James Beard Award-winning chef, restaurateur, and author Rick Bayless is the owner of the acclaimed Chicago restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. He is the author of the best-selling cookbook Salsas That Cook and a visiting staff member at the Culinary Institute of America.
Standing amid the excavated layers of ancient civilizations in the Templo Mayor, right in the heart of modern Mexico City, Rick points out that Mexican cooking has always been a product of diverse cultural influences layered one on top of another. It might even be called the original fusion cuisine. And at the convent of Sor Juana, now a cooking school in Mexico City, Rick points out that of all the dishes in the Mexican repertoire, mole is doubtless the ultimate example of fusion food, born of a baroque melding of influences from nuns and native women who mixed old and new world ingredients to create a sauce of dazzling complexity. In his home kitchen, Rick prepares a less baroque version, Apricot-Pinenut Mole, served with turkey breast. Then it's back to Mexico for a look at where fusion fever has taken the cuisine today, with Asian influences ranging from sushi in Guadalajara to MP restaurant in Mexico City, where the in-crowd feast on Asian-fusion small plates that reinvent classic Mexican antojitos, with ingredients like wonton wrappers and hoisin sauce. Back at home, he reinvents one of these fanciful dishes, Seared Duck with Asian Flavors for Making Soft Tacos, a cross between a classic taco filling and Peking Duck. And finally, he takes us way off the fusion radar screen to a tiny stand in the village of Pitillal, where two culinary traditions, burritos (which, we discover, are a North American invention) and grilled shrimp, come together to create a fabulous fusion snack, known only to locals. Who says fusion has to be highfalutin?
Quest for Fire
Rick can't resist the kind of well-seasoned, simple food grilled over a live fire - the stuff he's enjoyed at thousands of markets, kitchens and restaurants all over Mexico, where cooking comes down to the simple combination of fresh ingredients and flickering flames. Deep in the Mexican countryside, he pulls over for a sizzling roadside snack - chicken grilled on an improvised oil-drum barbecue; then he shows us how to bring the idea home with a recipe for Roadside Whole Chicken with Knob Onions grilled on his backyard barbecue. At the bustling El Farolito in Mexico City, Rick gives us the lowdown on another Mexican fire-cooked favorite: Tacos al Pastor - succulent pork, grilled "gyros-style" on a vertical spit with pineapple. And that gets his appetite working for easy Chorizo, Potato and Mushroom Tacos made in his outdoor kitchen in Chicago. Then it's a visit to the mother church of meat and fire, El Canelo, an over-the-top outdoor restaurant in Guadalajara built around a giant fire-pit where pork, lamb, and other succulent meats are slow-roasted on spears around a crackling fire and every meal is a fiesta with dancers and live mariachi music. Inspired by all this heat and meat, Rick shares his technique for making Carne Asada, marinated beef, on his backyard grill.
The Capital of Hip
With more than 20 million people, and a dazzlingly rich cultural and culinary history, Mexico City is like its own planet - and these days, it's a younger, hipper planet than ever. Rick takes us on a dawn-to-dusk insider's tour that separates the hip from the hype, sharing some of the city's quirkiest, most happening hotspots, starting with an early morning Cappuccino and Enfrijoladas (creamy bean-sauced tortillas) at an organic market and cafe in ultra-cool Condesa, the " SoHo of Mexico City," and shows how to replicate this soulful breakfast in his home kitchen. Then it's back to Condesa with daughter Lanie for a stroll and shopping spree that yields all kinds of uniquely Mexican urban-chic treasures. For lunch, Rick settles in at a table at Pujol, the renowned leader of the city's cutting-edge culinary scene, discovering a spectacular parade of dishes that recreate traditional Mexican foods in stunningly artful presentations. He then takes us to La Bella Italia, an eighty-year old ice cream shop that's now a retro-chic neighborhood hangout - and the visit inspires them to make an easy Jamaica Ice at home. Surveying the city at sunset from the rooftop bar of a hot new hotel, Rick muses on the unique combination of old and new that defines everything he loves about the "Capital of Hip."
Welcome to Tequila
Tequila has come around - from "lick the salt and suck the lime" firewater, to chic drink of connoisseurs and hipsters alike. What exactly is this quintessential Mexican spirit, and what makes one tequila so-so and another sublime? Rick's on a mission to find out, and he takes us straight to the source, to the town of Tequila in Jalisco, where the first families of tequila still brew the stuff the old-fashioned way, from the slow-roasted heart of the blue agave plant. It's a crash course in tequila that takes us through every step, from the fields to the historic Herradura family hacienda, where the beautiful copper-clad stills of the original tequila works can still be seen alongside a state-of-the-art production facility. Along the way, we stop for tacos and a lesson in tequila drinking at a local restaurant, and Rick shows us another side of tequila - it's great for cooking, too. Back in Chicago, he shares his recipe for Tequila-Infused Queso Fundido, a classic warm cheese dip that's Mexico's answer to fondue, and Crepes with Tequila-Infused Cajeta (goat milk caramel), a rich "adult" dessert. It all adds up to one tasty conclusion: A good tequila is right up there with brandy - a national treasure that's literally and figuratively the spirit of Mexico.
When Rick wants to get away from the frantic pace of life in the restaurant world, he heads South. In this episode, he sets out to find the kind of ultimate serenity he's always sought in his favorite "secret gardens" of Mexico. It's a search that takes him from a mountaintop in the jungle to a mellow natural products store in a quiet corner of Mexico City and a traditional temazcal - a spa and sweat lodge where curanderos practice ancient healing arts. In his own secret garden in Chicago, Rick shows us how to prepare a soothing Chamomile Tea. Then, in Mexico City's beautiful San Juan market, he checks out some of the fresh vegetables that are the cornerstones of healthy, Mexican comfort food and, back at home, he shows us how to turn them into a creamy Mushroom-Potato Soup with Roasted Poblanos. Finally, he heads for a secluded Mexican beach to prepare fresh fish Tikin Xic seasoned with a Yucatecan achiote rub and grilled on an open fire, right on the beach. What could be closer to nirvana? Only one thing - a final high-wire thrill ride that sends Rick flying across a ravine under a dense jungle canopy.
Rick and his daughter, Lanie, check out Mexico's real-life, super-hero subculture. It's the surreal, splashy world of Lucha Libre - the beloved masked wrestling phenomenon that captures the Mexican imagination and spills over into every part of the culture, from politics to food. We join Rick on a hunt for the perfect snacks to eat while watching Lucha Libre with friends, as he visits street stalls outside a Mexico City arena that sell everything from tacos and snacks to colorful wrestling masks and capes - and along the way we discover the history of this uniquely Mexican blend of acrobatics, myth, mystery and morality play. At the colorful Sport Torta sandwich shop, Rick takes on El Sumo - a giant, no-holds-barred sandwich. Back at home, he and Lanie make Chilied Peanuts and Pumpkinseeds and Rick'ssoon-to-be-famous Torta for a Crowd, his take on the giant sandwich idea - two bold-flavored snacks that are the perfect larger-than-life accompaniments for a Lucha Libre party at home.
The Mothers of Invention
Sure, there are great male chefs in Mexico. But women are the true mothers of this cuisine. From market cafes to hip, new white-tablecloth restaurants, the cuisine of Mexico comes from a rich tradition of hearth, home and women's hands. Starting at the Convent of Sor Juana, the great 17th-Century Mexican poet, feminist and culinarian, Rick sets out on a treasure hunt in search of Mexico's great women chefs. There is his old friend, the revered Carmen Ramirez Degollado, herself a national culinary treasure, who is one of the great "keepers of the flame" of traditional Mexican cooking. She joins Rick and his daughter, Lanie, to make Shrimp Stew with Epazote at her famed El Bajio restaurant. Then they hit the other end of the spectrum, with a visit to Solange Muris at the muy moderno Manzanilla restaurant across town, to chat about wine, women and the new world of Mexican cuisine. Back at home, Rick and his favorite female chef, Lanie, whip up a fast family dinner: Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers and a surprise dessert: Mango Upside Down Skillet Cake.
Go Global. Eat Local.
Chilling out in Puerto Vallarta, the jewel of the Mexican Riviera, Rick gets thinking, not surprisingly, about food. Can he find the kind of authentic, mind-blowing, soulful Mexican food he loves even in a tourist Mecca like this? Rising to the challenge, he embarks on an all-day eating fest that turns into an invaluable insider's guide to "eating local," with tips on how to find the real thing amid the glitzy pretenders. The quest takes him from market fondas to a tiny tamaleria tucked away on a side street, inspiring him, along the way, to make two Mexican comfort-food classics, Guajillo Chilaquiles and Bistec a la Mexicana. Then he's off to the sleepy, working-class suburb of Pitillal for a locals-only treat: succulent shrimp burgers. And, of course, there has to be a "nightcap" - an after-hours stop at Taqueria El Carboncito, where the "PV" locals head for succulent pork tacos al pastor. It all adds up to a fast-paced, slow-food banquet that's right there for the feasting - if you know where to look.
Archaeology for Breakfast
We find Rick somewhere in the jungles of Mexico, pondering the great questions of the ancient world - like, "what was for breakfast?" Back in Chicago, he whips up a plate of Huevos Motulenos - Eggs Motul-Style - a heady, layered, "short-stack" of Mexican breakfast favorites piled on a tortilla, including fried eggs, chorizo, cheese, peas, beans, plantains, cilantro and salsa. But instead of digging in, he decides to dig down a few layers, like a culinary archaeologist, and investigate just how Mexican - and just how ancient - these beloved ingredients are. That investigation takes him to a dairy stall in Mexico City's cosmopolitan San Juan Market, a down-and-dirty pulqueria (a bar that serves pulque, a locally brewed "cactus beer"), La Tequila restaurant (where we get a lesson in the ancient art of making salsa in a lava mortar called a molcajete), and a market stall that sells, among other delicacies of antiquity, edible bugs. Working his way down to progressively more ancient foods, Rick ends up showing us how to make homemade Corn Tortillas, the pre-Columbian "breakfast of the ages." It's all surprisingly inter-connected, and itall comes together in an edible history of the Old and New World cultural influences that make Mexican cuisine so deliciously complex.~
Muses for My Menu
Over a beautiful plate of food in the kitchen of his white-tablecloth restaurant, Topolobambo, Rick muses on the idea of culinary muses. His creative inspirations are as diverse as the culture and cuisine of Mexico - ranging from leading-edge chefs to home cooks and market vendors. To show us what he means, he invites us to join him for a wildly inventive meal at Pujol, one of Mexico City's most exciting restaurants, where Chef Enrique Olvera turns traditional ideas inside out to create whimsical, world-class takes on the flavors of Mexico. From there, we pay a visit to one of Rick's favorite inspirations, a market vendor in Guadalajara who, for decades, has specialized in one perfect thing: birria - goat braised in a rich chile rub. Back in the Topolobampo kitchens, Rick riffs on that classic dish of west-central Mexico in Birria (Slow-Braised Lamb) Topolobampo-Style. Finally, a visit to a waterfront seafood restaurant outside Puerto Vallarta inspires him to invent Oysters Nuevo Vallarta back at his restaurant -another window into the creative process that has made Rick one of the world's leading re-interpreters of Mexican cooking.
Tips and Salsa
In Mexico, salsa is neither a dip nor an afterthought. It's an integral part of eating. "The more you know about salsa," Rick tells us, while snacking in a countryside restaurant near Guadalajara, "the better you'll understand Mexican cooking." And with that, he embarks on a journey into to the soul of salsa, packed with all kinds of helpful tips and techniques that prove a tasty point: salsas can really cook! He shows us how simple it is to make a classic raw-tomato Salsa Mexicana, and a roasted-tomato Molcajete Salsa, taking time out for a gardening lesson on "growing your own" salsa ingredients before turning the roasted salsa into an easy Mexican Red Rice. After a quick "Tomatillo 101" in a Mexican market stall he concocts a smoky Chipotle Tomatillo Salsa, which becomes the base for Shrimp Sauteed in Smoky Tomatillo Salsa. And finally, he shows us a versatile "avocado salsa," - Guacamole Three Ways - that can go from simple to luxurious depending on the whim of the cook.
Rick heads for Jalisco, the place where mariachi music originated, to investigate the history and mystery of this "national soundtrack" of Mexico - and to answer the question, "what's the perfect food to go with mariachi music?" At a stall in the Guadalajara market, he checks out all kinds of mouthwatering snack-food specialties, settling on a beautiful tostada as a band of mariachis strolls by playing their anthem "Guadalajara." Back in his Chicago kitchen, he shows us his take on Tostadas, then it's back to Mexico where his search for the roots of mariachi takes him to a beautiful 19th-Century hacienda. At a colorful restaurant in Tlaquepaque, he enjoys a soft cheese in green sauce specialty - Panela en Salsa Verde, which he shows us how to make at home. And finally, he brings us to the epicenter of mariachi mania, Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, where mariachis gather by the hundreds, all day and all night, to meet, greet, compete and serenade the world.
Eat, Drink and Be Merida
At one time, the henequen trade made Merida, the capital of the Yucatan, one of the richest cities in the world. Today, its lovely white stuccoed buildings remind us of its opulent past. A horse and carriage ride down the Paseo Montejo will help you understand why Merida was once known as "The Paris of Mexico." Rick takes us on a journey through the Merida market stalls for a look at the blending of Mayan traditions with the Spanish influences. Dishes such as Sikil Pak, a pumpkinseed dip with habanero is totally Mayan, yet still part of Merida's meals today. The market's meat stalls jump-start Rick's surprising roller coaster ride through Merida's food history from simple Pork Picadillo to the baroque Queso Relleno (stuffed cheese) found in all the classic Yucatan restaurants. Along the way, we explore the Lebanese influence on this colonial city where thousands of locals dance in the town square nearly every night of the week.
Fresh Chiles, Hot & Cool
There are days when you want to take it easy and enjoy your favorite comfort food. Others, you just have to turn up the volume. For Rick, that means breaking out the chiles - everything from the Yucatan's beloved habanero with its one-two punch of flavor and heat, to the tamer hot yellow xcatic chiles. Rick turns a bumper crop of habaneros into Vinegary Hot Sauce, Tomato Frito and Xnipec Salsa and then shows how they all pair well with grilled fish! We visit the Merida market for a fresh chile lesson, explore the limestone fields where the habaneros thrive and then hold our breath for a spicy tour of a habanero hot sauce factory. At the Bayless home, chiles are just as likely to show up on scrambled eggs as they are in pot roast. Rick makes a mouthwatering version of Pot-Roasted Pork with yellow chiles, plantains and a hint of brown sugar. Good morning, Yucatan!
Mysteries of the Deep
Water is a precious source of life - especially in the Yucatan jungle where there are no rivers or lakes. Rick goes deep, underneath the limestone bedrock, to show us the underground rivers and cenotes (sink holes) found throughout the peninsula. For the Mayans, these holes were freshwater wells they considered sacred. Today, we can explore them up close and personal with a bit of snorkeling gear. Being in all that water makes Rick hungry for one thing - seafood. So he goes topside to deep-sea fish and then enlists the help of a local fisherman to turn his catch of the day into a beachside Ceviche. When deep-sea fishing is not in the cards, Rick takes us to the Merida market for a tour of the prepared seafood offerings including Shrimp a la Vinagreta. To complete his inner beach vacation, we enjoy spiny lobster on the Riviera Maya at the beachside restaurant Oscar y Lalo's. The journey ends in Rick's backyard grill for stunning version of Lobster with Smoky Garlic Mojo.
A Pig, A Pit and a Plan
Cochinita pibil, Yucatan's slow-cooked, banana leaf-wrapped pork specialty that never ceases to inspire Rick, whether he's made it in his slow-cooker, home oven or restaurant kitchen. For Season 5 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time, Rick takes the inspiration to its pinnacle: he digs a pit in his urban backyard, lines it with bricks, builds a big fire, then slow-cooks a whole pig the old-fashioned way. Good thing he invited the neighbors for dinner! We start out with a visit to the small town of Tixkokob to learn the secrets from Silvio Campos, a local pit master known for his Slow-Roasted Achiote Pork. Hint: Don't forget the banana leaves and be sure to cover the pit well. At home, Lanie Bayless lets us in on her secret weapon (a food processor) to easy Pickled Red Onions and Roasted Habanero Salsa. Once the heavy labor is finished, Rick marinates his pig with plenty of achiote and lime juice before he buries it in the backyard. The guests arrive in time for some typical Yucatecan appetizers and margaritas, and then they feast on the tender pork wrapped in fresh tortillas.
There's nothing like a tall glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice -naranjada - it's called in Mexico. Rick takes us on a citrus groove to learn the ins and outs of fresh juice in savory, lip-smacking dishes throughout the Yucatan. We journey to the huge citrus market in Oxkutzkab for a sweet and sour lesson on the lime family tree -from limon to lima, the classic aromatic citrus fruit used to make Sopa de Lima (Classic Yucatecan Lime Soup with crispy tortillas). Lanie teaches Rick a thing or two about the local avocados - from the Noche Buena variety to the Lagunero. At home, they make an Avocado-Mango Salad with a fresh lime juice and pumpkinseed dressing. Then Rick takes us to Tutul Xiu Restaurant in the small town of Man# for their renowned Poc Chuc - quick-grilled thin pieces of pork marinated in sour orange and served with all kinds of crunchy garnishes. At home, Rick roasts whole sweet onions in the embers and then grills the pork over mesquite for a savory citrus dinner that never fails to enchant.
Tropical Sweet Tooth
By now the secret is out: Rick has a sweet tooth for everything from ripe fruit to homemade candies to luscious pies. And when he travels to Mexico, he's on the prowl for it all - lucky for us. We visit 100% Natural, a favorite stop in Playa Del Carmen for tropical fruit juices, creamy yogurt shakes and exotic fruit plates. At home, Rick transforms Mexican papaya into a surprising dessert he calls Caramelized Papaya with Mexican Cheese - think of a tropical version of apple pie with cheddar cheese. Which brings us to pie! Rick reminisces about (and enjoys a piece of) the coconut pie at Alberto's Continental Patio Restaurant in Merida. These days he gets his coconut fix from a fast version of the classic sweet candy Cocadas Horneadas using frozen shredded coconut. In Tixkokob, a local cook teaches us her ethereal version of sweet baked meringues which brings us back to pie. Rick whips up a Mango-Lime Meringue Pie sure to inspire cooks everywhere. If not, do what Rick and Lanie do - sample a bunch of tropical fruit ices at Dulceria de Colon in Merida for the ultimate sweet tooth satisfaction.
Rick & Jacques: Two Chefs at Playa
More people visit the Yucatan peninsula than any other region of Mexico. They mostly come for the fun and the beaches while Rick comes for the cool angle, the story behind the story, the local food and the people. The adventure begins in Playa del Carmen when Rick hooks up with our other favorite Public Television chef, Jacques Pepin. Jacques invites Rick to cook in his vacation home in Playa, but first they enjoy a bite to eat at Jacques' favorite breakfast spot. Then they head to the beach in search of really fresh fish and to debate the merits of barracuda. After a stop at Jacques' favorite local market for produce and chiles, the cooking begins. Rick prepares a salad of grilled cactus, chaya leaves and arugula to top red chile-seared mahi mahi. Jacques sprinkles cumin and Mexican oregano over his pargo (red snapper), grills it whole, and then serves it with his version of a chopped tomato and avocado salsa. The cooking duo join their wives for dinner and lively conversation on the rooftop while the sunsets over a great food day in Playa.
Yesterday, Today & Tamales
Rick defies the old adage to never shop when you're hungry - he always shops hungry, to provide a source for inspiration. In the Merida market, inspiration comes in the form of homemade tamales -made from fresh corn masa flavored and filled with achiote-seasoned chicken or pork and steamed in banana leaves. Those tamales tap into Mexico's past which is present everywhere you travel. At Uxmal's Pyramid of the Magician, Rick gives us a brief lesson on water and corn which brings him back to the Mayans and their pit-cooked tamales. To learn their secrets, we visit Silvio Campos' home for a step-by-step class in muchipollo - rustic chicken and pork tamales baked in an earthen pit. Silvio serves the crusty-hot tamales to Rick with slivers of fresh habanero and ice cold beer. The aroma of the achiote motivates Rick to make Tamales Colados (Yucatecan Pudding Tamales) at home. Fresh chaya leaves in the Merida market inspire Rick to experiment with growing his own chaya in his urban garden. In Topolobampo, Rick's fine-dining restaurant, he shows us the ancient Mayan tamal - Dzotobichay - made Rick's way with local chard leaves and elegantly served with a roasty habanero-spiked tomato sauce.
Who wouldn't like to snack from dawn to dusk on all kinds of Yucatecan specialties? Just ask Rick and Lanie for some noshing tips. They start their adventure on the main square in Merida smack in the middle of the local, nightly dance-a-thon surrounded by food vendors. They both fall under the charms of Marquesitas, a crispy wafer rolled around cheese and cajeta. Rick shares the recipe with us from a confidenciales chair - the unique park bench designed for whispering secrets to your loved one. The journey continues as they indulge in early morning treats including tortas, panuchos and impossible cake (chocolate cake topped with flan) from the Santa Ana market. Inspired, they make Salbutes (corn tortillas topped with tangy shredded chicken) in their home kitchen. At Eladio's, a centro botanero (a lively restaurant that serves small plates) in downtown Merida, they enjoy the dancing and a whole table filled with snacks and Dzik, lime-marinated shredded beef. At home, Rick makes the cold beef salad and spikes it with a little habanero chile before scooping it up onto crispy tortilla chips.
Rick finds wandering through the ancient Mayan ruins of Uxmal a humbling and inspiring experience. The Mayans built a great civilization with pyramids, temples, plazas and breathtaking expanses. And their spirit lives on - and it's experiencing a rebirth in the Yucatan today - in revitalized food, art and architecture. We get a glimpse of the rebirth at Los Dos, a cooking school in Merida, run by David Sterling, which specializes in classic Mayan food updated for this century. Rick joins David at his beautiful school as he teaches his chilled version of Sopa de Lima topped with a panucho of lime-marinated chicken salad. Then we look at the high-style of the Riviera Maya from the rooftop of the ultra-modern Hotel Basico in Playa del Carmen. Back on the ground in Merida, the cuisine of Nectar Restaurant soars. This ultra-modern dining room with its open-air kitchen is run by two chefs that study with some of the most inventive rule-breaking chefs in the world. Rick samples their Consomme of Cochinita Pibil and Oat Risotto with Recado Negro. Energized by Mexico, Rick takes us behind the scenes at his fine-dining restaurant, Topolobampo, to show us his own thrilling modern Mayan dish, Cilantro Salmon with Smoky Tomato-Habanero Lasagne.
How do you transform a simple piece of fresh fish into a gorgeous Yucatecan specialty? It's all in the magic paste, says Rick, as he takes us to the Merida market to explore the region's colorful, aromatic essential seasoning pastes (or recados). These magical mounds of spice blends become the base for grilling rubs, the heart and soul of tamales, the seasoning for all kinds of food wrapped in banana leaves and the flavoring undercurrent for tangy escabeches and slow-simmered stews. We journey from an achiote tree to the commercial grinders for the seeds to Rick's home to understand this aromatic, alluring spice so beloved in the Yucatan. Rick shows us how to make our own Achiote Seasoning Paste, and then use it for Short Ribs Kabik. Then we make the garlicky "Bistec" Seasoning Paste to use in the stunning dish of Grilled Chicken in Escabeche. The journey ends in Man# for a bowl of pavo en relleno negro, a local specialty of turkey and stuffing flavored with the exotic jet-black paste of charred chiles.
Show Me The Honey
Yucatecan honey is renowned for its glorious color and rich flavor. Rick finds it everywhere from the Merida market stalls to the breakfast buffet at an upscale hotel where the whole honeycomb slowly drips its amber syrup for ladling over fruit and cereal. At home, Rick uses the golden syrup in his Mexican-Style Granola and in the pasilla chile-spiked glaze for a sublime Grilled Rack of Lamb. On the Riviera Maya, we visit Xcaret, a nature park, for a look at the hollow-log hives of the native stingless bees so beloved by the Maya for their honey. At Hacienda Vista Alegre in Merida, honey is the main ingredient in a honey-anise liqueur called Xtabentun. Rick leads us through the liqueur-making process then goes home to make a fabulous White Chocolate Ice Cream flavored with the liqueur.
The story of the Mexican hacienda sounds like it came from mythology - like one of those morality tales about the fleeting nature of wealth and glory. It begins with the feudal system where generations of Maya worked the fields for wealthy Spanish landowners. The era peaked in the Yucatan in the late 19th century with the world's demand for henequen - or sisal - made from a local agave plant. Today, the hacienda is being reborn - as museums for a glimpse into the past, as production facilities for fine rums and liqueurs and as luxury hotels. We join Rick on a field trip through the golden era of the haciendas and then go to his home kitchen to make the classic Mayan-Spanish-European fusion dishes Yucatecan Black Bean Dinner and Capered Chicken. Hacienda San Jose, a luxury resort, inspires Rick's rendition of Achiote-Seared Shrimp.
Return to Hacienda
The 19th Century was the golden age of the Mexican hacienda, and today, some of these great plantation estates live on as luxury resorts. Rick and his wife, Deann, stayed in one of them, Hacienda San Jose in the Yucatan, and we get a glimpse of the lush grounds, beautifully restored buildings, rustic-elegant furnishings, and hearty, hacienda cooking. Tonight, Rick's hosting a dinner party in Chicago-a reunion with the two other couples who joined them at the hacienda-with a menu and mood designed to bring home the flavors and memories they shared. The dining room is transformed with tropical flowers and candles, and the party begins with Champagne Margaritas, Rick's luxury take on Mexico's favorite cocktail. Then, the guests sit down to a soulful yet sophisticated menu, starting with a creamy Roasted Chile-Potato Soup with Greens and Chorizo, followed by Braised Short Ribs with Arbol Chiles, White Beans, Mushrooms and Beer garnished with a delicate frisee salad. And for dessert, there's the seemingly impossible Pastel Imposible-also known as Chocoflan-a chocolate cake and custard confection whose layers magically reverse themselves in the pan during baking. It's a dinner party that's extra-special, but not extra-fancy-and every bit as magical as the evenings Rick and his friends enjoyed in "hacienda heaven."
A Man, A Pan, Paella!
A lot of people know how to have a few guests over for a gourmet meal. And a lot of people know how to feed a big crowd a not-very-gourmet meal. Rick shows you how to plan a fiesta that's both big and gourmet. And he focuses on the Spanish influence on Mexican culture with a spectacular menu for 25 that features Mexican takes on Spanish classics. For starters, there's a sparkling Sangria Mexicana accented with lime juice. Then along comes a chilled Roasted Poblano Gazpacho with fresh garnishes that's made ahead and assembled at the last minute so the vegetables stay nice and crisp. Then, it's a Mexican accent on that most iconic Spanish main dish of all, Mexican Paella with Shrimp, Mussels and Chorizo, and it's not just the main course, it's the party entertainment. First he shows how to construct a simple outdoor brick fire pit, custom-built for an enormous three-foot paella pan. Then into the pan go pound after pound of chicken, seafood, rice, roasted chiles and chorizo, which simmer slowly over the embers as the guests gather around the fire. For dessert, there's a creamy "Cafe de Olla" Flan with the clever, Mexican-inspired addition of spiced coffee. Rick shares helpful entertaining tips every step of the way, from how to do salad for a crowd (hint: avoid the baby greens) to choosing olive oil. From the cooking to the meal itself, this paella party gives a whole meaning to "entertaining."
Beach Blanket Barbecue
It's a barefoot-on-the-beach dinner party cooked, served and eaten outdoors. But the catch of the day is ... there's no beach! Instead, Rick and his family create a little Mexican seaside nirvana right in their Chicago backyard, complete with a cabana improvised from billowing white curtains, muslin draped overhead, white table linens, sparkling Mexican candles and orchids. And the food is as inviting as the mood, because it all comes from the grill, starting with Rick's Grilled Garlic and Orange Guacamole, which gets its smoky flavor from flame-seared onions, garlic and jalapenos. Then come Grilled Mussels, cooked right on the grill grates, topped with tomatillo salsa and served as a passed appetizer. The main event is succulent Grill-Roasted Whole Fish Adobado marinated in sweet-spicy ancho chile adobo, grilled and served whole and sizzling, with a potatoes and onions, cooked in a "hobo-pack" right on the grill. Even the dessert gets the "beach-barbecue" treatment-it's homemade Grilled Cornmeal Pound Cake toasted on the still-warm grill and served with ice cream and fresh fruit salsa. Rick even provides a playlist of Latin favorites to match the mood. Conclusion: with a few good recipes and a little imagination, a Mexican seaside fiesta is just a barbecue and a boombox away.
Let's Do Brunch
With a houseful of weekend guests, Rick and his daughter, Lanie, whip up an extra-special brunch buffet that turns Sunday morning into a mini Mexican vacation, inspired by the relaxed breakfasts they've enjoyed all over Mexico. Just for fun, they set up a hotel-style omelet station, complete with a propane burner, in the dining room-a great way for the host to join in the party-where Rick makes individual Chorizo and Chile Omelets to order as the guests sip orange juice. The buffet also includes Chilaquiles, a comforting casserole of crispy tortillas, softened in a rich, brothy chile sauce with shredded chicken and sour cream. And because it wouldn't be brunch without coffee, Rick serves his press-pot version of Cafe de Olla, coffee sweetened with Mexican brown sugar and perfumed with spices and orange zest. It's the perfect accompaniment for a Caramelized Mango Tart with Mexican Chocolate and Pepitas, an easy free-form fruit tart with a wrap-around pastry crust. Throughout the preparations and the party, Rick gives all kinds of helpful entertaining tips on everything from buffet-table tricks and making omelets for a crowd to cool Latin tunes to go with the menu.
Taquisa for Ten
From street stalls to bustling taquerias and morning to midnight, tacos are Mexico's favorite mini-meal-a few blissful bites of something thrillingly savory, wrapped in a soft, fragrant tortilla. And it turns out they're also a perfect party food. Rick and his daughter, Lanie, plan a backyard taquisa-a taco buffet centered around one of the greatest taco fillings of all, Michoacan-Style Pork Carnitas, chunks of pork, slowly simmered in oil until they're crisp and golden on the outside and succulent inside. Rick shows us how it's done in Mexico in giant copper cauldrons, and then brings that idea home with the help of a surprising, cooking device-a turkey fryer. For pre-party nibbles, he shows how to turn salad-bar veggies into Mexican "Crudite" Platter, with the addition of a little store-bought chicharrones (pork cracklings) and chamoy, a sweet-sour apricot hot sauce-flavors that go perfectly with his beer and hot sauce Micheladas. In the spirit of a true taquisa, Rick makes fresh corn tortillas on a hot griddle. To round out the buffet, there are black beans, Guacamole flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and salsa, and everyone tucks into their tacos at little tables set up around the yard, taqueria-style. The meal ends with another street-food favorite, homemade Fruit "Mojito" Ice Pops made with fresh lime juice, mint and berries.