the appetizer

Mexican cuisine combines the traditional indigenous foods of the Aztecs and Mayas, like chocolate, corn, tomato, avocado, beans and chile peppers, with the meats, rice and garlic brought to Mexico by the Spanish conquistadores.

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By Reed Hearon

One of the keys to the bright flavors of the Mexican grill is the family of seasoning mixtures used on meats, fish, poultry, and vegetables before they are grilled. These little-known seasonings stem, for the most part, from Yucatan cooking and are called recados, meaning "complements." Part marinade, part spice mix, recados do indeed complement the flavors of the foods they season, transforming them from raw ingredient to finished dish.

Complex layers of flavor come from individually roasting or cooking each ingredient. The separate ingredients are then mixed together to create a single flavor-typically in a stone-wheeled grinder or in home kitchens in a blender, food processor, or, more traditionally, in a molcajete. Sometimes, the resulting paste is cooked again to add yet another, deeper flavor.

Recados have their counterparts in other cuisines: France has its quatre epices and herbes Provence, India its garam masala, China its five-spice powder. Like those spice mixes, recados are often added to soups, stews, and braises, or used to marinate meats and vegetables prior to roasting or grilling.

For recados to realize their full potential, they need salsas to provide counterpoint. Mix and match your favorite meat, fish, or poultry with a complementary recado and salsa. Take a chicken breast, perhaps, and marinate it in one of the recados. Grill it and top with one of the salsas, and you have an easy and terrific meal.

La Parilla: The Mexican Grill
By Reed Hearon
Photographs by Laurie Smith
Chronicle Books, 1996
Price: $19.95, paper
ISBN: 0-8118-1034-8
Reprinted by permission


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This page modified January 2007