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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 5, 2010

Mexican chef shares his history with food

By Joan Obra
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Corn tortillas quickly and lightly fried in vegetable oil are removed while making Enchiladas Verdes con Pollo during a class held by chef Agustin Gaytan.


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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Enchilada Verdes de Pollo, foreground, was paired with tamales de Marisco, background.


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Ever made guacamole in a molcajete before? Or baked a mature coconut?

These were some of the lessons from Agustin Gaytan, a Mexican chef who recently taught a class at Kitchen & Bath Plus in Fresno, Calif., with Wendy Carroll of Seasoned to Taste, a personal chef service, to demonstrate recipes and talk about his childhood.

Growing up in San Miguel de Allende, a historic town in central Mexico, Gaytan had an intimate relationship with food. His family grew corn and chiles and slaughtered farm animals.

His love of food turned into a profession. The former owner of Dos Burros restaurant in Berkeley, Gaytan now teaches cooking classes at Ramekins Inn and Culinary School in Sonoma. He also conducts culture and culinary tours of San Miguel de Allende and the Mission District in San Francisco.

Here are a few of his easier recipes: enchiladas verdes de pollo (chicken enchiladas with green sauce), guacamole and salsa verde. You'll find all of the ingredients at Hispanic markets such as Vallarta (at Butler and Chestnut avenues or Cedar and Dakota avenues).

Also buy a molcajete (stone mortar and pestle) at these markets. But before you cook with one, season it to avoid adding pieces of rock to your dish.

First, grind the pestle against the mortar until the surfaces of both are smooth. Rinse the molcajete and dry it well.

Add a small handful of rice to the mortar and use the pestle to grind it into powder. Repeat with a couple more handfuls of rice. Rinse the molcajete, rub some vegetable oil on both parts, then rinse again.

"After each use, they can wash it with soapy warm water and a brush," Gaytan says. "Any brush is good enough."



Makes 6 servings

For the chicken:

• 1 small chicken, cut into 8 parts

• 8 cups water

• 1/2 medium white or yellow onion, skin removed

• 6 large garlic cloves, peeled

• 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided, or to taste

• 8 sprigs of cilantro

• 3 large sprigs fresh mint

• 3 tablespoons olive oil

• 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 cups salsa verde (see accompanying recipe)

• 1 cup chicken stock (from boiled chicken, above)

• 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

• Heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

• 8 cilantro sprigs

For the enchiladas:

• 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated

• 1/2 cup vegetable oil

• 12 fresh (machine-made) corn tortillas

• 24 small red onion rings, very thinly sliced

• 6 small leaves of romaine lettuce hearts, dried well after washing

• 1 small bunch radishes, sliced into rounds

• 1 cup queso fresco, crumbled (see notes)

• 1 cup Mexican crema or creme franche (see notes)

To make the chicken: Place the chicken parts in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cover with water. Add the onion, garlic cloves and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer uncovered over medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until chicken starts to smell good.

Add cilantro and mint sprigs. Continue to simmer chicken for 25 more minutes or until chicken is tender enough to eat.

Cool chicken in the broth. Strain the stock and reserve. Discard onion, garlic and herbs. Roughly shred the chicken. Discard the bones.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and cook, stirring, for 30-45 seconds. Stir in shredded chicken, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and pepper. Add 1/3-1/2 cup of the reserved chicken stock to moisten the meat. Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Continue to cook chicken for about 10 more seconds, then remove from heat and set aside.

To make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salsa verde and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the chicken stock, salt, cumin and cilantro.

Simmer over medium heat for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

To assemble and serve: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the chicken with half the Monterey Jack cheese.

In a large skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Lightly fry a tortilla for about 5 seconds on each side just until it becomes soft. Transfer to a plate.

Repeat process with each tortilla, adding a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet before cooking each one. Do not allow the tortillas to become brown or crisp around the edges. Stack the tortillas on top of each other on a plate.

Dip a tortilla in the sauce and place it on a separate plate. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture across the tortilla and roll. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, placing each enchilada side-by-side in a baking dish.

Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the rest of the Monterey Jack cheese. Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake 10 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with onion rings, lettuce and radishes. Sprinkle with queso fresco and top with crema.

Notes: Freshly made corn tortillas are available at Hispanic supermarkets.

Queso fresco is a type of farmer's cheese with a crumbly texture that is available in Hispanic markets.

Mexican crema and creme franche are similar types of cultured cream. Crema is available at Hispanic markets; creme franche is available at some supermarkets.

—Agustin Gaytan, http://www.agustincooks.com


Makes 4-6 servings

For the guacamole:

• 2 serrano chiles

• 3 large tomatillos, husks removed and washed

• 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled

• 1/4 small white onion, peeled

• 4 sprigs cilantro, chopped

• 2 Hass avocados, mashed

• 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste

• 12 fresh corn tortillas

Special equipment needed:

Molcajete, or another large mortar and pestle (see note)

Pierce chiles with a fork. Cook tomatillos, chiles, garlic and onion on a griddle over medium-high heat, turning them until softened and somewhat blackened in spots — about 8 minutes for garlic and chiles and 12 minutes for tomatillos and onion.

Remove from heat. Let cool, then peel garlic and chiles. Remove and discard outermost layer of onion. Slice off the onion's tip. Finely chop onion.

Place garlic, chiles, onion and cilantro in the mortar. Mash with the pestle.

Chop the tomatillos and add them to the mortar. Continue mashing until the mixture turns into a smooth paste.

Add avocado and salt to the mortar. Mash until combined.

Serve the guacamole in the molcajete with fresh, warmed corn tortillas.


A molcajete is a mortar and pestle made of stone.

—Agustin Gaytan, http://www.agustincooks.com



Makes about 2 cups

• 15 large tomatillos, husks removed and washed

• 2-3 serrano chiles or 1 jalapeno (see note)

• 5 cloves garlic, unpeeled

• 1/2 small white onion, unpeeled

• 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

• 10 sprigs cilantro

Pierce chile(s) with a fork. Cook tomatillos, chile(s), garlic and onion on a griddle over medium-high heat, turning them until softened and somewhat blackened in spots about 8 minutes for garlic and chiles and 12 minutes for tomatillos and onion.

Remove from heat. Let cool, then peel garlic, onion and chiles.

In a blender, combine the onion, garlic, cilantro, chiles, tomatillos and salt. Blend until smooth.

Note: If a milder salsa is desired, add fewer chiles.

—Agustin Gaytan, http://www.agustincooks.com