Free spirit: Mark Hix's classic Mexican dishes

Saturday 07 February 2009 01:00

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Mexico on a tequila trip to check out production of Partida tequila and a new brand called Ocho. Naturally, it would have been terribly rude not to have fully engaged with the subject matter during the trip and so, as you can imagine, meals were somewhat indulgent. First stop was Guadalajara, where we ate simply at great local restaurants. While we were there I made these recipes for our "tequila research team" at Gualala Restaurant with chef-patron Esteban Morales. Then we went on to the town of Tequila, where the good stuff is distilled; but for me the highlight was the fantastic late-night street food.

Tacos with prawns

Serves 4

Most evenings in Mexico we ended up eating taco after taco filled with everything from minced beef to prawn and even tripe at one of the recommended street vendors. You can make your own tortillas or buy them ready-made.

16 large raw prawns, peeled (save the shells for a soup or stock)
1 lime
A few sprigs of coriander

For the salsa

1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
2 medium red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
4 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the flour tortillas

225g plain flour
1tsp salt
1tsp baking powder
25g chilled lard, cut into small cubes
Approx 150-170ml warm water

To make the tortillas, sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, add the salt and rub the lard in with your fingertips until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Stir in enough water to make a fairly stiff dough then leave to rest for 20-30 minutes. Divide the dough into 12 balls. On a lightly floured table roll out the dough into 14-16cm circles and leave to rest for another 30 minutes under a slightly damp tea towel. Heat a griddle or heavy-based frying pan and cook the tortillas in the dry pan for about 30-40 seconds on each side. When they are cooked keep them warm in a cloth or a plastic bag. You can keep the tortillas for a day or so in an airtight container or bag, then just re-heat briefly in a warm oven.

To make the salsa, heat the olive oil in a pan and gently cook the onion for a couple of minutes on a low heat with the chilli, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat, add the tomatoes and season. Blend a fifth of the salsa in a liquidiser then stir back into the salsa.

Pre-heat a ribbed griddle and lightly oil it. Season the prawns and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. Warm the tortillas, lay on the prawns and top with the salsa and sprigs of coriander.

Ceviche with fried plantains

Serves 4

Fish ceviche is a great fresh starter and perfect for sharing. It's not strictly a Mexican creation: Peru and Columbia would also claim to have invented it but the main ingredients are commonly found in Mexico.

Plantains or green bananas cut thinly like crisps are a nice addition with which to scoop up the diced, briefly marinaded fish. I quite like to serve all of the accompaniments on the side so that you can mix in as much or as little as you like, to taste.

250-300g of snapper, sea bass fillet, or other firm-fleshed white fish, skinned, boned and cut into approximate -1cm cube
Juice of 3 limes
1tbsp of soda or mineral water
1tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 plantains
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
For the garnish
Half a red pepper, seeded and finely diced
Half a red onion, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1 large medium spiced green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Meanwhile slice the plantain lengthways with the skin on with a mandolin about a fifth of a centimetre thick. Deep fry for about 3-4 minutes or until crisp, turning the plantains with a slotted spoon during cooking, then transfer on to kitchen paper; scatter with a little salt. Mix the lime juice with the soda water and olive oil and mix with the fish; season to taste. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Either mix the garnish ingredients together or serve in separate little dishes. Arrange the fish with the juice in individual bowls or a large one to share with the plantain in a basket.

Rabbit with Bohemia Obscura and chocolate

Serves 4

This dish is based on the common Mexican dish of Mole, which normally contains a host of ingredients including herbs, raisins, plantain, cloves, sesame and pumpkin seeds and, of course, chocolate. Now, we are not talking normal chocolate here, but an intense, almost unrefined cocoa or the cocoa sticks that you can sometimes buy before it's made into chocolate. If you are struggling to find this then buy the highest percentage bitter dark chocolate you can find. I've used a dark beer here called Bohemia Obscura, which adds a slightly caramel-like flavour and a great colour to the sauce.

The front and back legs from 4 wild rabbits
4tbsp flour
2-3tbsp vegetable or corn oil
60g butter
2 large onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
tbsp tomato purée
2tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 330ml bottle of Bohemia Obscura beer or dark ale
1.5 litres hot beef stock
4 dried dark red chillies
60-80g maximum strength dark chocolate
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the rabbit legs and dust with flour. Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the rabbit legs for 3-4 minutes on each side, giving them a nice golden colour. Meanwhile melt the butter in a pan large enough to take the rabbit legs. Cook the onions and the garlic for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat until they begin to colour.

Add the flour and stir over a medium heat for a minute or so then add the tomato purée and thyme and gradually stir or whisk in the beer and hot beef stock to avoid lumps forming. Add the chillies and rabbit legs, season, cover with a lid and simmer very gently for about an hour or so, or until the rabbit is tender. The sauce should be quite thick: if not, remove the rabbit legs and simmer until it's thickened. Stir in the chocolate until dissolved and re-season if necessary.

Ocho Blanco jelly

Serves 4

It seemed appropriate that I should make a dessert with tequila – and I haven't done a jelly for a while so I thought I might as well add to my repertoire of boozy jellies. Ocho Blanco is a new 100 per cent agave tequila created by Thomas Estes, the tequila aficionado and founder of Café Pacifico in London's Covent Garden.

Ocho tequila is unique in the fact that each bottle has a "tequila vintage" on the neck of the bottle specifying where the agave plants were harvested. It's available from Harvey Nichols and, priced £16.99.

200ml water
200ml Ocho tequila
Juice of half a lemon
200g caster sugar
3 sheets of leaf gelatine

Bring the water and lemon juice to the boil, add the sugar and stir until dissolved then remove from heat. Soak the gelatine leaves in a shallow bowl of cold water for a minute or so until soft. Squeeze out the water, add to the syrup and stir until dissolved. Add the tequilla, then pour into individual jelly moulds or into one large one.

Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours or so until the jelly is set. To serve, dip the moulds briefly in boiling water and then turn out the jellies or jelly on to plates or on to a serving dish and serve with thick Jersey or organic cream.

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