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Using local ingredients and recipes learned from his mother and grandmother, Chef Aarón Sánchez of New Orleans' famed Mexican restaurant, Johnny Sánchez, reinterprets his family's dishes through a modern lens. Sponsored by Cacique.
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1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 large red onions, thinly sliced
Combine all ingredients except the onions in a heavy medium saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then add the onion slices, separating them into individual rings. Let the mixture come back to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until onions soften and wilt, 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let the mixture cool completely. Transfer the onions and their pickling liquid to a quart-size glass jar or divide among Tupperware. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
1 cup canola oil
12 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons canned chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Grated zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour the oil into a heavy ovenproof medium saucepan and add the garlic. Cover the pot with foil, put it in the oven, and cook until the garlic turns a nutty brown and is really soft (like cream cheese), about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and let the garlic and oil cool to room temperature. Put the garlic and the garlic-infused oil in a food processor or blender. Add the chipotles and sauce, cilantro, lime zest, and salt and puree until smooth. Store in the fridge in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to a month.
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/4 cup fennel seeds
1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
2 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, deveined, and torn into small pieces
2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, deveined, and torn into small pieces
1/2 cup dried whole oregano (preferably Mexican)
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1/4 cup Spanish paprika (pimento)
Heat a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Pour in the cumin, coriander, fennel and mustard seeds along with the pieces of pasilla and ancho chiles. Toast, stirring constantly, until aromatic and just begins to smoke, about 3 minutes.
Dump the mixture onto a plate and let it cool to room temperature. Grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder. Transfer powder to a large bowl and add the oregano, onion powder, garlic powder and paprika. Stir well to combine. Store the adobo in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag in a cool, dark place for up to a month.
18 to 24
2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup Aarón’s Adobo (see recipe below)
1/2 cup Garlic Chipotle Love (see recipe below)
24 (4-inch) corn tortillas
Canola oil, for frying
Valentina hot sauce
Cacique Crema Mexicana
Pickled onions (see recipe below)
Cacique Queso Fresco, crumbled
3 limes, halved
Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and Aarón’s adobo. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Cook the chicken for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is cooked all the way through. Remove from heat and let cool.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the Garlic Chipotle Love. Season with salt to taste.
Place approximately 2 ounces of the shredded chicken into each tortilla, tightly roll and skewer through the middle. Continue to stack more flautas on each skewer until you have 3 to 4 on a single skewer.
In a fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees. One at a time, carefully lower the skewered flautas into the oil and fry for approximately 3 to 4 minutes, until they are crispy and golden brown. Remove from fryer and let rest on a paper towel-lined plate to remove excess oil.
To plate, spread guacamole on the bottom of the plate, carefully remove the flautas from the skewers and place on top of the guacamole. Drizzle the flautas with hot sauce, followed by Cacique Crema Mexicana and pickled onions. Top with crumbled Cacique Queso Fresco and garnish with cilantro and fresh squeezed lime juice.
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- When I first started out, I had these grand ideas of reinterpreting Mexican food and, you know, I was trying too hard to do something that wasn't me. And then now, as a chef gets older, you start to appeal to your grandma's cooking more so than ever. You can't have an identity without having food be part of it; they're synonymous, they're connected. I believe that the way I think about food is very different, singular. It's holding on to memories, holding on to times in my life. There's something inherently fleeting about food and I don't want that legacy, I don't want those dishes to disappear. It's just a way for me to connect with my family. It's a way of paying respect. We are not a Louisiana/Mexican restaurant. We're a Mexican restaurant disseminating ingredients that are local, and then putting them through a Mexican lens and idiom, and then making this food that isn't trenched in tradition, but reinterpreted with modern technique. The food in itself becomes something not just, you know "home style" food, it becomes something that's beautiful and elevated. So this, right here, is no big deal, it's just a book of my life. And that's my Mema. My grandmother's cooking style was just straight up delicious. I have a tattoo of her right here, and here it says: "old school." My Mema's meatballs, and people have all kinds of recipes that go back to family traditions and all that, but this one really speaks to me. She took the idea of cooking at home and made it a possibility to do it professionally. And I never thought that some of that was viable or even possible. When my Mema cooked, the food was so developed and so profound, and every meal was not just a meal. It was theater. For me, growing up with very spirited, strong woman was just the way I knew life to be. And there you have it. Grandma's Meatballs. A city's not defined by its architecture, it's not defined by its history, per se. It's defined by the people. People are what make the city what it is. St. Rock, it is. When I started cooking here in 1990, it was just Creole food in New Orleans. And now, the playbook has grown exponentially. Now you have all these young owners of their businesses being able to just go after your dreams. This is a beautiful example of New Orleans taking care of all the different Epicurian treasures that we have here. - [Woman] Mm-mm-mm! - Just fell in love With the city, I fell in love with the connection to culture and family. All those things spoke to me and this is where I want to be from now on. For me, nothing says New Orleans like fresh shellfish and seafood. We got it goin' on like nobody else has. What's goin' on baby? - Hey, how's it goin'? - I hear you got somethin' for me - Yes sir, come over here - Let's do it. Look at this. I get to go in the back. See this is where you do it - So this is where it happens. I came in this mornin' - Dude! And when you have a softshell crab, it's luscious, you can taste its environment within all these beautiful pockets, yes! And every part is as much delicious as it is Louisiana - That's correct! - I love it. We're going to take the whole tray if you don't mind. - I'll pack 'em up for you - Thank you, brother. This highlights some of the classic dishes in Mexico and kind of reinterpret great Louisiana product and have the menu be free-flowing and constantly evolving. It's something that's organic, where it's alive. Beautiful softshell crabs done Johnny Sanchez style, celebrating New Orleans ingredients. Photo of my dad and my mom. And here you have a photo of my mom cooking at Summit with Ronald Reagan in 1983. My mom's restaurant was called Zarela, her namesake restaurant. It opened in 1987. It kind of defined my mom as, you know, this unbelievable pioneer of Mexican cuisine in New York. And then I grew up in that environment. This is her first book, um, "Food From My Heart." So not only am I a third generation cookbook author and restaurateur, but I'm also a second generation cook at The White House. We use this as a reference a lot at the restaurant. I always try to reference the cookbooks as far as just making sure that we're staying on the authentic path, you know, this is where we are as chefs, this is what speaks to us. Look at mama's book, look at Mema's book and make sure that, you know, what you're doing and how the menu is evolving has a little bit of a connection to these books. You know, one of the things that I learned from my mom was the idea of making sure that we're throwing a party every night, you know, being present at your restaurant. I take all those lessons every day to work. And just making sure, you know, that not to take ourselves too seriously and make sure that margaritas are flowing, people are smiling, music is up. Let's have fun man. This is what it's all about. We want to go that extra mile to anticipate our customers' needs, and that, in turn, makes us happy. And it gives you joy to serve others, and that's what we do here, and that's what you do at home. - We need to season this. - Alright, what do you need? You need salt? - Yes. - When a chef cooks at home, there's like, eight different dishes made, but it's like, a big experience, it's like a little journey into different flavors and that's how I like to cook. Cooking at home is so important for me 'cause it's it allows me to cook in a way that I might not necessarily do at work. What resonates more with us now is not trying to prove ourselves as far as a large stage, you know, having recognition with publications and acceptance and praise from your peers, necessarily, it's more about "how am I doing justice to my family and allowing "those great home cooks that were so influential "in my upbringing. How are we taking care "of those people? And how are we making sure "that their legacy is not forgotten?" And as chefs, we can do it by cooking their food. - Oh my god! - Food and the way we commune was very important. There's a lot of parallels between treating people in the kitchen or in a restaurant to the way I was brought up. I just wanna thank all of you guys for being here. We have new friends, old friends, we have family, we have the love of my life... So I'd like to propose a toast: to all of us. This is something natural, comes to me very easily. Ceremony that takes all day, it concludes with this unbelievable meal and making people happy, and I can't imagine myself doing anything else, you know? Yeah, so this is it right here. This book is pretty..pretty important. It's something tangible that I will-- I'll be able to give to our son and say, "This is where you come from young man."