Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Patricia Quintana Is My Julia Child

There was a movie made recently about a blogger that became famous by cooking a bunch of Julia Child's recipes. What she actually did was only slightly more interesting than that: she cooked every recipe in the book in some random amount of time while sharing her feelings with the masses along the way. Then a bunch of people started reading it and she ended up with a movie deal. It was, I think, described to me as a "cute" movie; and while I don't have an opinion either way on the amount of cuteness, I did think the role of Julia Child was indeed well-portrayed. More than anything, though, it made me think.

It made me think that if I ever did something like that, it would be with the recipes of Patricia Quintana in her cookbook Mulli, el Libro de los Moles. Mulli is the Nahuatl word for Mole, which describes a wide variety of sauces and salsas, from simple to complex, made from chiles, nuts, herbs and other spices (it is not limited to the bitter chocolate mole negro that many will think of). Patricia Quintana, in her book, along with photographer Michel Zabe, has created the bible of moles, complete with elaborate history, glossary and gorgeous award-winning design. It is a masterpiece of a book, full of incredible recipes (click here to check it out from the library, otherwise the stateside prices get a little steep). If you read Spanish, then you will enjoy it much more, if not, keep reading this post and I'll tell you about my experience cooking one recipe.

Patricia Quintana owns and runs Izote, one of the most renowned Mexico City restaurants. I have dined there three times, and once, out of some combination of hopeful planning and dumb luck, my wife and I dined with Chef Quintana, her assistant and two other friends. Izote itself is simple and elegant, and everything is very much in order. From Chef Quintana's immaculate whites to her neat, slicked-back ponytail where not a single hair is left out of place. The same can be said about the cooks and wait-staff, who gracefully and efficiently run a small but packed house day in and day out. Chef Quintana can often be found cooking as well, or at least patrolling the kitchen and dining room like a general, assuring that everything is up to standard. (Photo from Starchefs.com)

Her mere presence, not to mention her body of work, demands respect. I admit I was nervous to meet her and was timid as I sat down at the table. As we dined over several hours we got a peek into the Chef herself. She was very personable and almost immediately we felt very much at ease. She is stern yet friendly, calm, insightful and quick to smile. Oh yeah, and it was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life.

But back to my movie deal, which, of course, would be the next logical step after I started my recipe blog. I would first need to cast the appropriate actors. Chef Quintana could be played by, well, any actress that could keep a ponytail like this would fit the bill.

And for my role, in keeping with the Holloywood traditional of glorifying one's appearance while casting for the "true-story" role, Jack Black would likely be the perfect fit.

In stretchy pants, of course. 

Or, being a half-Filipino American, my role could of course be played by one of Hollywood's half-Pinoy actors, such as Lou Diamond Phillips (you thought he was Mexican, didn't you?). He is getting a little old, though, and his hair a little short; ideally he would still be in his mullet years for this role.

So anyway, stop staring into Lou's dreamy eyes and follow me as I explain how I cooked this incredible recipe. I have cooked many recipes from this book, but I went for something I hadn't done before: Camarones en Adobo, or Shrimp in Adobo sauce.

Cooking mole can be complicated and intimidating, starting with the ingredient list. This recipe starts with 10 chile anchos, stemmed, seeded and roasted. Then add them to a blender with 1 medium white onion, 8 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup each of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, olive oil and piloncillo (a hard Mexican brown sugar that you will need a rock or a hammer to break up). Also add a teaspoon each of white pepper, black pepper and allspice; along with a 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and 6 cloves. Sounds interesting so far, no? You will also throw in 3 bay leaves, 8 sprigs of thyme and a couple stems of basil. Finish it off with 3/4 of reduced chicken stock. Salt to taste.

Despite the complexity of the ingredients, the process for this sauce is incredibly simple: blend all the above until you have a sauce. Let it sit for up to 12 hours (I sat mine for 3 or 4 hours) and then marinate a couple of pounds of shrimp in it. Sauté the shrimp and adobo in some olive oil for a few minutes and you are done.

She also suggests serving it with plantain. For these, you look for yellow-black plantains, slice them into long, not-too-thin slices, thickly coat a pan with vegetable oil, and fry away until golden brown on each side. Of course, Chef Quintana gets intricate with her presentation and throws in some rice and her fabulous refried black beans:

But here is mine, not looking all that bad, minus the basil garnish:

It was absolutely delicious. Knowing what went in to an intricate sauce like this helps discern all the flavors while eating it. It was also fun to see how the taste and smell changed through each stage of cooking. At first it was a strong smell of thyme, pepper and vinegar. After sitting, the chile began to dominate. During the cooking process, it smelled like walking into a spice store as hints of clove, allspice and cumin came out-- it was tremendously aromatic and powerful. The final product has a fine balance of many of the complex flavors-- it is bitter and spicy, sweet and salty-- the thyme is still pronounced and the shrimp does not get lost in the least.

It might be good that I never start this blog, because, cooking like this could become obsessive. And I wouldn't want to destroy my marriage by obsessively writing a blog about cooking someone else's recipes, getting a movie deal and then deciding that it was better to throw it all away and start chopping up animals in the back of a butcher shop in upstate New York. Apparently this is what happened to Julie herself. So I will just cut this off at the pass and say no to the movie deal up front. No doubt the only offer I would get would be from Kevin Smith and it would bomb anyway.

Until then, I will select another Quintana recipe to share in the not-too-distant future. Hope you enjoy.


  1. you and LDP are like twins!

  2. would you start reviewing restaurants in Boulder/Lyons please?



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