The social network that celebrates Latin food
Christmas in Mexico isn’t simply one day. Christmas dinner isn’t simply one dinner, either. Rather, it’s nine days of dinners, from December 16th to December 24th, each held at a different house and featuring a different array of dishes. These dinners, which fall somewhere between religious celebration, fiesta, and dinner party, are called posadas, and are meant to symbolize Joseph and Mary’s search for food and shelter in the nine months before Jesus’ birth. Posadas are rich and heady eating experiences. Tamales are the staple; often there are corn, pork, beef, and chicken tamales and in Oaxaca, an array of tamales featuring the state’s seven molés. Then there are buñuelos, a type of funnel cake made by rolling out a simple dough of shortening, eggs, sugar and milk, frying it in vegetable oil until it’s crispy, and sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on top. The warm buñuelos are dipped in Mexican hot chocolate, the traditional kind made by frothing whole slabs of chocolate with milk or water to produce a thick, foamy drink.
Pozole blanco is another posada standby and a meal you’ll find throughout the Christmas season in Mexico. To make it, you need the kind of hearty, crunchy hominy that’s the lifeblood of Mexican cuisine. This hominy and pork meat on the bone make up the basis of pozole blanco. These, a few garlic cloves, a few bay leaves, a touch of salt, and you’ve got the broth. While the broth should be infused enough with the meatiness of the pork and the grainy bite of the hominy to hold its own, the garnishes are what contribute most of the flavor. You’ll need crispy tostadas, lime wedges, dried oregano, a dark salsa made from chile de arbol, thinly sliced lettuce or cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, and a diced onion. Each person can then add garnishes as he or she sees fit.
Meat, roasted and dressed with sauce or stuffed, is not only a feature of posadas but also the star of la Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve. Pork chops in apricot, plum, pineapple, guava, or orange sauce, served with plantains, rice, and/or beans, are one favorite. Stuffed turkey is another. The stuffing is usually composed of fruit and nuts, a mixture of raisins and prunes, guavas, figs, almonds and small apples, combined with savory compliments like red onions, olives, and garlic, and cooked in sherry or wine.
The central pieces of Mexican Christmas, however, the dishes that spring to mind instantly next to the word Navidad, are Romeritos and Bacalao. These two dishes represent the twin poles of Mexican cuisine, the former using indigenous ingredients like molé and cactus leaves, the latter derived predominantly from colonial Spanish cuisine with a strong emphasis on salted cod, olive oil, olives and red peppers. Romeritos combines the sweetness of rosemary leaves with the tang of cactus pads and the salty, briny taste of dried shrimp. Potatoes are usually the mediators between these flavors. Bacalao, meanwhile, calls to mind Mediterranean stews with its combination of fish, olives, garlic, tomatoes, peppers and olive oil.
The Christmas feasts are washed down with ponche, and more often than not, ponche con piquete – punch with a sting. This is a punch made by boiling small apples, guavas, oranges, pineapples, hibiscus, sugar cane, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and dark brown sugar until the fruits are soft and brown, and then adding the sting– traditionally aguardiente, but nowadays often rum or tequila. Nine straight days of feasting and ponche? Salud, and feliz navidad.
Bacalao a la Vizcaina
Serves four or five.
4 lbs. Bacalao
5 cloves chopped garlic
1 chopped white onion
2 lbs chopped tomatoes
3 Bay leaves
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small jar of capers
1 large jar of green olives
1 sliced red pepper
1 jar of large chiles in vinegar
12 small potatoes
Baguette or loaf of French bread
Soak the bacalao for at least 24 hours, preferably longer to deplete some of the stronger salt flavor. Once the bacalao has been soaked and drained, boil the potatoes. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add onion and garlic. Once onions are translucent and aromatic, add the tomatoes. Let simmer on medium heat for around ten minutes. Add the bacalao, red pepper, olives, capers, and bay leaves. Let simmer for another 20 minutes. Add the potatoes, cook for another 5 minutes, and serve hot with French bread and chiles.
2 pounds crab apples (if you can't find these, you can substitute four or five large golden delicious or red delicious apples)
1 lb. guava, sliced in quarters
1 orange cut in quarters, plus the rind of a second orange
1 small pineapple, sliced into chunks 2 pears chopped in large chunks
1 cup raisins
1 pound julienned sugar cane
3-4 cinnamon sticks (depending on preference)
4 whole all spice beads
4-5 whole cloves
Boil about 2 gallons of water. Once warm, add sugar cane and piloncillo. Let piloncillo dissolve and then add fruits and spices. Let simmer for at least an hour. Serve con piquete (tequila, rum, mezcal) or plain.