My mother’s guisados
By Chef Enrique Soriano | Photos By Scott Peterson
My mother made many guisados (stews): chicharron en salsa roja, fluffy fried whisked eggs in red salsa, fried chicken drumsticks simmered in red salsa, seared quail simmered in red salsa, sliced beef simmered in salsa verde, oxtail simmered in salsa verde, beef tongue in salsa verde, pork riblets simmered in red salsa, seared hard cheese simmered in red salsa, potatoes simmered in red salsa, cactus and eggs with red onions and cilantro in an arbol salsa, pork shoulder in salsa verde, and so on. Each dish is unique, but you see the pattern.
As I got older, I realized that my mother’s combinations followed a basic formula: cheese, meat, or produce simmered in a salsa. Each dish used a different technique, and what changed was the viscosity of the salsa: sometimes more watery, sometimes thick, sometimes in the middle. She used different varieties of dried or fresh chiles, and the chiles and tomatoes or tomatillos for the sauce were sometimes toasted, sometimes roasted, sometimes boiled, and sometimes fried. Even how the sauce was blended changed the dish: Sometimes it was super blended, sometimes it was quickly blended, and sometimes it was chunky and made in the molcajete (traditional stone mortar and pestle). If my mother managed to get her hands on the milpero tomatillo—a small heirloom variety that imparts a more intense and tart flavor—she always made her oxtail dish with them.
Each guisado had its proper side: refried beans, frijoles de la olla, plain white rice, red rice, or buttered rice with mixed veggies for the shrimp or seafood cooked in red salsa. Sometimes the dish was eaten with tortillas, sometimes without. Sometimes it had crumbled cheese, sometimes sour cream, and a lot of times, just fresh-squeezed lime.
These typical dishes of Mexico vary from region to region. It’s comfort food—home-style cooking that can be found at any roadside stall selling to weary travelers and truckers. If you happen to stop by someone’s home, most likely some guisado is simmering in their outdoor kitchen, and you may be obliged to have some with a taco before you head out to your next errand. If you happen to be in the field during lunch, most likely you’ll see the campesinos swapping variations of their guisados in taco form with their buddies. Point is, for me, this dish is the flavors of mi México querido, my childhood, my people, and most importantly, my mother.
Read more about Chef Enrique and Cocina del Corazón here.
Guisado al Californio
By Chef Enrique Soriano of Cocina del Corazón
This guisado is inspired from our traditional carne con chile. Additions of cactus and potatoes are not uncommon, but adding redbor kale comes from a class I taught to help folk incorporate more veggies and stretch a meal using ingredients they receive from the food bank.
Dried chiles moritas are not hard to find at local Latino markets. They are essentially a dried form of chipotles, and you could use canned chipotles instead, but add it with the garlic when you are about to blend.
I often use beef chuck for this dish, but you can use any meat or your favorite mushroom, like king trumpet.
You can use any tomatillos you find, but look for the small heirloom milperos, which impart a more intense and tart flavor.
Check your seasoning constantly. You’ll notice that as your guisado cooks, the potatoes, onions, and greens start to pull in salt, leaving the sauce bland.
Amounts of all ingredients are approximations as sometimes you have an onion that could be a little bigger or one that’s a little smaller. Such differences don’t affect much as the most important thing is the time, love, and care that go into the dish.
For la salsa
- 12 ounces whole fresh tomatoes
- 3–4 dried chiles moritas
- 4 ounces tomatillos, hulled
- 3 cloves garlic
- Salt to taste
First wash all of your vegetables. Place tomatoes, chiles moritas, and a pinch of salt in a small pot with water to cover and bring to a boil. Add the tomatillos to the pot. If you are lucky to have the smaller milperos, wait at least 5 minutes to add them. Boil just until everything starts to soften and then turn off the heat and let the pot sit for 5 minutes. Pour the cooking water into a bowl to use later in the recipe. In a blender, quickly chop the tomatoes, chile, and tomatillos along with the garlic, a pinch of salt, and a small amount of the cooking water until you get a chunky salsa.
For el guiso
- 2 cactus paddles (around 7 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1½ pounds meat (or king trumpet mushrooms), cut into 1-inch pieces
- Salt to taste
- 6 ounces (1 medium) red onion, cut into strips
- 10 ounces yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 bunch redbor (or any type) kale, tough stems removed
Prepare the cactus paddles as at right. Heat oil in a large pan to medium high. Spread the meat (or mushrooms) evenly in the pan. Season with salt and leave it alone for a few minutes before stirring so the protein can caramelize.
Add onion strips and lower heat to medium, stirring occasionally as onion softens. Add potato cubes and tear the kale leaves directly into the pan. Stir it all together and cook until the greens start to wilt.
Add salsa and prepared cactus along with 2 cups of reserved tomato cooking water. Lower heat to a low simmer and let cook for 15–30 minutes until meat cubes (or mushrooms) and potato cubes are tender and the flavors have married into a loving union. Add water as needed as the stew reduces and thickens. Check seasoning and add salt as needed.
Serve with frijoles de la olla, crumbled cotija cheese, and of course, tortillas!
How to Buy and Prepare Cactus Paddles
Nopal cactus paddles have prickly spines that you must carefully remove, but most Latino markets sell them with the spines already gouged out.
Like okra, cactus releases a slime that can overpower the texture of foods, so we reduce the slime before adding to the guisado in one of two ways:
1: Cut paddles into cubes and toss in a generous amount of salt. Let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse well with cold water.
2: Cut into cubes, place in a small pot with some salt and water, boil, drain, and rinse.
Frijoles de la Olla
1 pound dried pinto or white beans
1–2 dried chiles moritas
3 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
Rinse the beans and then place them in a large pot with the chiles, garlic, and enough water to cover by 4 inches. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and let cook low and slow for 2½ hours so as not to let the beans rupture.
Once the beans are almost done, add the salt and let cook for another 5–10 minutes to let the beans soak up the salt.
Strawberry Peach Agua Fresca
By Chef Enrique Soriano of Cocina del Corazón
What better way to wash down our smoky, spicy guisado than with a sweet agua fresca.
Serves a crowd
- 1 pint strawberries, hulls removed
- 4–5 peaches, halved, pits removed
- 3–4 quarts water
- Zest of 1–2 limes
- Sweetener of choice (to taste)
Blend strawberries with some of the water and pour purée into a large serving jug. Blend peaches thoroughly with more of the water and strain into the serving jug (to take out the peach skins). Add remaining water to the jug along with the lime zest and sweetener to taste. Stir and serve in tall glasses over ice. Enjoy!
Editor’s note: Since peaches were not yet available at the time of this photo shoot in mid-April, Chef Enrique used strawberries only, and he added the juice of two limes to enhance the flavor profile. We have made this several times since the photo shoot and imagine enjoying Chef Enrique’s aguas frescas using other fruits throughout the summer season.