A couple of years ago, our area in Connecticut finally got a restaurant with an innovative Mexican-inspired menu, put together by a team of very savvy and experienced restaurateurs. Bodega Taco Bar in Fairfield is where Paul and I went for lunch, intending to order just some Korean barbecue chicken tacos, but then getting a little more carried away (thanks, Sangria). I ordered (of course) the Yucatán Chicken with a side of cotija gordita, a small cheesy cornflour cake. Paul had chicken a la plancha with mofongo, a dish more associated with Puerto Rico than Mexico. Everything was out of this world, but what really upstaged the whole meal was the guacamole that came out beforehand.
The guacamole at Bodega is made to order, and I was able to spy the line cook preparing it in the small galley kitchen behind the bar. I saw her slice the ripe avocados, throw them in the bowl, squirt in some lime juice from one of these squeeze bottles that commercial kitchens use, and then some other liquid from another squeeze bottle, and some chopped onion, tomatoes and jalapeño. All ordinary ingredients, but we suspected some secret spice was slipped in, possibly via that second squeeze bottle. We quizzed the waiter, and he confirmed the ingredients I saw used, and said that the great flavor came from their superior supply of avocados. I’m sure that’s true, but there was a mouth feel, something that coated the tongue, that made this guacamole so satisfying. Maybe a liquid jalepeño mixture of some kind? I made a mental note to start experimenting at home.
I also wanted to try my hand at the Yucatán Chicken, which from an online search does actually exist on the peninsula. It’s just a marinated chicken breast that calls for citrus juice and annatto paste, among other things. This is an all-purpose marinade that could also be used with on-the-bone chicken parts as well. I started exploring options to break up the monotony that has seized my own meal-planning efforts. Although I’ve dabbled with huevos motuleños, and have all the cookbooks I’ll ever need, I’ve never so much as pickled an onion to bring Yucatán into our kitchen. I’ve written about David Sterling and Brent Marsh for our local newspaper, and even published some Remixto recipes, and promoted David’s book coming out in September. But what have I brought to the table so far?
This mini-mystery has gotten my mind back to thinking about my own culinary efforts. I’m again inspired to infuse more Yucatecan inspiration into my Connecticut kitchen.
I don’t really cook Mexican food that often, and judging by the variety of Mexican foods offered at the Stop & Shop, not many other people do, either. If I want to declare an Ortego taco night, I’m all set, but I don’t. There is a Goya section, the one section of the market I’ve ever seen named for a brand. There’s no Kraft aisle or a Kellogg’s aisle, but Goya, a New Jersey-based manufacturer that serves the Hispanic market. The selection, however, didn’t help much. I’m probably shopping in the wrong neighborhood.
Online, El Yucateco sells what I need. I can even get it on Amazon, by way of Hacienda Teya, where they are based. Earlier this week I bought a batch of spice mixes from Penzey’s. Maybe I should rely more on mail order to stock my pantry.
I can remember fruitless searches in our “International” markets near home: kaffir lime leaves, lamb kidneys, cotija cheese, stuff like that. I think when Gourmet magazine was still around, I was more likely to set off on wild (and wildly unsuccessful) goose chases. Bodega reminded me of the rut I’ve gotten in. We’re trying to eat more healthy foods, so grilled chicken on Caesar salad, tuna fish with white beans over baby greens, four ounces of baked salmon with string beans sauteed with onions and basil leaves, and occasional pasta with kale have been rotating over and over in our meal planning. Save me Yucatán! Show me some interesting, easy weeknight dinners!