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Santibañez Goes In-Depth On Mexican Sauces

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A person familiar to Texas culinarians and New Yorkers alike took the stage at the Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference at the Culinary Institute of America San Antonio Friday morning.

Roberto Santibañez, formerly chef at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, is currently owner of Fonda Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.  A native of Mexico City and an award-winning chef as well as author, consultant and teacher, Santibañez is currently working on a new book, “Mastering The Art of Mexican Cooking,” to be published in 2010.

The title of the book, of course, echoes that of Julia Child’s famous tome, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

“This is not out of pretentiousness, but out of a place of hope,” said Santibañez about the optimistic title. He wishes for it to open up the beauty and complexity of Mexican cooking in a way that Child’s book familiarized the world with French cooking.

He demonstrated making five sauces from a cuisine that offers hundreds, if not thousands of different ways to use chiles, spices, herbs, tomatoes, fruits and vegetables.

In addition to correct ingredient, Mexican sauces require specific treatments of the ingredients in order for them to taste uniquely Mexican, Santibañez says.

For example, as we sampled his Salsa Ranchera, a silky, red-orange tomato sauce with red jalapeño chiles, he pointed out that in this sauce, oven-roasted tomatoes are peeled and cored, then blended with fried onions, raw jalapeños and garlic – then cooked.

The method, he says, is “what makes the sauce taste truly Mexican.”

In his Cooked Tomatillo Salsa, he pointed out that the amount of time in the blender was of utmost importance to the success of this sauce.

“You want to see some of the specks of tomatillo and the cilantro in the sauce. If you blend it too long, the tomatillo seeds will grind up into a paste and turn the sauce paler and pastier,” he says.

The Veracruz Style Peanut Mole Rojo calls for an assortment of fruits, nuts, chiles, vegetables and spices. Each ingredient is treated differently. They are fried for varying amounts of times; they are toasted or soaked. The tortillas are actually singed.

The sauce, when it is all together, needs to be cooked for the amount of time called for — or longer. And, he says, when using a mole, for example, as an enchilada sauce, it’s important to use plenty of it. Six ounces of sauce, he says, is about right for an enchilada.

“We do use a lot of sauce,” Santibañez says. “That is part of our pride.”

Here are more tips from Santibañez:

  • Roast tomatoes in a hot oven without oiling them, leaving the peel on. Absolutely no oil, and no seasoning.
  • Chile, garlic, onion and seeds are the main actors in a good mole, with the spices in the background. You don’t want a mole that tastes like clove.
  • In Mexican cooking, (the amount) of our ingredients can vary enormously for one recipe. It might call for 20 jalapeños, or 60 jalapeños. That is because of the variation in spiciness of the chiles.
  • “I’d like to see more manzano chiles in this country. We need to ask for them. They are very spicy, and has a wonderful flowery, perfume-y flavor.”
  • “If you use avocado leaves in Mexican cooking, you can’t just use any avocado leaves. The tree must be the criolo avocado that grows in Mexico. The flavor it adds to cooking is light, somewhat anise-y.”

Click below for recipes from Santibañez:

Ranchera Sauce with Red Jalapeño Chiles

Manzano Chile Salsa

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