Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mexico on My Balcony

I have a little bit of Mexico growing on my balcony. The herbs, the one cuor di bue tomato plant and the one cavolo lacinato (dinosaur kale) plant take up one corner of my balcony and the rest teems with 4 poblano peppers plants and 4 tomatillo plants each 7 feet high. It's a jungle out there. After planting the seeds in March, watering religiously, caring for them, squashing parasites between my fingers, adding my own back-balcony compost during the growing season, and dreaming up recipe after recipe, the reward has arrived! I've finally taken my first harvest of poblano peppers! They're small but there are dozens and dozens.

Mexican ingredients are about the only thing I haven't been able to find here, in Italy. The Italian food shops plus recent immigrants to Milan from The Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America have seen to it to supply me with almost every food item I could ever dream of (not to mention many things I'd never heard of before, like delicious, "lardo". No, really, it's great!), and it's not so bad to carry the odd bag of dried chiles anchos, guajillos and pasillas, the canned chile chipotle and all the lovely spices on the airplane from Chicago once in a while, but fresh vegetables I have the duty/pleasure to grow myself.

So, today I opened my favorite Rick Bayless Mexican cookbook looking for poblano recipes to use my first pick and found "Chicken Breasts With Poblanos, Mushrooms and Cream". For just how much I love Rick Bayless, see here. Then I went and made a few changes. See, Bayless calls for baking chicken breasts. Baking them, which never in my experience turns out what you'd call moist. Maybe he was bowing to the U.S. American penchant for this driest, blandest of all chicken parts? I however, having no culinary empire to protect by writing recipes for the "grande publique", am free to do whatever I please so for me it was baked, bone-in, skin-on chicken legs and thighs (much juicier and so crispy when all you have to do is salt 'em and bake 'em!) So here's my take on Rick Bayless's recipe:

1 lb whole poblano peppers
2 chicken legs and 2 thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
dash of salt

3 cups roughly chopped oyster mushrooms*
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
dash of salt

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large white onion, in a large dice
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp dried thyme
6 large minced epazote leaves (I use the dried ones I imported on the last flight back to Italy, but use fresh if you've got a good Mexican grocery nearby)
1 cup heavy cream or Mexican crema
1 tsp salt

First, roast the poblanos whole on the highest rack of a 375F oven until they've blackened in some places and blistered about everywhere. Remove them and place in a paper bag to steam for a minute or 2. In the meantime, prepare 2 ovenproof containers (I used 2 shallow, medium-sized oval dishes), place the chicken pieces in one, salt them. Arrange the mushrooms in the other, drizzle 1 tbsp oil, salt and turn to coat thoroughly. Turn the timer on for 15 minutes, place the chicken in the oven then peel and seed the poblanos while they're still very warm. Music to peel poblanos by: Tucson, Arizona's own Calexico with "Banderilla" from the release "Even My Sure Things Fall Through" I find poblanos easier to peel than bell peppers. Reserve the peppers.

Next, make the rajas: pour the 1 tbsp oil into a medium frying pan over medium-high heat then add the onions cook for about 5 minutes stirring periodically until they have reached a good, medium brown color. Add the garlic, oregano and thyme, stir and cook another minute then stir in the poblanos and heat through. Whenever the timer rings, put the mushrooms in the oven (on a lower rack if they don't fit on the same one). Do not remove the chicken. Put the timer on for 30 minutes more.

Now make the poblano crema: Scrape the poblano mixture into a food processor or blender and puree while drizzling in the cream or crema. You want the consistency of thick cream soup so add water if the mixture is too thick. Reserve.

When your chicken and mushrooms are done (the chicken should be brown and crispy while the mushrooms should have 1. reduced in volume, 2. gotten rather soft and 3. accompanied by a nice, thickish juice that you may add to the poblano crema.

Finally, pour about 1/2 cup of sauce on each plate, put one piece of chicken on top and accompany with the mushrooms on the side. You may have extra sauce. Enjoy with fresh hot tortillas or some boiled potatoes, which will soak up your extra sauce nicely!
*Oyster mushrooms are so pretty and sooo good and at 4 euros a kilo at the grocery store...I LOVE ITALY!! Here, good food for cheap is a birthright. For my diatribe about that, see here.

14 Comments:

Blogger a.c.t said...

Have you ever tried Mole Poblano? I tried it a while ago and it was very strange. The sause is made from chocolate.

3:17 PM  
Blogger nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

That chicken looks very tasty.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi a.c.t, glad you're back! I've eaten chicken or turkey with mole poblano a few times (and spent 2 days once making it) and I really like it when it doesn't come form a jar. Agreed, it's strange with it's mixture of peppers, nuts, raisins, chocolate, etc, etc. In the really funny British film "Getting it Right" the main character's mom makes mole (which she pronounces rhyming with hole he he!) with a Cadbury fruit and nut bar. Hilarious, but I have to say that the fruit, nuts and chocolate are actually all in there, so it shouldn't have been bad that way!

Hi Ragazza, Thanks a lot!

10:31 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

How exciting!!!

Now that we've got our new place, I've been fervently planning out my soon-to-be garden! I simply cant wait to start growing my own hard to get edibles!!! This post is so inspiring!! =D

10:33 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hey Lea, we just did a blog comment crossover. I just came back from your site! I'll bet in Florida you can get a double crop of hot weather stuff in 3 seasons and "spring/fall" stuff (spinach, lettuce) in winter. I'm jealous!

10:40 PM  
Blogger Stelle In Italia said...

Susan, I am now completely and utterly jealous of you. fresh poblano peppers and tomatillos. in Italy. here's where i get my mexican food supply: an italian site called texmexfood.net. It's very useful for salsa verde, tomato salsa, and canned jalapenos (as well as masa and flour tortillas!). But I think you've got me beat on this one!

-Jackie

(ps very funny about the cadbury bar for making 'mole'! :) )

11:25 PM  
Anonymous paz said...

How cool to have that growing on your balcony. And you dish looks so tasty!

Paz

1:49 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Oh Jackie, Thanks for the tip! The only plan I have for my tomatillos is salsa verde. I just had a visiting friend bring me some seeds last time she visited. They're so light and easy to pack.

Hi Paz, Thank you very much! I've seen some enormous NYC rooftop balconies. Have you? Don't know what you have to do to get the right to grow stuff on the roof though.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Loulou said...

That is one of my favorite cookbooks.
I don't cook from it as much as I'd like as we have a hard time finding the peppers and I've never seen tomatilla's here.
You've inspired me to grow my own next year. Gracias!

2:06 PM  
Blogger a.c.t said...

Susan, I haven't seen that film, I'll have to try and get it. How funny, I've just re-read my first comment, I must have been tired or tipsy, I can't remember. Sause?

10:52 PM  
Blogger Lotus Reads said...

Yum,yum,yum - what can I say except that it looks and sounds delicious? Also, I'm so glad you chose to use drumsticks as I find the meat is always sweetest closer to the bone. I cannot understand the fascination with breast meat over here in North America, for as far as I am concerned, it's bland and dry.

4:05 AM  
Anonymous scott said...

excellent - three cheers for dark meat, Susan. That looks and sounds great.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Paz said...

I've never seen any of the rooftop balconies. Maybe one, actually. My friend's fancy condo.

I certainly don't have one. And no one is allowed on the rooftop in my building. They've actually put an alarm on the door, so that if you open it to go to the rooftop, the whole world will know. ;-)

Paz

4:05 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi a.c.t., You should see it; it's got Helena Bonham-Carter as a bone-gnawing anorexic.

Hi Lotus and Scott, The good thing is that while all the N. Americans are paying for chicken breast at a premium, you all can get the dark meat dirt cheap.

Hi paz, Oh my! Alarm bells! I guess you won't be doing any stealth gardening soo soon.

8:25 AM  

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