Mexican cuisine is riding such a high wave these days.
Compared to when I first moved to the US, 20 years ago, you can now find all the ingredients you need to prepare Mexican food. People are not only eating Mexican food out, but are bringing it into their home kitchens. There’s the #tacotuesday and the #taconight. Wherever you travel to in the US, there’s Mexican food to be found in airports, restaurants, hotels, fast food chains, and the offerings continue to increase and get better. It seems like the more people get to know Mexican cuisine, the more they want to taste it, to cook it, to explore its depth.
It is such a thrill to be part of this movement. I particularly enjoy traveling through the US to cook whenever I get an invitation. And I was beyond ecstatic when I got the request from the James Beard House in New York City to whip up their Cinco de Mayo dinner. What an honor! But of course, the pressure was on. What theme, which menu, what drinks? So much to share!
To be sure, Cinco de Mayo is not a big celebration in Mexico. It is a somber occasion honored in the state of Puebla, where the Cinco de Mayo Battle took place in 1862. It was a battle between a small Mexican militia against a big French army, and while the Mexicans won, with the odds stacked against them, the French won right back. Yet, move the clock forward a few years and Mexico regained its Independence.
Now, for whatever reason, which many have unsuccessfully tried to explain, Cinco has become the biggest Mexican-themed party abroad. I was bewildered at first when I started getting invites to Cinco de Mayo parties from our American friends. But then, of course, happily joined the excitement of the Cinco train. Listen, if there is an open door to celebrate anything and everything that we love and are proud of about Mexico, and share our food, cuisine and culture: count me in!
As a Mexican immigrant, to be invited to the James Beard House, such a prestigious place and institution, made me feel proud and like my food is worth it. But, it also made me feel like Mexican food has really started to earn its rightful place in the eyes of the culinary world of the US.
You can see the menu above. Because I really couldn’t choose a Mexican region to focus on, I opted for what I called a Mexican culinary compass: different foods from different places from Mexico, a few childhood favorites, and a couple new dishes from my kitchen. Carnitas from Michoacán, caldo de camarón from Acapulco, gorditas from Oaxaca…
The first course of the formal sit-down dinner menu, after the cocktail hour, was a scallop aguachile inspired by the coastal region of the Sea of Cortez.
The team from the James Beard House is a joy to work with. We prepped the day before, as it was a long menu! Then my production team and I got so excited with the occasion that we decided to make it part of an episode of the next season of Pati’s Mexican Table, which will premiere in September 2018.
But meanwhile, I leave you with the scallop aguachile recipe. It is SO GOOD. And it could not be simpler. It helps break so many myths about Mexican food. Not all Mexican food is fried, or laborious, or covered in cheese, or severely spiced up, or takes forever to prepare. In fact, most Mexican food is healthy, soulful, delicious, nutritious. It gives beautiful ingredients, like the plump, silky and sweet fresh sea scallops a chance to shine by just dressing them beautifully, lightly and kindly.
Mexican cuisine is indeed riding such a high wave today. And I can see the high tide ahead, with the wave getting even bigger and higher. So excited and honored to have the possibility to continue to ride it and bring the fruits of this journey to your shore.
- 1 pound large fresh scallops
- 1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup red onion, slivered
- 1 serrano or jalapeño chile, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
- In a bowl, combine the lime juice, olive oil, onion, serrano and salt. Whisk and let sit for at least 15 minutes, or cover and refrigerate up to 12 hours.
- When ready to serve, remove lime juice mix from the refrigerator. Slice the fresh scallops thinly and horizontally, up to 1/8” width. Spread on a platter. Whisk the lime juice sauce and pour in its entirety over the scallops, arranging so that the onion and chile are spread evenly throughout. Serve immediately.