Clovis News

Chef Rick Bayless brings a fiesta to Clovis

Go ahead, splurge on a little rich food.

That's the message from acclaimed chef Rick Bayless in his latest cookbook, "Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends" (W. W. Norton & Co., $35).

Bayless, the Chicago chef known for his traditional and contemporary takes on Mexican food, offers up treats such as a guacamole bar, a tequila tasting, and watermelon-raspberry ice in the book. On Friday, he was at a private event in Clovis to demonstrate a small part of it.

Before a standing-room crowd of culinary students and chefs at the Clovis Institute of Technology, Bayless blended garlic, serrano chilies, parsley, cilantro and olive oil into a seasoning for ceviche. He showed how to present the dish in a martini glass with a lettuce leaf.

And he explained the rationale for "Fiesta," which is so different from his last book, "Mexican Everyday" (W. W. Norton, $29.95).

"Mexico taught me a big lesson," he says. "There should be two cuisines."

The simple, nutritionally balanced meals for most of the time are in "Mexican Everyday." And the "no-holds-barred" weekend party food is in "Fiesta," he says. "The two books go together."

For Bayless, "Fiesta" is the latest expression of his longtime exploration into Mexican cuisine. The fourth generation of his family to go into restaurants, Bayless found he enjoyed the "vibrant intensity" and "long hours" of restaurant work.

His parents ran a barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma, but Bayless fell in love with the cuisine and culture of Mexico. His Chicago restaurants -- Frontera Grill, known for contemporary regional Mexican food, and the fine-dining Topolobampo -- stretch far beyond the typical burritos, fajitas and nachos.

"I've chosen never to use those words, so people have to look at the menu in a different way," he says.

Along the way, Bayless racked up an impressive list of awards. They include best new chef of 1988 from Food & Wine magazine, several James Beard awards, including one for national chef of the year in 1995; and winner of Top Chef Masters, season one, in 2009.

At Friday's demonstration, he shared some simple dishes and tips useful to budding chefs and home cooks.

When buying dried ancho chilies (also called pasilla chilies in California), choose flexible, cranberry-red chilies with the scent of a spicy prune. Inferior quality ancho chiles will be harder, darker and broken, he says.

He encouraged folks to look for canela, the soft Mexican cinnamon with a more subtle taste than cassia, the hard, intensely flavored cinnamon.

And the broth used in his smoky peanut molé should be weak; cut it with water if necessary. The reason: European cooking emphasizes meat flavors, while Mexican cuisine highlights vegetables. Using a full-strength broth would bring too much meaty flavor to this molé, he says.

For his herb green ceviche with cucumber, sashimi-quality fish is required, he says. Look for red gills and bulging, clear eyes. Sniff the flesh; it should smell like the ocean, not fish.

Both dishes were easy. The ceviche is part of "Fiesta," while the smoky peanut mole is from "Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine" (Scribner, $35).

Bayless calls this molé a "starter" one. It teaches all the basic concepts of making molés, the sauces collectively known as Mexico's national dish.

This recipe would fit just as well in "Fiesta."

"In Mexico," Bayless says, "molé is for special occasions."

Herb green ceviche with cucumber (Ceviche verde con pepino)

Makes about 41/2 cups, serving 8-10 as a starter

For a scant 1 cup of herb seasoning:

1/2 head garlic, cloves broken apart, unpeeled

2-3 fresh serrano chilies

1 medium bunch cilantro (thick bottom stems cut off)

1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley (thick bottom stems cut off)

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt

For finishing the ceviche

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

11/2 pounds "sashimi-quality" skinless, boneless fish fillets -- my favorites are Alaskan halibut, ahi tuna and aqua-cultured Kona Kampachi (a type of yellowtail) -- cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 (7 ounces total) small "pickle" cucumbers (the kind you get in the farmers market) or Persian (baby) cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 ripe large avocados, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and then cut into cubes

Lettuce leaves (butter lettuce works great here), for garnish

Make the herb seasoning. Set a dry skillet over medium heat. Lay in the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles.

Roast, turning frequently, until soft and blotchy brown in spots, about 10 minutes for the chilies and 15 minutes for the garlic.

Cool until handleable, then slip the skins off the garlic, pull the stems off the chilies and roughly chop (no need to remove the seeds). Place in a food processor along with the cilantro (about 1 cup if packed), parsley (about 1 cup if packed), oil and 2 generous teaspoons salt. Process until nearly smooth (it will be pasty). Scrape into a storage container and refrigerate until serving time.

Finish the ceviche. In a large bowl, whisk together the lime juice and 1/2 cup of the herb seasoning. (Cover and refrigerate the remainder for another preparation.)

Add the fish and cucumber, and stir to combine. To blend the flavors, cover and refrigerate for a half hour (for best results no more than an hour).

Taste and season with a little more lime juice or salt if you think necessary, gently stir in the avocado (save a little for garnish if you want), then serve on lettuce leaf-lined plates or in martini glasses.

Note: You'll have more than you need of the herb mixture (we call it Mexican chimichurri in our kitchen). ... Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator (pour a film of oil over the top). It'll keep for a month or more. I smear it on chicken before grilling or roasting it. I stir it into scrambled eggs. I add it to salad dressing and cream sauces. It'll make your everyday cooking taste special-occasion.

Working ahead: As I said, the herb seasoning can be stored in the refrigerator for a month or more. All the basic prep work can be done early in the day you're serving; store everything separately, covered, in the refrigerator. Mix and season the ceviche shortly before serving -- no more than an hour -- waiting to add the avocado until the guests have assembled.

-- "Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends," by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless (W.W. Norton & Co., $35)

Watermelon- raspberry ice (Raspado de sandía y frambuesa)

Makes about 3 quarts, serving about 20

7-8 pounds of seedless watermelon

11/2 cups bottled or freshly extracted pomegranate juice

1 cup fresh raspberries

Leaves from a few sprigs of mint

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (you'll need about 2 large limes)

1 cup sugar

Quarter the watermelon, then cut the flesh from the rind and cut the flesh into 1-inch pieces; you should have about 8 cups (3 pounds).

In batches, scoop the watermelon into a blender along with some of the pomegranate juice, raspberries and mint, process to a smooth purée and pour into a large bowl.

Add the lime juice and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Taste for sweet-tart balance, adding more lime or sugar if you think necessary.

Pour the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch pan (a metal one works best) and set in the freezer.

After 45 minutes, thoroughly stir the mixture, breaking up the large crystals that have formed. Return to the freezer for another 15 minutes, then stir it again.

Repeat the freezing-stirring process every 15 minutes until you have a panful of large, fluffy crystals. (The whole process takes about two hours.)

Scrape the finished raspado into a freezer container, cover and freeze until you are ready to serve.

-- "Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends," by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless (W.W. Norton & Co., $35)

Smoky peanut molé (Molé de cacahuate)

Makes 21/2 cups mole

2 medium (about 1 ounce total) dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded

4 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

1/2 small white onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled

8 ounces (about 1 medium-large round or 3-4 plum) ripe tomatoes

1 cup dry roasted peanuts, plus a few tablespoons chopped for garnish

2 slices firm white bread (or 1/2 dry Mexican bolillo roll), torn into pieces (see note)

2 canned chipotle chilies en adobo, seeded (see notes)1/8 teaspoon allspice, preferably freshly ground

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela (see notes)

About 31/2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup fruity red wine

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 bay leavesSalt, about 11/2 teaspoons, depending on the saltiness of the broth

Sugar, about 1 tablespoon

Tear the ancho chilies into flat pieces, then toast a few at a time on an ungreased griddle or skillet over medium heat: press flat with a metal spatula for a few seconds, until they crackle and change color slightly, then flip, and press again. (If they give off more than the slightest wisp of smoke, they are burning and will add a bitter element to the sauce.) In a small bowl, cover the chilies with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy, medium-size (4-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium. Add the onion and garlic cloves, and fry, stirring regularly, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a blender jar. Set the pan aside.

Roast the tomato on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes, then flip it and roast the other side; cool, then peel, collecting all the juices with the tomato. Add the tomato to the blender, along with the peanuts, bread, chipotles, drained anchos, allspice and cinnamon. Add 11/2 cups of the broth and blend until smooth, stirring and scraping down the sides of the blender jar, and adding a little more liquid if needed to keep everything moving through the blades. Press the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil in the pot over medium-high. When hot enough to make a drop of the purée sizzle sharply, add it all at once. Stir as the nutty-smelling, ruddy-red amalgamation thickens and darkens for about 5 minutes, then stir in the remaining 2 cups broth, the wine, vinegar and bay leaves. Partially cover and let gently simmer over medium-low heat for roughly 45 minutes, stirring regularly for the flavors to harmonize. If necessary, thin the sauce with a little more broth to keep it the consistency of a cream soup. Taste and season with salt, about 11/2 teaspoons, and the sugar. Cover and keep warm.

Notes: The molé may be made up to 5 days ahead; cover and refrigerate. If oil separates from sauce when reheated, either skim it off or blend the sauce in a loosely covered blender. This molé's flavors work well with everything from chicken, quail and duck to pork, swordfish and grouper.

Canned chipotle chilies en adobo are available in the Hispanic section of supermarkets. The bolillo (a Mexican bread with crunchy exterior and soft interior) and canela are available in Hispanic markets such as Vallarta at Cedar and Dakota avenues, or Chestnut and Butler avenues.

-- "Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine," by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless and Jeanmarie Brownson (Scribner, $35)

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