Having recently moved from New Mexico (ok, it's been seven months to be fair), I've found myself feverishly searching for some semblence of spicy food.
To define the term "spicy," I would say, if it doesn't make you choke up or tear up it's not hot enough.
Spicy food should not only consist of heat, however. It should also knock you out with flavor, whether roasted, fruity, citrus or otherwise. In an ideal world there is a beautiful balance to be obtained.
In Missouri you can find spicy elements in many different ethnic cuisines, though of course the most comparable here is Mexican.
One thing many people don't realize is that Mexican and New Mexican food are not the same.
New Mexican food is a medley of Mexican, Native American and Spanish culture. It is heavily, I repeat heavily, defined by New Mexico's largest agricultural crop, the green chile.
Red chile is also a heavy hitter, as is the sopapilla with honey ( a fried, pillowy dessert bread) and enchiladas.
When considering the difference in Mexican cuisine, think corn, rice and beans, a more mild version of red chile sauce, and flavoring spices and herbs like bitter chocolate, cinnamon and cilantro.
This week, to be fair, I decided not to compare and contrast a New Mexican to a Mexican recipe. In an effort to succumb to and embrace my new-found mid-western lifestyle, I chose to find the best of what Lake Saint Louis had to offer in spicy food.
I found it at El Maguey. For 45 minutes I sat and talked in depth with the restaurant's employees about topics such as what they consider to be the spiciest item on the menu, and more importantly, what they cook for themselves at home.
To the untrained tongue, anything beyond a "medium spicy" label is instant cause to run for a cool drink, but this week I'm pushing you out of your comfort zone (a little, or a lot, depending on your zone), with these results.
Vincento, an El Maguey employee, said his favorite dish his mother makes for him when he visits his home in Mexico is Chile Colorado, a simmering bliss of beef, red chile sauce, rice, beans and flour tortillas. It's the equivalent of Mexican comfort food and can be found on El Maguey's menu.
I tried to convince Vincento to ask the chef for his red chile sauce recipe, but was met with a solemn face and an answer that it was a secret recipe, even to him.
Alejandro and Ricardo, two other helpful advice givers at El Maguey, recommended the Camarones a la Diabla as the spiciest dish on the menu.
It comes with shrimp and the restaurant's signature salsa (I tried it, it is definitely spicier than some, to a pleasing extent), rice Jalisco style (with tomatoes and spices added) and guacamole.
But I was still left with questions and a hunger for spice. Also, I needed a solid recipe to give our food adventurist Patch readers for a trail-blazing spicy dish.
Finally, Vincento, Alejandro and Ricardo put their heads together and gave me such a winner of a recipe I almost did a dance of joy.
- 4 Serrano Jalapenos
- 5 Tomatillos
- 1/2 T La Sal (salt), or to taste
- 4 cloves Ajo (garlic), mince
- 1/4 bunch Cilantro, destem, mince
While the ingredients may seem simple enough, it's the amount of each one that comes into important play here.
When choosing your serranos, look for the ones with white lines on them, said Ricardo. These lines indicate the pepper is mature and very spicy.
Boil the serranos in water until tender to maximize their spiciness. You can also fry them in oil, but Ricardo said the best method is to boil.
Boil the tomatillos in water about three minutes. You can peel them or not, as long as they are tender enough to puree.
Mix all ingredients together in a blender, then adjust seasonings.
You won't find this salsa recipe in any Mexican restaurant in Lake Saint Louis, or surrounding areas, so hit the kitchen and get cooking to enjoy this spicy food adventure.
Next Week: Steak, thick and juicy.
Calling all Chefs: Think your restaurant has what it takes to make it to the top of our 'Best Of' List? Got a trick up your sleeve even the best home cook can't replicate? Let us know, and we'll come check you out!