Cooking Like A Mexican

Tequila flambee clam soup
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

cooking_1.jpg

The history behind tequila is deeply rooted in a small town in Jalisco, where the liquor was born. The first people to inhabit Tequila were the “nahuatlacas,” “toltecas” and “otomí” (these were the names of the original tribes that settled in the region). Just like any other ethnic group, these groups of people used whatever they could find to their advantage, and the agave plant was abundant in the region. Some breeds of the agave plant were used to make textiles, some others for medicinal purposes, and a special one to make a mythological beverage that was only worthy of gods, kings, emperors, priests and leaders.

Legend tells that Quetzalcoatl -a prehispanic deity- seduced Mayahuel -the goddess of fertility- and invited her to what is now known as Mexico City. When these gods reached the earth, they turned into trees. Mayahuel was turned into a beautiful tree, blooming with precious flowers. Quetzalcoatl appeared as a lushy, leafy tree. Mayahuel’s grandmother, in a rash of envy, tore the tree apart and killed Mayahuel’s tree form. Her lover was torn with grief and gave her burial. From where his lover’s remains were buried, a plant grew and kept her spirit: Maguey. (IMPORTANT- MAGUEY AND AGAVE ARE SYNONYMS)

Maguey spread freely and widely through the land of Jalisco, where the soil and the weather were ideal for the plant to prosper. During a thunderstorm, a group of exploring Natives found shelter in a cave and watched as a powerful thunderbolt fell on the wild agave that covered such place, scorching it. In the morning, the group of Natives followed the alluring smell produced by the thunderbolt and found the long leaves of the plants had consumed, leaving only the hearts roasted. A milky substance was gushing from the burnt cores, which was what had seduced their sense of smell. After they tasted the nectar, the natives became shocked at how pleasant it was, attributing it as a gift from the gods.

The indigenous group filled their jugs with the godsend liquid and started their journey back to their village. As they were walking under the sun and the trip was more than a few days long on foot, by the time they reached their destination, the elixir had fermented. These men had raved so much about the delicious drink that everyone wanted a taste for themselves. The hierarch of their group was first, and he realized his body and mind were different as if he was talking to the gods directly. Well, he was drunk. Mind you, they never knew alcohol existed and they were probably lightweights! The fermented drink then became sacred, being reserved for religious events, festivities, sick people and get this: pregnant women!

Sometime later, the Spaniards came and they were offered the drink, as the indigenous people believed they were gods, and although they liked it, they figured out how to distill it as they did in Europe with whiskey. Spaniards were seeking a stronger, purer product. It was them who built numerous haciendas to start production of the liquor.

In 1758, Jose Cuervo was the first to produce Tequila, having the first grant for mass production. It wasn’t until 1876, with the first train system in the Porfiriato, that tequila started being exported to the United States. That was the first “boom” for tequila, which was successful for two reasons: the Mexican Revolution and the United States’ prohibition (once Mexico was peaceful again).

During the Mexican revolution, tequila was widely identified as the national drink, federal and revolutionary troops drank it alike to bear the war’s hardships. After that, the Golden age of cinema in Mexico made tequila even more popular, with the typical “Mexican macho” image some people still associate the country with, the working man usually in the countryside, or charros, the music, mariachi, and tequila. This is what gave a wide number of Mexican men identity as well, as they portrayed themselves like Pedro Infante.

In 1982, appellation of origin was granted on tequila, that meant that a liquor could only be called tequila if it was made in Mexico, in the region of Tequila (yes, that’s the name of an actual town), and have at least 51 percent of agave, although the purest tequilas are 100 percent agave. Keep that in mind next time you buy some!

Nowadays, tequila is seen in rap videos, hot celebrity commercials, at tastings like single malt scotch, high-end restaurants and exclusive bars and clubs, but it was once only a drink the brave would have, in a shot, eyes closed and as an excuse to have some courage. It's now mixed in all kinds of cocktails, but the only right way to have it is; salt first- to produce more saliva and thus soften the punch, tequila second, lime at the end, to alleviate the throat after the burn.

With this recipe, although I could have picked from thousands, I will merge the love for tequila and a local ingredient, which I have been asked to write about for a long time and finally found the perfect dish; tequila flambee clam soup.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of butter

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 anchovies

½ onion, finely chopped

1 box of mushrooms, thinly sliced

½ serrano pepper, chopped as you like, bigger chunks are easier to take out for less heat

1 ounce of White tequila

3 large tomatoes, skinned and seeded, chopped

½ pound of mussels (whichever you like is fine, local obviously, the freshest you can find)

½ cup of beef broth

½ cup of chicken broth

½ lime

A few sprigs of cilantro, to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

In a skillet, heat olive oil and fry the garlic, only a little bit to release its fragrance. Add the butter and anchovies and let cook for 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook until tender.

Add mushrooms and let cook for 5 minutes or until they reduce their size to about half.

Add the pepper, cook and stir (this can be omitted if you like)

Flambee! Just add the tequila and light with a match. Don’t be scared, the alcohol will burn off and the taste will be incredible. If you get scared of the flame, just put a lid on it and let the fire die.

Add the tomatoes, stir and let cook.

Add the mussels and cover for about three minutes, until they start popping open.

Add both beef and chicken broth and let it simmer until it starts to thicken.

Add the lime juice last, along with the cilantro and remove from heat. Let it rest for a minute and it's ready to serve!

This is typically served with white rice, and a meal on its own.

Your kitchen will smell amazing, thank me later! Find me at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com