Sunday, November 8, 2009

We Call It Maize

Aztec woman blowing on maize - Florentine Codex, 16th Century 
So, during the aforementioned conversation with my boy Matty, I had already decided on centering a main dish around polenta and was mulling over what to do with all the inevitable leftovers the next day. We must have been talking about our favorite topic, bacon, because what I came up with set both our mouths to watering and our eyes to tearing:
Huevos rancheros on polenta - a recipe by Blog O. Food
  • 4 dried Ancho chilies
  • Water
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 whole allspice corns, crushed
  • 2 black peppercorns, crushed
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Polenta, firmed and cut into 4" squares
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp distilled vinegar
Matty and I are sauce men. Salsa is fine for chips, but a good sauce, expertly turned out, can make grown men swoon - these two men, anyway. So instead of tomatoes, I opted for a Mexican red sauce to soak into the polenta and top my eggs.
Before starting the sauce, brush leftover polenta with a little olive oil and place in a pre-heated 350° oven and bake for 20 minutes. Cut the baked polenta into desired shapes.
The sauce:
Heat Ancho chilies for 30-45 seconds in a hot, dry skillet to release some of the oils and intensify the flavors. Turn them several times. You're not really toasting the chilies, which can turn bitter very quickly, but rather coaxing out some of the flavor. Steep the heated chilies in a small sauce pan with just enough slow boiling water to cover. Simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer the chilies and 1½ cups of the liquid to a food processor along with the garlic, crushed allspice & peppercorns and salt. Purée for several minutes until the sauce is completely smooth. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Run the sauce through a sieve and back into the saucepan. Add the olive oil and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and use immediately, or transfer to a glass jar. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for one week.
While the sauce simmers, poach 2 eggs in a shallow pan of just barely boiling water. You want only enough water to cover the eggs once they're placed in the pan. I was always told to add a splash of distilled vinegar to the water. It's supposed to help the eggs retain their shape. I don't know where I first heard this, but it seems to work, so I have not investigated the method any further. Poach eggs for 3 minutes and remove from their bath with a slotted spoon.
Place pieces of baked polenta on a serving dish, top with poached eggs and drizzle with the red sauce. I was gonna crisp up slices of pancetta, but feared straying too far from my Mexican roots. I went with thick-cut bacon instead.
Red sauce is complex and intense. You can remove the seeds and membranes from the dried chilies before you toast them. Most of the heat is locked in there. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling dried chilies, and never, ever touch your eyes, nose or mouth without doing so first. The allspice and peppercorns add more layers of flavor. Whole cumin and clove are also sometimes used. Traditionally, eggs are fried for this dish, but I've always loved a good poached egg, and my doctor loves my heart-healthy ways!
Back in 1998 I was in the middle of a cross-country road trip along Interstate 10. I was headed to San Diego for three months, escaping the summer heat of Miami, FL. One early morning, deep, deep in Texas territory, I answered my rumbling stomach in Sonora, where I stumbled upon the best huevos rancheros I have ever eaten. Fresh, homemade corn tortillas, double-thick slices of bacon, eggs and refried beans cooked in alarming amounts of bacon fat, and chili sauce a crimson color Harvard would be envious of. It was such a memorable breakfast, that I have never forgotten the name of the place:

Mi Familia Restaurant
605 S. Crockett Avenue
Sonora, TX 76950
(325) 387-2940

I'll bet I could drive there blindfolded even to this day.
I don't know if polenta will ever take the place of corn tortillas in huevos rancheros, I'm not convinced it really should. But now you have one more resourceful way to serve up leftovers without compromising your principles or offending your Italian and Mexican neighbors!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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