Sunday, November 1, 2009

Oaxaca Day 3

Another day, another cooking class. Today, we were scheduled to attend Cocina Oaxaquena with Socorro Pinelo to learn about tamales or chile rellenos. The communication with this class has been weak since trying to first sign up for it, but something told me that it was going to be good. Coupled with the unpredictable wireless access access at the hotel to look at email, we really had no idea about whether this class was going to happen. I finally decided to call the local phone number and found out the class had already started but they would come get us up in ten minutes. After getting picked up, we found out that the class would be making mole negro today. Nothing seems to go as planned.

Luckily the class started with a trip to the same local market we had gone in yesterday's class. It is fascinating going through these markets and I am looking forward to visiting one on my own schedule. Have to keep up with the group for now, it is easy to get lost in these places.

Socorro is a third generation Oaxacan cook who, of course, speaks no English. Again, there was a translator for the market trip and the beginning of the cooking process. They seem to disappear after that.

I did pick up some useful information on the market trip. The most important is that there is a clear difference between a hen and a rooster. You can see the size difference, the hen providing plumper and more tender meat. It is a hen or turkey that you want to use for the mole negro. The chicken butcher below was an artist with his knife cutting into the bird with hammer type hacks with a very sharp knife. He also proved the bird was a hen by displaying an egg pulled from within.

A short drive to the school, and we were ready to cook. Mole negro typically takes a single cook more than a day to prepare. Because there were ten students, a couple assistants, and of course the watchful eye of Socorro, we were going to be able to complete the mole in just over two hours.

It is not possible to cover the entire process now, but I hope to make a post of the entire process once I get home. For now, I will attempt to document some of the key points. This class wasn't too keen on taking pictures, especially of the staff. Whenever Socorro caught me taking a picture, she would quickly give me something else to do. I still managed to capture many of the important stages. I paid for the class, right?

These pictures of the ingredients are pretty poor. It was like playing chicken with Socorro at this point. I wanted to capture what they looked like though. The tomatoes were a heirloom variety, less than half ripe. The plantains were over ripened. The tomatillos were very small and starting to get soft. The bread was a crusty white loaf.

The herbs that were used were amazing. Thyme, oregano, and cumin were in dried form, but had such an aroma to them. I didn't get a picture of the preparation of these, but they were lightly toasted in a little oil. I am hoping to bring some of these home. Hard to sneak this fragrant stuff through customs.

The first thing that Socorro had everyone working on was preparing the ingredients. Chiles had their seeds, stems, and veins removed (we used a few drops of cooking oil on our hands to repel the chile spice from being absorbed into the skin). Tomatoes and tomatillos had stems removed and were quartered. Onion and garlic had their skins removed and were cut into chunks.

At this point, Socorro started sending everyone off in all directions to work on different things. Shane got assigned to toasting chiles. She emphasized that this was the most important step and the quality of mole depends upon it being done properly. Luckily Shane had some experience watching Reyna the day before. Still, Socorro always found something to improve on whenever she floated around. Socorro found things to improve on at all the stations in the kitchen. These were the little details that I was here for.

While this was going on, another student worked on crushing cloves and peppercorns in a small molcajete. This was good to see as I had problems grinding things like this in my courser grained large molcajete at home.

Luckily, I was given the task of working the large molcajete. I think that Socorro wanted to keep me busy. This is one tool I would really like to master because you can get so many different consistencies with it than you can with a food processor or blender.

First off, we toasted some sesame seeds in a little oil. Once they started to turn color, they went into the molcajete to grind. And this was some work to grind. My forearm got quite a workout.

From here, canela sticks (cinnamon) and the other ground spices were added. The canela was difficult to break up, but eventually, after many inspections, Socorro said it was done. The herbs were added along with almonds with their skin removed. More grinding.

I took a break to see what else was going on. The tomatoes and tomatillos were cooking in a frying pan. I was surprised to see how much they were cooked before being ready.

While this was going on, the chicken was being cooked in a pot of water with some onion, garlic, and green onions.

Shane was at another station working with an even larger molcajete. He was grinding raisins, prunes, and plantains that were lighly fried in oil.

Finally, the contents of my molcajete and some toasted bread were added to the large molcajete for the final grinding.

Now it was time to start cooking the ingredients. The chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, onion, and garlic were blended in small batches and passed through a strainer into a clay pot.

This was heated at a medium boil and had to be stirred constantly. Socorro was adamant about stirring the same direction throughout as well. The contents of the molcajete was added and stirring continued. This mixture was to cook for one solid hour. Once these ingredients were mixed well, Oaxacan chocolate, sugar, and salt were added periodically.

An hour later, some chicken broth was mixed in. At last, the stirring stopped and the meal was consumed. This was probably the best meal that I have had here to date.

I would like to continue about the Halloween night experience including a trip to the local cemetery and its neighboring carnival, but writing about mole negro has been as exhausting as making it. Tomorrow we have a day off of cooking school to explore Mercado Juarez. I will catch up with the Dia de los Muerto stuff then. Hasta luego.


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