Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to do a tequila tasting.

Fresh radishes and cucumbers with guacamole, light and healthy

My chile verde

Chiles gueros

Las tequilas, la provoleta, and la salsa.

tequilas y antojitos

A short while ago a few friends got together for one of the many tequila tastings I host, most of the time its just me! Chris Uhde, our new friend from Signatory Scotch came over to learn about tequila as he had shown us so much about scotch, the process, regions, and brands.Tonight it would be the lowlands and highlands of tequila, Sinaloan agave azul, Sonoran Bacanora, and Chihuahuan Sotol.A taste of gold, joven, blanco, reposado, anejo, and the new style, extra anejo.

Tequila is not a spirit that goes particularly well with food but there are definite simple plates that will combine , provide a little stability for the tasting, and not leave any "ill" will.Pork dishes are great, some carnitas, a cochinita pibil perhaps.I made chile verde, some chiles gueros(blond chile broiled and covered with lime, soy, and pico de gallo chile salt),guacamole with radishes and cucumbers, a salsa de molcajete with chile de arbol and chile guajillo, and an Argentine provoleta(grilled porvolone) I had as a little substitute for a queso fundido(melted cheese).Something spicy, something fresh, and a simple hearty meat dish.Avoid creamy sauces and too many foods.You just want something to nosh and to keep you from falling over after the 5th shot.

A homemade sangrita and fresh limes top clease the palate are a must to prepare the senses for multiple tastes.I use roasted ancho chiles, onion, orange juice, lime, and salt.

Because of the youth of tequilas compared to scotches and other spirits arranging them in a tasting order is fairly easy.Start with the adulterated mixtos, oros(golds), and jovenes(young).These are not 100% agave and have been enhanced with coloring, sugar cane spirit, and other methods to soften the flavor.All tequila has to have a minimum of 51% blue agave from the tequila region to be called tequila.Tequila is a DOM, and the five tequila producing states are Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Michoacan, and Nayarit.These adulterated tequilas can be quite good.

Oro and Joven-no aging
1.Jarro Viejo Oro
Tepatitlan, Jalisco-highlands
mellow agave flavor, perfect with a wedge of lime

2. Tres Reyes Joven
$10 a bottle, a great sipper simple, earthy, and smooth, a true value

Plata(silver) and Blanco-brought to proof and bottled without aging
3. Hacienda del Cristero 100% agave azul
Amatitan, Jalisco-lowlands
bold citrus notes a benchmark silver

4. Tapatio Blanco 100% agave azul
Arandas, Jalisco-highlands
smoky mezcal finish, my favorite silver

5. Alma de Mujer
El Arenal, Jalisco-lowlands
A nice blended tequila I picked up at the Expo

Reposado-reposed, rested 2 months to a year in oak
6. Pueblo Viejo 100% agave azul
Tepatitlan, Jalisco-highlands
benchmark reposado, mexican slow burn with rich flavors

7. La Alborada 100% agave azul
Tequila, Jalisco-lowlands
sasparilla, a slight mexican style burn upfront, a real star of the evening and one of my favorite reposados

Anejo aged in oak for a year or more
8. Bracero 100% agave azul
Arenal, Jalisco
at $25, the best anejo for the dollar hands down

9. Volcan de Mi Tierra 100% agave azul
El Arenal, Jalisco-lowlands
one of the most complex tequilas I've ever tasted from start to finish, best tequila of the night and pride of my collection

10.Siete Leguas 100% agave azul
Atotonilco el Alto-highlands
classic mexican tequila with spiciness and balance

Extra Anejo-aged in oak 3 years or more
11. Herradura Selecion Suprema 100% agave azul
Amatitan, Jalisco-lowlands
the elegant, smooth and sublime tequila from a mexican dynasty

Agave Azul-made from blue agaves in the state of Sinaloa
12. Los Osuna 100%agave azul
Mazatlan, Sinaloa
as good as anything in tequila but not invited to the tequila party, the last surviving house of blue agave in Sinaloa since the DOM was established

13. Sotol 100% Dasilyrion Wheeleri(Desert Spoon) not an agave
Chihuahua, Chihuahua
A great spirit distinct from agave, enjoyable, but lacking character.Their new 5 year Sotol I tasted was really nice at a recent event.

14. 300 Anos-made from local agaves in a mezcal process
Bacanora, Sonora
smoky flavors permeate this fine spirit as agaves from Sonora are roasted directly on coals, my favorite non-tequila agave spirit in Mexico

For dessert, bottle number 15, Agavero licor, a mixture of tequila and damiana(wild plant indigenous to Mexico) licor.

And that'a all there is to it.Take a peek at a google map before your tasting to get a lay of the tequila region, know where your bottles are from and look for patterns.Without knowing any better I found myself gravitating towards the city of Arandas and the highland's tequilas years ago.Then I started reading about the rich volcanic soil in the highlands and it all started coming together.Take note of the distillery because many of your favorite bottles will come from the same distillery.

It isn't a bad idea to put a little thought into decor and presentation.Traditional mexican pots and tablecloths.

A tequila tasting is really a simple affair, highly pleasurable, and a fantastic way to learn about this divine nectar from the soul of Mexico.
salsa de chile de arbol y guajillo

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dining on the Edge:Guadalajara education

The fountain in Centro Historico, Guadalajara

Flautas at La Chata.

Birria in Mercado Libertad.

Tortas Locas, as in you would be crazy to eat one by yourself.

Tacos in el Mercado Libertad, Guadalajara.

Guadalajara is Mexico.It's considered one of the most Mexican cities in Mexico with its traditions of mariachi, tequila, art,artisinal furniture and household wares, and food.Its gastronomic traditions are simple and unpretentious like its people and have spread throughout the world.For some travelers accustomed to D.F. and other regional hotspots like Oaxaca and Vera Cruz, Jalisco may seem trite, but that would be a false assumption.I made a couple of recent trips to Guadalajara in which I had some memorable food experiences.

One could visit Guadalajara multiple times and miss its splendor and delicious cuisine.Pozole, tortas ahogadas, birria,menudo, tacos,enchiladas,tamales, caldo michi, and antojitos tradicionales.Tapatio's(people from Jalisco)are responsible for many of our mexican restaurants in the US, and through them we owe much in our knowledge of mexican cuisine.Despite the popularity of the the Mercado Libertad with a reputation for being a culinary wasteland, my recent trip proved otherwise.I've experienced El Parian in Tlaquepaque, toured tequila and other pueblos in the tequila region,tried street food, the mercados and tianguis(flea markets), Karnes Garibaldi, the "carnes en su jugo" tour de force, and the upscale Sacromonte.The last two trips I went to the classic La Chata and toured the fondas of Mercado Libertad.Each time I'm amazed at the range of food experiences available in Guadalajara.
La Chata
The line at La Chata
Torta Ahogada, La Chata

Last weekend I went on a business trip to Guadalajara, and what an adventure full of cuisine and intrigue.The artist I was performing with failed to show.The promoter of the concert, who has another "business" on the side, was not pleased.Let's just say that his other business is in "retail."Needless to say, after holding us temporarily, which was quite an ordeal, I was able to get some serious eating in.But, there isn't a jail that can hold me.I escaped by sliding under a fence with a member of the band, hilarious.We returned to the club where we were being held to convince the "businessman" that we weren't a flight risk but needed beer and food.We convinced our beligerent captor that we were just as upset at the prospect of the cancelled show and with a couple of toasts of his Cuervo 1800, not that bad actually, we maintained a friendly if somewhat uncomfortable relationship until being allowed to check in the hotel. He gave us Indio's and ordered pollos rostizados which made for a nice lunch in captivity and the start of my dining adventure in Guadalajara.The chain of pollos rostizados called Pollo Pepe provided our "last wish."It was delicious.I glad my friend and local commander of the Zapopan(part of the Guadalajara metro area) police was in our corner this weekend to help us stay out of harms way, whisk us quietly out to the airport when the show was definitely not going to happen, and steer me towards some of his favorite taco stands.Will have to investigate these next time.
El Comandante de Zapopan, protecting the peace and hiding musicians from "business men".

Here's where we escpaped from our oppressor's, and walked across the street to buy a chela at the OXXO.
Pollo Pepe, provided by El Don.

Before finding out that our show wouldn't happen, I made some time the next day to head to the Mercado Libertad.There I found fondas featuring birria, caldo michi, tortas locas, and comida rapida.El Chivo de Oro was our first stop, amazing and abundant birria inside of a fresh tortilla.A second birrieria yielded a very lame version of birria de chivo, so choose wisely when in the mercado, not all stands are alike.There are better versions in the city but no no one should feel cheated if they try this fine version, at El Chivo de Oro in the Mercado.At another fonda I tried a taco of trompa(beef lips), which was a wonderful texture with a sharp beef flavor.I rounded out my tasting with a nice caldo michi, made with bagre(catfish) and cabbage among other ingredients.The fonda de Mary where I had my caldo michi was deep and satisfying, I can't imagine that this could be made better outside the Mercado.Make this a must try dish when here in Jalisco.There are son many fondas here that a patient traveler will find gold if they take the time to walk through the market and make a wise choice.I disagree wholeheartedly that a great meal can't be had in the Mercado Libertad.I would like to have one of those tortas locas some day, but can't imagine being able to eat anything else for the entire weekend.Truly, they are calorie bombs.Bet you can only eat just one! The mercado is full of sights and tastes, and the Tapatios themselves can be fully experienced here, eating, laughing, and living.After, you can be entertained at the nearby mariachi plaza, make sure to have some requests ready, lest you get the "De Colores" or the "La Bamba" treatment

Caldo Michi,Mercado Libertad, fonda de Mary
Taco de trompa
Birria de Oro
Crankin' out the tortillas at the mercado
Tortas Locas, the calorie bomb of Mercado Libertad
Monstrous tortas

On another trip, the best pozole rojo of my life was had during the recent Fiestas de Octubre in Zapopan, a month long fair in Guadalajara with music, food, rides, and exhibits. A little whole in the wall that only serves pozole on weekends and is a "comida rapida" restaurant during the week, provided a special afternoon. We were served a sublime pozole along with a pig's foot bone to gnaw on while we dined,we ended up sucking the marrow out of this prize.I wish I had pictures and an address on this place, but wow, what a treat.One should seek out pozole when in Guadalajara.

La Chata is a Guadalajara institution.A frequented restaurant by tourists and locals alike showcasing classic food from Jalisco.Choripapas, flautas, and tortas ahogadas cooked by a team of mexican mothers and grandmothers bringing the soul of Jalisco to your table.On this night I ordered the choripapas(fried potatoes),flautas, and a torta ahogada(wet torta).All the food here is authentic, delicious, and comforting.For those wanting a Tapatio experience, La Chata will not disappoint.

As easy as it is to find great Mexican food in Jalisco it is still hard to know all the wonders beneath the surface of this substantial culinary paradise.I mean, it's not like D.F. with so many Mexican regional cuisines and exotic wonders that are in plain view when you walk around.Maybe it is the fact that you are so used to the menu choices in the states on many Tapatio restaurants that you dismiss them as being pedestrian, tortas ahogadas?But, it's in these simple foods that the magic of Jalisco reveals itself.After many trips to Guadalajara I still feel as if I'm just scratching at the surface.