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!)
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.
Roast them until they are browned, and some juice has been created.
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.
Rick suggests adding a chopped white onion to the salsa before serving it.
This is what you need to compose the enfrijoladas:
Cooked black beans and black bean broth
Roasted tomatillo salsa
White onion rings
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.
Add the black bean broth until a sauce is created – it will be like a thinned black bean soup.
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.
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.
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!