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Salsas That Cook: Using Classic Salsas to Enliven Our Favourite Dishes
by Rick Bayless

My exposure to ingredients or foods that are spicy or hot was extremely limited, if non-existent as I was growing up. Having been reared in a home where the food was of central European origin, there wasn't a Habeñero or even a jalapeño in sight. The only "spices" I can remember being used were black pepper and of course Hungarian paprika - the mild and not the hot variety of course used in Chicken Paprikaš which is a classic dish in Hungarian, Czech and Slovak.

So, as you can imagine, my taste buds have a fairly low level of tolerance for very hot foods which are naturally found in Mexican cuisine. But over the years, my tolerance level has risen, although not to the heights of most people who absolutely love the kick they get from hot and spicy foods.

Which finally brings me to the subject of this review and profile of Rick Bayless's newest cook book "Salsas That Cook". I attended a luncheon at The James Beard House in New York sponsored by the National Pork Producers Council and Rick Bayless was the Chef du Jour who orchestrated the luncheon. I was a bit skeptical about attending because of my lack of tolerance for "hot" foods and to be perfectly honest, my exposure to Mexican cuisine has been quite limited (although I do know that there is no comparison between true Mexican food and Taco Bell). I attended the luncheon to socialize with my peers as well as looking forward to the main course which I knew would be pork! I was well aware of Rick Bayless's reputation as being the absolute king of Mexican haute cuisine, not to mention his own creations.

In "Salsas That Cook", Rick (and co authors JeanMarie Brownson and Deann Groen Bayless) weaves the flavors of Mexico's classic salsas into Starters such as Salsa-Baked Goat Cheese and Sweet and Spicy Chiled Pork Empanadas. Soups, Salads and Side Dishes have you using one of the six classic salsa recipes to make Great Tortilla Soup; Poblano-Roasted Vegetable Salad with Peppery Watercress or Chipotle Mashed Potatoes. There are also uses for the Salsa recipes (there are six recipes for salsa at the beginning of the book) to make Egg, Vegetable, Pasta and Tortilla Main Courses such as Open-Face Chorizo-Potato Omelet with Tomatilla Salsa.

The next chapter, Poultry, Meat and Fish Main Courses is the one that personally inspired me to give up any lingering pre-conceptions about Mexican cuisine. There are 18 recipes in this chapter and here are the ones that I've made and come to love: Slow-Grilled Turkey Breast (or Lamb leg) with Mediterranean Salsa; Robust Beef Brisket with Red Chile and Winter Vegetables; Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin with Herby White Beans and Bacon; Grilled and Glazed Pork "Tenderloin with Mustardy Sweet Onions; Seared Sea Scallops with Jalapeño Cream.

And for the sweet-tooth, yes there is a delightful Desserts and Drinks where you can indulge in the taste of Mexican chocolate and learn how to make the best Margarita in town.

All six of the basic salsa recipes are written so that you can prepare a small amount (from as little as 2 cups) to a larger amount (up to 9 cups for one of the recipes) This is a great help to cooks who may want to keep amounts of the salsas to have on hand. The recipes also give alternatives as to which variety of chilies to use - to alter the "hot" taste of the finished salsa. Roasting the tomatoes and the fresh chilies is the method used to extract the best flavors. Rick is also very generous in explaining the differences between fresh and dried chiles and tips on just about everything you'll need to know to be successful in the kitchen.

Here's a recipe for one of the salsas and another recipe that you can use it in from Rick Bayless's Salsas That Cook -- a cook book that has completely changed the way I think and eat Mexican cuisine and I'm sure that this book will make a perfect addition to your culinary repertoire.

Roasted Jalapeño-Tomato Salsa with Fresh Cilantro (page 23)

Note: I have given the amounts for a 2½ cup yield only, sufficient to make the main course recipe that follows with some leftover for use as a dipping salsa with tortilla chips.

1 ½ pounds Ripe Plum Tomatoes (about 10)
2 or 3 fresh jalapeño chiles, stemmed (1 - 1 ½ ounces)
½ small white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 2 oz.)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup water
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped and loosely packed
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar

1. Heat the broiler. Lay the whole tomatoes and jalapeños on a broiler pan or baking sheet. Set the pan 4 inches below the boiler and broil for about 6 minutes, until darkly roasted -- even blackened in spots -- on one side (the tomato skins will split and curl in places). With a pair of tongs, flip over the tomatoes and chiles and roast on the other side for another 6 minutes or so. The goal is not simply to char the tomatoes and chiles but to cook them through while developing nice roasty flavors. Set aside to cool.

2. Turn oven down to 425 degrees. Separate the onions into rings. On a similar pan or baking sheet, combine the onion and garlic. Roast in the oven, stirring carefully every couple of minutes, until the onions are beautifully browned and wilted (even have a touch of char on some of the edges) and the garlic is soft and browned in spots, about 15 minutes total. Cool to room temperature.

3. For a little less rustic texture or if you're canning the salsa, pull off the peels from the cooled tomatoes and cut out the "cores" where the stems were attached, working over your baking sheet so as not to waste any juices. In a food processor, pulse the jalapeños (no need to peel or seed them) with the onion and garlic until moderately finely chopped, scraping everything down with a spatula as needed to keep it all moving around. Scoop into a big bowl. Without washing the processor, coarsely puree the tomatoes -- with all the juice that has accumulated around them -- and add them to the bowl. Stir in enough water to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency. Stir in the cilantro.

4. Taste and season with salt and vinegar, remembering that this condiment should be a little feisty in its seasoning. If you're planning to use this salsa right away, simply pour it into a bowl and it's ready, or refrigerate it covered and use within 5 days. If you're canning or freezing the salsa, please see page 21.

Seared Sea Scallops with Jalapeño Cream

Serves 4

16 large sea scallops, tough opaque "foot" on the side of each scallop pulled off
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling on the scallops
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups Roasted Jalapeño-Tomato Salsa (page 23) or for a spicier dish use the habañero version)
(prepare salsa several hours before)
½ cup heavy (whipping) cream or crème fraîche
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. Rinse the scallops and toss them in a large bowl with the lime juice and a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Remove from marinade and pat dry.

2. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet (my favorite choices and well-seasoned cast iron and non-stick) over medium-high heat. Lay in the scallops. If you're not able to fit them in an uncrowded layer, sear the scallops in two batches. Fry until richly browned on one side, about 2 minutes, turn them over the tongs or a spatula and sear the other side for 1 to 2 minutes more. Scallops are done to my taste when they're still a little translucent in the middle. Remove them to a warm plate and pour off all the oil left in the pan.

3. Return the pan to the heat and add the salsa. Stir for a couple of minutes as the salsa boils down, thickens and darkens. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the cream and, when it is warm, taste and season with salt. Ladle a portion of sauce onto each of 4 warm dinner plates, then arrange the scallops on top of the sauce. Sprinkle each plate liberally with cilantro or parsley and they're ready to carry to the table.

Tip from Rick: Scallops and Jalapeño Cream can be served on top of fettuccine




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