My guest this week is Roberto Santibanez. A native of Mexico City, Roberto graduated with honors from the Cordon Bleu in Paris and has worked as a restaurateur, chef, culinary consultant, and teacher in both Mexico and the United States. From 2002 to 2007 he was the Culinary Director of the Rosa Mexicano Restaurants. As a Culinary Consultant for the group he continues to develop recipes, create menus, train staff, assist in new restaurant openings, and create products for the Rosa Mexican Kitchen line of products that are now available in markets. Roberto is currently working on a new book, a restaurant project with Carlos Santana, and a series of culinary schools in Mexico to train young people from low-income families. The recipes that we make on the show are from his first book, Rosa’s New Mexican Table, published by Artisan Books. For more information, please visit www.robertosantibanez.com.
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Tips. The perfect quesadilla is crisp and evenly browned outside with the cheese inside melted and the filling warm. The key to success is steady, even heat- cooking quesadillas over too high a heat crisps up the outside before the inside can become gooey and warm.
To cook quesadillas on the grill: The temperature is right if you can hold your hand about an inch over the grill for 6 seconds or so before having to move it away. Any less time, and the heat is too high-lower the temperature of a gas grill or wait for the coals to die down a bit. Lay the quesadilla on the grill and cook until grill marks start to form on the underside, about 1 1/2 minutes. Give the quesadilla a quarter turn and cook until evenly golden brown and cross-hatched, about another 1 1/2 minutes. If the quesadillas start to brown before then, move them to a cooler part of the grill. Flip and repeat.
To cook quesadillas on a griddle or comal: Heat a heavy griddle or comal over medium heat until a few drops of water flicked onto the surface dance around for 2 to 3 seconds before evaporating (if they evaporate any more quickly or slowly the griddle isn’t the right temperature). Or preheat an electric griddle to 350 F. Cook each quesadilla, turning once until it is well browned in spots and the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes.
Mexican cooks roast things dry rather than with a coating of oil. Roasting brings out the sweetness in foods; roasting dry gives the surface a bitter edge that complements the sweetness.
When pounding meat or poultry to make it thin, place the pieces between sheets of moistened plastic wrap. The moisture will keep the meat from shredding when pounded.
The name enchilada means a tortilla that has been “chiled,” (a new verb for me) in other words, seasoned with chile in some way.
Corn tortillas are always used for enchiladas. A corn tortilla is a whole grain, fat free bread.
Tools. A Comal is a special flat, round Mexican griddle made especially for cooking tortillas. They are usually made of unglazed earthenware or a thin metal so the tortillas will heat quickly.
The Mexican version of a mortar and pestle, the Molcajete is made from unpolished volcanic rock. It can be used for grinding anything but in the US is most often used to prepare guacamole.
Ingredients. Pine Nuts come from several different varieties of pine trees. The large oval Mediterranean pine nuts are milder in flavor than the smaller pinon from the American Southwest and the small triangular ones from China. Roberto introduced us to another variety, pink pine nuts from Mexico that are rarely available in the U.S.
Epazote is a strong-flavored herb that grows wild in the Western Hemisphere. It is also called Vietnamese parsley, kerosene herb, wormseed, or Mexican tea and is mostly used for flavoring and garnish in Mexican cooking but can be used for tea as well.
Guajillo Chiles, also known as travesio, are long, thin dried chiles with a tough, shiny, deep red, skin. Medium to hot, they are known for their flavor, but need to be well soaked before use to tenderize them.
Arbol chiles are thin, slightly curled chiles about 2 inches in length. They are sold fresh green or red as well as dried and provide a whole lot of heat for their size.
Poblano Chiles are a full-flavored but not too hot chile that grow up to 5 inches in length and 2-to 3-inches wide making them perfect for stuffing. They are a very dark green when young and russet when ripe. Dried poblanos are called Ancho or Mulato chiles.
Queso Chihuhua or Asadero is a mild melting cheese produced in Mexico. It is similar to Monterey Jack or Muenster and they could be used as substitutes if you can’t find it.
Mexican Crema is somewhere between creme fraiche and sour cream in flavor. Either could be substituted, but sour cream may need to be thinned slightly.