Monday, January 27, 2014

Chilled Mexican Corn Salad

The Background

I have been looking for a side dish that will pair well with Tex-Mex, Southwestern and Southern dishes.  The catering jobs that we take on typically involve either barbeque or tacos.  This side dish pairs well with both and it is equally tasty served warm or cold.  If served with barbeque, the corn salad gives a great alternative to the typical potato salad or coleslaw. 

If you have ever been to a Mexican festival or celebration, you may have stumbled on a booth or food truck selling grilled corn on the cob.  The corn is usually nicely charred, lathered in a creamy, buttery combination of cheese and chili spices, and finished with a squeeze of lime.  The sweet smell of grilled corn with lime and chiles creates an aroma that will be forever locked in your mind.  You won't be able to think about that festival without remembering that aroma, and anytime you pass a vendor selling grilled corn, your ears will immediately perk and your head will swivel to find the source!

We have tried to recreate that experience in a bowl.  I love to serve this dish as a cold side.  The sweet corn and creaminess cools down the palate perfectly after something spicy.  And the bright, fresh citrus keeps the flavors light.  It's a new favorite of mine, and I get great comments when we serve it at our events.


The Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
3 cups corn (about 4 ears, fresh OR 2 cans)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, grated (or approximately 1 teaspoon of minced garlic)
1 handful cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juice
2 tablespoons Cotija cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chili powder to taste
2 teaspoons onion salt


Making It Work

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  A cast iron skillet works great, if you have one.
  2. Add the corn, toss it quickly to coat as much of the corn with the butter as you can.  Once the corn is coated in butter, leave it alone to char, about 6-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, garlic, lime juice, onion salt, and chili powder to make a smooth dressing.
  4. Mix the corn into the dressing, until the corn is well coated.  Once the corn and dressing are mixed, stir in the chopped cilantro and Cotija cheese.
  5. To serve, garnish with some hand-torn cilantro, and an additional sprinkle of cheese and chili powder.  This is a great dish to make a day ahead or the morning of the event.  The flavors will deepen as it chills in the refrigerator for a few hours. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Texas BBQ Sauce

The Background

We are about to enter a dangerous topic, barbeque.  There are many debates we could wage over what constitutes barbeque, whether it be about how it is made, at what temperature it is achieved, whether or not it is sauced, whether it's beef or pork, whether or not bologna and hot links belong in the conversation or not... okay, let's just go ahead and assume that one is non-topic. 

I have been blessed to travel all over this great country, and I have sampled some of this country's favorite barbeque joints and pits.  I have done the Memphis thing, sampled Kansas City's finest, sunk my teeth into South Carolina's famed vinegary pork, and savored some of the best Texas has to offer.  I won't beat around the bush, for my money, Texas barbeque rules supreme.

For the purpose of today's recipe, let's first understand the way barbeque is done in Texas.  In the lone star state, sauce is served on the side.  Rarely will you find beef brisket, pulled pork or meaty ribs where they have been sauced as part of the cooking process.  Texas barbeque is also typically a combination of sweet, spicy, tangy and salty.  It is an accoutrement or an accessory.  If your meat can't stand on it's own, the finest sauce in the state won't fix it.  You can't use sauce to cover up the fact that your meat is dry, overcooked or bland.  But if you have taken your time to produce smokey perfection in the form of brisket or pulled pork, then a great sauce will take it to a new level.

So what does good Texas barbeque look like?  It should be a deep mahogany color, flecked with pepper and spice.  It should also be thick enough to coat a spoon (or a piece of meat).  Beyond these basics, there are a world of flavor profiles that can be used to achieve that blend of sweet, tangy, spicy and salty.  I prefer a combination ketchup and mustard (sweet and tangy) as the base.  I like the tang of apple cider vinegar combined with the sweetness of honey.  You can definitely use a different type of vinegar, or use various sweeteners such brown sugar, agave, maple syrup or cane syrup.  For spice, I like to use flavors like cumin and paprika, along with chili powder and black pepper.  I also like garlic and onion along with the salt to bring that earthy and umami flavor to the profile.  And when you are ready for the "advanced" recipe class, swap out some of these flavors or play with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, red wine, smoky chipotle peppers, hatch green chiles or liquid smoke. 

The Ingredients

  • 34oz bottle Ketchup (I use Heinz, this was a "large" bottle)
  • 8oz bottle Mustard (French's standard issue yellow mustard, the "small" bottle)
  • 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Black Pepper (I used an Orange Pepper blend from Texas Spice Co.)
  • 2 tablespoons Garlic Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Onion Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 tablespoon Cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Paprika (smoked paprika is really great, if you have it handy)

Making It Work

Whisk all your wet ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium to low heat.  You will want to bring the sauce to a low simmer to help dissolve the sugar and heat the spices.

One at a time, stir in each of the dry ingredients, making sure each is fully incorporated before proceeding the next.  This will prevent your spices from lumping together in the mixture.

Simmer the sauce until you reach the desired consistency.

This will make quite a bit of barbeque sauce.  My last batch was right about 45 ounces.  I pour the sauce into squeeze bottles.  To keep the sauce fresh, put a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the bottle, before screwing on the squeeze top.  This sauce will have to be stored in the fridge.  Hopefully, before this summer, I will get a chance to play with canning the sauce for pantry storage.  I will update this recipe accordingly, once I have made it work!

Play with the flavors, find other sweet or tangy ingredients to swap out, make use of some left over wine (if that sort of thing ever happens at your house), play with adding booze such as bourbon or tequila, or use other ethnic spices to create new flavor profiles.  Barbeque sauce should be more of process, rather than exact recipe to follow, once you have mastered the balance between spicy, salty, sweet and tangy.