook a bit. As guests begin to arrive, place the eggs in a warm (not hot) oven until you are ready to serve. Use a metal spatula to place them on a warm ceramic serving platter and garnish lightly with chopped cilantro. Guests can easily help themselves to the poached eggs at the buffet using a serving fork.
For the chilaquiles, we cut stacks of fresh corn tortillas into squares and fry them in the deep fryer. Have your sauces simmering on the stove, then simply toss the chips with sauce in a heavy skillet, stirring in some thinly sliced white onion. When the chips begin to soften, spread them on a platter and garnish liberally with crema, queso fresco and chopped cilantro.
Here's the recipe we use for our red sauce:
Red Sauce for Chilaquiles
2 tablespoons lard or canola oil
1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, seeds removed and chopped fine
1 cup chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons oregano, preferably Mexican)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon lard or canola oil. Sweat the onion and garlic until soft, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except salt and bring almost to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently one hour. Remove from heat.
Remove bay leaf. Pour sauce in into a blender and blend until smooth. Over moderately-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon lard or canola oil in a heavy skillet. Pour in sauce. Cook vigorously and reduce until sauce until it is the consistency of thick soup. If too thick, add chicken broth. Season with salt as needed. Remove from heat and reserve.
And here's a green chilaquiles sauce you might like to try:
3 tablespoons lard or canola oil
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 jalapeno pepper (about the size of your thumb), seeds removed and chopped fine
2 pounds fresh tomatillos (paper husks removed), cleaned and roughly chopped
½ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 cup chicken broth
salt to taste
Over medium-low heat, sweat the onion, garlic and jalapeno in 2 tablespoons lard or canola oil until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except salt and bring almost to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer gently 1 hour. Remove from heat.
Pour the sauce into a blender and blend until the ingredients retain just a bit of texture. Meanwhile, over moderately high heat, heat 1 tablespoon lard or canola oil in a heavy skillet. Pour in sauce. Cook vigorously and reduce until the sauce is the consistency of thick soup. If too thick, add chicken broth. Season with salt as needed. Remove from heat and reserve.
These sauces can be made days ahead and reheated.
Note: crema, a tangy sort of liquid sour cream, and queso fresco, literally a fresh white cheese that crumbles easily, are instant markers of Mexican and Central American cuisine and can readily be found at Latin markets. Tomatillos are not a form of green tomato but a relative of the gooseberry. They also can be found in Latin neighorhoods.