Homage to Rick Bayless

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Almost nine years ago I took my younger daughter to Chicago for a Happy 18th birthday trip. She was already quite the gourmet at 18, so where we took our meals was an important part of the visit; reservations were made weeks ahead.

My daughter and I can’t go long without Mexican food, and Rick Bayless is the contemporary champion of all food Mexicano, so we chose to go to one of his restaurants called Frontera Grill.

If you’re not familiar with Rick Bayless already, his cookbooks have all won awards, and so have his Mexican restaurants, including Frontera. So we were very excited.

We started off our meal at the margarita bar and, not surprisingly, had a fabulous margarita. (Mr. Bayless’ last book is a lot about margaritas, by the way. It’s called Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks.)

Then we were seated with a view of the kitchen, which I always enjoy. It’s a quaint restaurant, with only seating for 65. So I’m watching the kitchen and I see someone I recognize – it’s Rick Bayless!

I ask our delightful waiter if Mr. Bayless would come say hi – I’m sure I mentioned that I’m a chef groupie – and he said of course! Next thing we know, here’s Rick Bayless at the table with us, chatting away! And, he was kind enough to take pictures with both of us. I would post my picture, but my daughter is much younger, prettier and skinnier than I am. (And she did ok my using this photo!)

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So, two things about Mr. Bayless, or Rick, since we’ve met. First of all, I am impressed when a celebrity chef is actually at his restaurant. I think even non-celebrity chefs should be at their restaurants as much as possible to oversee the kitchen.

There is a restaurant in Dallas called Javier’s that I’ve been going to for 35 years, and whenever we’re in Dallas, we make sure to go because it is so consistently perfect. And you know what? Javier is always there. I’m sure Rick Bayless, with everything else going on in his professional life, is not at Frontera every night, but it was really good to see him there. (He also own the restaurant right next door, called Topolobampo.)

Secondly, he was very kind, even though I’m sure he tires of people like me all googly over him. But when I’ve seen him on tv, he seems kind as well. And, he wrote a cookbook with his daughter! Which I have, thanks, Jill! But, there’s more! He’s also been married to his wife forever, and they work together!

So I’m making this simple Mexican meal in homage to my chef friend, Rick Bayless, cooking out of his cookbook, Fiesta at Rick’s, published in 2010. I will start with a roasted tomatillo salsa, that I need in order to create his enfrijoladas.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed, cut in half
3 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded
Bunch of cilantro, bottom stems cut off, coarsely chopped

Place the tomatillos and jalapenos on a jelly-roll pan. Sprinkle on some oil and a little salt.

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Roast them until they are browned, and some juice has been created.

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Let them cool slightly, then place them in a jar of a blender, along with the cilantro. Blend, adding a little water to make the salsa, but don’t let it get too runny. I didn’t process mine much, because I wanted a little texture left in the salsa.

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Rick suggests adding a chopped white onion to the salsa before serving it.

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Enfrijoladas

This is what you need to compose the enfrijoladas:
Cooked black beans and black bean broth
Corn tortillas
Mexican chorizo
Roasted tomatillo salsa
Queso fresco
White onion rings
Cilantro

The day before, cook black beans in an excessive amount of water, but seasoning as you would normally. For a reference, see black beans. The green pepper is not necessary. You will need a lot of this broth for the above recipe.

First, get about one cup of freshly cooked black beans and place them in a food processor or blender.

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Add the black bean broth until a sauce is created – it will be like a thinned black bean soup.

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Set the sauce aside.

Next, soften the tortillas in a warm skillet, using a little oil. Flip them over until they are completely soft, then dunk them into the pot with the black beans and broth.

Skin the chorizo and slice them up. Heat the same skillet over high heat and brown the chorizo on both sides. Drain them on paper towels and set aside.

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To prepare, place some of the black bean sauce on a plate. Get the tortillas out of the broth and fold them into fourths; mine still broke, even with all of the softening. Place two on each plate.

Add some of the chorizo, and then some of the tomatillo salsa. Top with the crumbled queso fresco.

Heat everything up in the microwave if necessary, then decorate the plate with the onion rings and cilantro.

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verdict: I had what you see pictured for lunch. At 10 AM. I tried one bite, and it was all over. Every aspect of this dish goes so well together, and yet is so easy to prepare. Plus, I think I’ll always have this salsa around, as long as I can find tomatillos. It’s absolutely delicious, and has a sweetness that only tomatillos can add. YUM.

Thanks to this same daughter, I’ve gotten photos with Dean Fearing and Charlie Trotter. I might have to drag her to more restaurants!

44 thoughts on “Homage to Rick Bayless

  1. I love Rick Bayless, IMHO he is a step above so many of the celebrity chef’s very down to earth and nice without the swelled head syndrome. Lovely daughter and what a nice pic with the chef! The recipes are fantastic, I have his cookbooks and he truly has a love affair with Mexican cuisine.

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    • He does seem down to earth, doesn’t he? Maybe that’s why he went to PBS instead of the food network. I love his recipes, although I wish I could taste the dishes he makes – there’s no way I can find some of his chile peppers and other ingredients. The beans were supposed to be cooked with avocado leaves, for example. That would be easy if I lived in California!

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  2. I was working in The Loop when Frontera Grill opened and I cannot say how many times I’ve eaten there since, and without ever having a bad experience. Your tomatillo salsa and enfrijoladas look delicious and are a fitting tribute to a favorite chef and restaurant.

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  3. What a great experience at a top restaurant and a wonderful photo of your daughter too! I love what you shared here, especially the roasted tomatillo salsa. I think I would keep some handy in my refrigerator too.

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  4. So delicious! Mexican is a big favourite of ours too and I’ve gotten a few taco’s and tasty bits at our all time favourite here in Sydney. Love that this fish can take you back to your travels in Chicago at one of your favourites, no doubt family also enjoyed relieving that food memory with you too.

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  5. Great post. How nice to have him come to your table. I love Rick Bayless’ books and TV show. Sadly, our experience at Topolobampo was not favorable. We felt the food and the service were merely okay, especially for a Flagship restaurant, and incredibly overpriced. Perhaps we caught it on a bad day.

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  6. Oh my gosh. That looks SO good. I love Mexican food. Unfortunately, chorizo is one of those foods I ate during my first pregnancy and now can’t stand the smell of it. :(

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      • lol No, I love (and can eat) other types of sausages. My ex used to cook it for me with scrambled eggs, and I’d eat it all the time. I was SO ill during my pregnancy, barfing all the time, that I think my mind just associates that smell with being ill. I know! It’s weird! :)

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      • Wow. Well, from your picture, you look like you lost it all! I gained over 60 lbs with each of my pregnancies (3 of ’em) but lost the weight. Yay for breastfeeding! :)

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      • Even though you were sick? You got me beat!!! I did eventually lose it, but my older one is 29! I’m 57. And I’ve just gained 20 pounds since blogging!!!!! It never ends!!!

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      • I always gained all the weight in my last trimester when I wasn’t so ill anymore. My oldest is turning 18 in a couple of months! It’s weird for me.

        Well, you don’t look your age, and I’m not just being nice. I wouldn’t state it at all if I didn’t mean it. :)

        Eh. My weight still fluctuates, too. Last year, I melted off about 15 lbs just by cutting gluten out of my diet. Now I bounce back and forth between losing and gaining about 5 lbs. Aging is fun, isn’t it? :)

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  7. I love tomatillos! I never thought of roasting them instead of using them raw. I always trust your sources of good cookbooks and gadgets. I definitely will be adding this to my list.Thanks, Chef Mimi!

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  8. There’s some synchronicity happening in our thought processes and post planning! I’d love to try some great quality Mexican food. It is the new big thing in Melbourne but I’m not excited by what I have tried so far.

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  9. We love Frontera, and Topolobampo, and have been going to both for years—almost every time we visit Chicago. And you’re exactly right: It’s so nice to go, time after time, and almost always see the chef in the restaurant. Your tomatillo salsa looks great. I just noticed we still have some in the freezer from last summer. I think a Mexican meal is in order!

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  10. Is that mango in the background as well! I really enjoyed your story and appreciate being introduced to Rick Bayless. I really want to give this recipe a try so I will be on the lookout for tomatillos. I just I knew where to find queso fresco cheese. Great post!!!

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