"The Best Mexican Recipes": Bueno!

Even if you’ve never cooked Mexican food before, you’ll have no trouble navigating the recipes in America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Best Mexican Recipes.” Virtually all of the ingredients are readily available in mainstream supermarkets, and there are step-by-step photos to guide you through the essentials.

The editors explain, “We think this book presents the very best of Mexican cooking put through the filter of what makes sense for the American home kitchen. No incredibly exotic local ingredients or complicated techniques best left to chefs. This is home cooking at its finest.”

One of the pluses of home cooking is the ability to tweak the ingredients. Keep in mind, however, that these recipes have been tested and re-tested. Changing the proportions and/or seasoning changes the flavor of the finished dish, whether you add veggies or subtract chilies or both.

Like all of the “America’s Test Kitchen” cookbooks, “Best Mexican Recipes” includes a helpful tutorial on relevant ingredients and equipment. Alternatives are suggested for some of the hard-to-find items.

If, like me, you’ve experienced Mexican food primarily in restaurants, this book offers an easily accessed opportunity to prepare favorites –or soon-to-be favorites- at home. Suffice to say, my list of must-try options grows every time I browse the book.

(The following recipes, photos and commentaries are courtesy of America's Test Kitchen.)

Fish Veracruz
Serves 4
Why this Recipe Works
Originally from the seaside town of Veracruz, traditional pescado a la Veracruzana is now a common fish preparation throughout Mexico. The dish is usually made with white fish served in a light yet aromatic tomato sauce. For our brothy, flavorful sauce, we began by sautéing onion and garlic with chili powder for subtle heat and cumin for extra depth of flavor. Canned diced tomatoes gave our sauce a satisfyingly chunky consistency without making it too heavy, and a bit of white wine brightened everything up. Braising mild-flavored cod in this savory sauce gave the fish depth and also infused the sauce with seafood flavor, adding complexity to both components of the dish.The key to successful braising was twofold: We used low heat (so that the delicate fish wouldn't burn), and we made sure to use a skillet with a tight-fitting lid to trap the heat, so that the fish partially simmered and partially steamed. If cod is unavailable, look for halibut, snapper, bluefish, monkfish, or sea bass fillets; these all have similar cooking requirements to cod, and their respective flavors will make good substitutes in this dish. Our favorite canned diced tomatoes are Hunt's Diced Tomatoes for their bright, sweet-tart flavor and juicy, firm, crisp-tender chunks.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 onion, halved and sliced thin
Salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried
4 (6- to 8-ounce)skinless cod fillets, 1 to 1½ inches thick
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder, and cumin and cook until fragrant,about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, wine, and thyme and bring to simmer.
2. Season cod with salt and pepper. If using any tail-end fillets, tuck tail under. Nestle cod into skillet and spoon some sauce over top. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until cod flakes apart when gently prodded with paring knife and registers 140 degrees, about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer cod to individual plates. Stir cilantro into sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over cod and drizzle with extra oil before serving.

Fish Veracruz

Fish Veracruz


Indoor Steak Fajitas

Indoor Steak Fajitas


Indoor Steak Fajitas​
Serves 4

Why this Recipe Works
Although the grill is great for achieving a crisp, nicely charred crust on steak for fajitas, we wanted a recipe we could make indoors that would produce the same deeply flavorful results. Traditionally, the steak for fajitas is marinated in lime juice before being cooked, but when we tried pan-searing the marinated steak, it steamed rather than seared. To avoid this, we skipped the marinade and simply drizzled the lime juice on the cooked steak. To keep our recipe simple, we cooked the peppers and onions in the same pan we had used to cook the steak. This had the added benefits of allowing the vegetables to pick up flavorful found from the pan and giving the steak time to rest while we cooked the vegetables. Serve the fajitas as is or with salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or lime wedges.

1 (1½-pound) flank steak , trimmed
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and sliced thin
1 large red onion, halved and sliced thin
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon ground cumin
8–12 (6-inch) flour tortillas, warmed

1. Pat steak dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook steak until well browned on both sides and meat registers 120 to 125 degrees (for medium-rare), 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer steak to carving board, drizzle with lime juice, and tent with aluminum foil.
2. While steak rests, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add bell peppers, onion, water, chili powder, hot sauce, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook scraping up any browned bits, until peppers are softened and onion is browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer vegetables to serving platter and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Slice steak against grain ¼ inch thick and transfer to serving platter with vegetables. Serve with tortillas.

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