Comida de Mayo
Celebrating Mexican food
The little Midwestern town in which Henri spent his formative years didn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. In fact, I couldn’t have even told you what “cinco” meant, and I thought “mayo” was something that should never be held.
Instead, our community pulled out all the stops two weeks later, on the 17th, Syttende Mai, Norwegian independence day. Parades, flags, root vegetables and lutefisk—and lots of little blond children in dark clothing.
We Bourrides stayed away—waiting patiently for July 14, Bastille Day, which mon père celebrated with the best bottle of wine he could find and valiantly endeavored to assemble a bouillabaisse with available fish, usually brown trout, bass and walleye.
That said, I did learn enough about California history in high school to know that it was once part of Mexico, although I confess to assuming, when I first arrived, that Cinco de Mayo was in recognition of Mexican independence (actually celebrated Sept. 16). I also confess to having somewhat mixed feelings about the celebration after learning what it really was recognizing: the Mexican army’s victory, on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla … over the French, who had occupied parts of Mexico after the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Civil War.
Although recognized in the state of Puebla (south-central Mexico), Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican holiday at all, having originated with stateside celebrations, particularly in California, of the victory. In the mid-20th century, with the rise of the Chicano movement, the holiday began to really take hold as communities throughout the States, and elsewhere, particularly the Caribbean, celebrated Mexican culture—the food, music and dance. The first of which we are, naturally, concerned with here and which we in Chico are tremendously fortunate to have in quality and abundance.
Colette and I are absolutely enamored of the taco trucks around town and stop and eat lunch—or an afternoon snack—several times a week. We are also regulars at many of the excellent Mexican restaurants in the area, especially Gordo Burrito, El Rey and El Patio (in Hamilton City). We agree that the best margaritas in town are at Duffy’s Tavern.
This year, we’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo with two of our favorite dishes, both of which, appropriately, are better known north of the border: New Mexico green-chili; stew and a Southern California take on fish tacos. Margaritas will most likely be involved.
2-3 lbs. meat (chicken and/or pork)
2 cans of beer
3 large onions
5-6 garlic cloves
1 tsp. cumin seed
pinch of oregano
pinch of sage
2 lbs. skinned and cooked green chilis (ideally New Mexican, but Fresnos or Anaheims will work)
salt and pepper
several red potatoes, cut into one- inch chunks
The day before serving, cover meat with beer and simmer three or four hours. Let cool in liquid. The next day, shred the meat into the liquid. Add onions, garlic, cumin seed, oregano, sage, chilies, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for at least an hour. Add potatoes, and simmer another 45 minutes. Serve with salad and flour tortillas or corn bread. Serves four to six.
(adapted from a Sunset Magazine recipe)
1 cup dark beer
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1-2 lbs. pounds firm, white fish (cod, red snapper, etc.)
1 cup shredded cabbage (use both purple and green for color)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
12 to 16 corn tortillas
Ingredients for chipotle sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp drained capers, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped gherkins or dill pickles
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp minced chipotle chilies
Whisk all sauce ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Refrigerate.
In a bowl, blend beer, flour and salt. Rinse fish, pat dry, and cut crosswise into 1-inch strips. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a medium frying pan. Dip each piece of fish into batter, then fry, a few pieces at a time, browning on both sides. With a slotted spoon, transfer cooked fish to a paper towel-lined plate, and keep warm in a 200-degree oven while frying remaining fish.
To assemble tacos, double the tortillas and top with a couple of pieces of fish, then sprinkle with cabbage and cilantro. Drizzle sauce over the mixture, and squeeze lime over the top. Makes six to eight tacos.