Friday, November 12, 2010

Travel to Guatemala

By Head Chef Orlo Coots

Adair Country Inn & Restaurant “traveled” to Guatemala on Thursday October 28, 2010 as part of our Dine Around the World event. While I was working in the various restaurants in and around Boston, I had the opportunity to work with people from all over the globe. Many of these people came from Central and South America. As cooks, they brought with them the recipes from their homes and integrated them into the restaurants. Some were served to the staff during staff meal; others were placed on menus or served as nightly specials. Many of the ingredients used were still at the time foreign to most American born chefs and diners. Some of the most intriguing meals were the ones cooked by the Guatemalans I worked with.

With a culinary history starting with the Maya and then heavily influenced by Spanish and other nations, Guatemalan food is rich and exotic, with many layers of flavors throughout the dishes. Due to long braising with several additions of spices and pastes, the finished foods are wonderfully balanced with all of the flavors coming through. As with many Central American nations, corn and black beans play a large role in the culinary traditions of Guatemala.

The Guatemalan cooks I worked with were the first people who introduced me to tomatillos, black beans, plantains and yucca. To some degrees, these foods have become somewhat common here in the States, but 20 years ago, they were still rather unusual and exotic. Having sampled the ingredients and dishes at he restaurant, I asked for the recipes. Of course, most of them were old family methods of cooking and the cooks did not have written recipes. It was “add this much of this and this many of that” type of cooking, which quite often is the best way to learn how to cook different foods. From these early lessons, I learned how to use some of these once strange ingredients and I was able to replicate some of the original dishes they showed me.

One dish that stands out is Hilachas, beef simmered with tomatoes and tomatillos. This is a rather simple dish to prepare, but with many layers of flavors due to the steps involved in the process and the flavorful variety of ingredients. This dish is very representative of the many influences of Guatemalan cuisine. When served with the traditional sides of tortillas, rice and plantains, you have an authentic Guatemalan meal full of history and flavor.

Hilachas-Cooked and shredded beef with tomatoes and tomatillos 6 to 8 servings
• Beef, flank or skirt steak, cubed -- 2 pounds
• Water -- 5 cups
• Oil -- 2-3 tablespoons
• Onion, chopped -- 1
• Chopped tomatoes -- 1 cup
• Chopped tomatillos -- 1 cup
• Guajillo chiles, warmed over a flame, deseeded and chopped -- 2-3
• Salt and pepper -- to season
• Potatoes, peeled and chopped -- 1 pound
• Carrots, peeled and chopped -- 2-3
• Shredded corn tortillas -- 1/2 cup
• Cilantro, chopped -- 1 bunch

Place the beef, water and a big pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the beef is very tender. Remove the beef to a bowl, reserving the broth, and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the beef with your fingers and set aside.
While the beef is simmering, place the onion, tomatoes, tomatillos and chiles in a food processor or blender and puree, adding a little water if necessary.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium flame. Add the onion-tomato puree and simmer until the puree is cooked down and darkens somewhat in color, about 10 minutes. Do not burn.
Add the shredded beef and about 3 cups of the broth to the onion-tomato puree and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
Stir in the potatoes, onions and a little more broth or water if necessary. Simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.
Stir in the shredded tortillas to thicken the sauce. Then stir in the chopped cilantro, adjust seasoning and serve hot with corn tortillas or rice.

•If the sauce has thickened enough while simmering, no thickener may be necessary.
•Add 2 teaspoon achiote seasoning to the onion-tomato puree for added flavor. Bricks of achiote seasoning can be found at many Latin markets.
•The potatoes and carrots can be eliminated if you like.
•Canned tomatoes and tomatillos work just fine in this recipe.
•Two cups of chopped tomatoes can be used if you would like to eliminate the tomatillos.
•If you can't find guajillo chiles, use anchos or pasillas. Or substitute with 1 tablespoon of paprika and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

Orlo Coots is Head Chef at Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. Enjoy his cooking Thursday through Monday. (603) 444-2600. Orlo can be reached at for any questions about this recipe or any other food-related questions you may have. Remember- whether cooking for 1 or for a crowd, make every bite count.

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