Smackdown: It's Like a Party in Your Piehole

enchilada, cropped

“The flavors explode in my piehole,” quoth my beloved.*

*Note: This post now features actual words!

'tilloes

There’s a reason Rick Bayless won the last season of Top Chef Masters: his food just plain kicks ass. As these tangy tomatillo-sauced fish enchiladas from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen did mightily.

And I will tell you how mightily tomorrow, as I finish up this post. Right now, I’ve had a long day, slept poorly last night after suffering the indignity of Top Chef Masters Season 2 and am quasi-brain dead, so anything I were to write now would be worse than writing nothing at all.

Good night, and good luck.

tomatillo sauce

Okay, I’m back!

So this dinner almost didn’t happen at all because Fresh Direct dared to have no tomatilloes for purchase. Luckily, we live in a neighborhood where you can’t get a decent banana, but tomatilloes are falling off the truck, so our tomatillo needs were ultimately met. They’re sticky little fuckers, aren’t they? I was going to be lazy and just peel ‘em and throw ‘em on a baking sheet to roast, but then one of them stuck firm to my hand so I had to suck it up and wash them. Are they fertilized with Elmer’s Glue? What is that shit? I’m not gonna lie, a vegetable that sticky makes me a little nervous.

Still, they were duly roasted along with a couple of chiles – several exploded during the roasting process, oozing their seedy green guts all over the baking sheet that I’d had the foresight to line with foil* – and then met an ignominious end in the blender along with some sauteed onions and garlic. The blending produced a lovely bright puree that I then seared in a pan of hot oil, turning it into a less-lovely, less-bright, distinctly pukey-looking-but-it-smelled-really-good puree, which you’ll soon encounter.

*Foresight! For once!

cilantro

While the puree simmered away, thickening, I put some mahi-mahi on to poach and prepped the rest of my ingredients, which included copious amounts of cilantro. I know people have a love it / hate it because it tastes like soap relationship with cilantro; I happen to love it. The New York Times ran an article that made the rounds this past week about why some people are so viscerally anti-cilantro. Turns out it’s not because they’re stupid or have bad taste, there are actual scientifical-like reasons. If I were a better blogger, I’d go re-read that article and summarize it for you here, but I’m not.

I also slivered up some radish and chopped some white onion for toppings.

Look at me, I’m not even giving you a link to the cilantro article. I really thought I would, but I’m not. Now you have to wonder: Am I a bad blogger, lazy, or do I just not like you very much? It’s really quite a toss-up.

enchilada innards

When the fish was cooked through, I gave it to Brian, resident shredder of mahi-mahi, and threw some diced yukon golds into the fish poaching liquid; they make up the rest of the enchilada filling. They cooked in a few minutes and got tossed with the fish and some of the sauce. Filling complete.

Do not underestimate the wonderfulness of potato as a taco or enchilada filling, whether of the white/yellow/red variety or the sweet. They don’t just add bulk, they bring a gentle earthy sweetness that helps balance a spicy dish. Try it. You’ll like it, or I’ll give you your money back.

salsa

Time to finish the sauce, which involved little more than a quick re-heat and the addition of cilantro and creme fraiche. You can see, in this photo, how the searing and reducing process turned the sauce a kind of baby-poop brown; luckily, the dairy mitigated that somewhat.

Because I am a very forgetful cook trust Rick Bayless so implicitly, I didn’t even check the seasoning to adjust it; I just followed the directions exactly and plowed ahead. It’s how I like to live my life: heedlessly undersalted.

Okay, so there was maybe one part of the directions that I didn’t follow exactly; I was supposed to wrap the corn tortillas in a dishtowel and put them in a steamer for 10 minutes. But my bamboo steamer is either REALLY far back in that hard-to-access cabinet over the fridge or else got thrown away during the last great Kitchen Purge – the results are the same, no steamer – so I just heated them directly over the gas burners as needed.

There. I’m outed. Consider this Smackdown a Fail, if you will.

Aside: Sometimes I wonder why I do the “FAIL” thing even when it annoys me. And I know that some of you do the same thing. What’s up with that? Acting consistently with my beliefs FAIL.

tomatillo-sauced fish enchiladas

I can’t consider it a Fail, unorthodox tortilla heating method aside, because it was so freaking good. Admittedly, it’s really more like two tacos spooning than a couple of enchiladas, but I’m not going to quibble with Rick Bayless when it comes to Mexican food.

This was a truly excellent dish. The sauce was tangy, as promised, with a bright, fresh flavor that hinted at lime juice and a front-of-the-tongue heat just on the good side of “too spicy.” It was offset by the mildness of the potato and salted sweetness of the mahi-mahi, then ratcheted back up with the raw onion and spicy radish topping, then cooled down again by the cilantro and cheese. So it was less an explosion of flavor in the piehole, and more a roller coaster in the piehole. However you want to describe it, there was a great deal going on in the piehole region, all of it good.

And here’s the cilantro article! See, I do like you after all.

9 thoughts on “Smackdown: It's Like a Party in Your Piehole

  1. Mmm. Rick Bayless! I took someone to the Frontera Grill in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and good stuff was had. My this and thats were actually too salty (soup and something like fried balls in sauce…? oh, and margaritas) but he had a mole and nearly died. My desert was made out of hazelnuts and heaven, though, so all was forgiven.

    Also, Rick Bayless is on the board of 500 Clown–a superb and funny physical theater group. I saw him with his wife at a show a few months ago; he is all muscle, and she seems fantastic and smart. I didn’t say anything because what are you going to say? “You are muscley and awesome” is factual but unnecessary, by and large.

  2. I love Rick Bayless and this looks pretty rad. It’s funny because last week I caught a his pbs show and he was making chiles rellenos. It was drool inducing.

  3. laura, you should have said it. i bet, compliment-wise, it would have been a refreshing change of pace for him.

    kickpleat, i love his show, when i catch it. he’s just so damn excited about everything.

    erika, yum. tomatilloes = the mexican food bomb, yes?

    cynic, ain’t nothing wrong with a bacon burger. don’t beat yourself up.

    holly, the sauce is really killer. i love this book because it has 16 “essential” sauces and salsas, this being one of them, and they are uniformly fantastic.

    allison, i like you ESPECIALLY, allison.

    kay, it’s a regular love fest around here.

  4. I cook from a Rick Bayless cookbook at least once a week. Sometimes, during summer, when I’m off work (teacher), I cook from them every single night. I can’t get enough of his food–and these enchilada-taco things are goooooood. Glad you loved them too!

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