Cooking with Too Hot Tamales

Cooking with Too Hot Tamales, the companion book to the popular “Too Hot Tamales” Food Network series, captures Mary Sue and Susan’s sassy cooking style with over 150 recipes. Using traditional Mexican, Brazilian, Cuban, and Spanish flavors enhanced by creative, modern sensibilities, the pair create recipes that are accessible, yet funky and fun. Strategies for success in the kitchen are sprinkled throughout, including expert tips for throwing fabulous fiestas. Best of all, while the flavors are intricate and exotic, the techniques are simple, allowing cooks to enjoy their own parties and savor their own creations.

Cinnamon Chicken

This exceptionally easy chicken bakes to a golden-brown glaze – the meat oozing with surprising flavors from the marinade. It would be great with simple accompaniments like mashed potatoes or grilled corn on the cob sprinkled with cayenne and lime.

Serves 4

1 1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (2 1/2- to 3-pound) frying chicken, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 8 serving pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large bowl, mix the dry sherry, honey, lemon juice, garlic, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Add the seasoned chicken and toss to evenly coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess, and set aside on a plate. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until it is reduced to about 1 cup and beginning to thicken, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

Heat the oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken until golden on both sides. Pour the reduced marinade over the chicken and place in the oven. Bake about 20 minutes, until cooked through. Serve.

Cochinita Pibil

Traditional pibil cooking from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula calls for marinating little pigs (cochinitas) in a blend of achiote paste, citrus and spices before wrapping in fragrant banana leaves and lowering them into a carefully built banana leaf-lined pit called a pibe. Here is our adaptation for the American kitchen of a dish we first tasted in Playa del Carmen.

Serves 8 to 10

1/2 cup achiote paste or annatto seeds
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 cups orange juice
juice of 2 limes
8 bay leaves, crumbled
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds pork butt, cut in 3-inch cubes
2 white onions, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
5 Roma tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 pound banana leaves, softened over low heat (optional)
4 Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and sliced into strips
Pickled Shallots, see recipe below, for serving

In a medium bowl, mash together the achiote paste, garlic, orange juice, lime juice, bay leaves, cumin, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, salt, and pepper with a fork. Add the pork, toss to coat evenly, and marinate at room temperature at least 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat a dry cast-iron skillet over high heat. Char the onion slices until blackened on both sides. Set aside, then char the tomato slices on both sides. Set aside.

Line a large baking dish with a layer of the banana leaves, or line it with foil. Arrange the pork in an even layer and top with the onions, tomatoes, chiles, and all the marinade. Cover with more banana leaves and wrap the dish tightly in foil.

Bake 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the pork is tender, but still moist. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes. Serve with the Pickled Shallots.

Pickled Shallots

Makes about 2 cups

1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons coarse salt
20 medium shallots, peeled

Combine the vinegar, wine, brown sugar, peppercorns, mustard seeds, chile flakes, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the shallots and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Set aside to cool completely in the liquid.

Transfer the shallots and all their liquid to a jar or plastic container. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

© 2012 Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.  All rights reserved.