As we leave Switzerland behind we decided that we needed to warm up from all that chilly weather and head for somewhere that gets more than enough sun for us to enjoy a lie on the beach. The answer lies in a continent we’re yet to visit, North America, and if there’s one place we’re most likely to visit there it’s the place that’s well known for its delicious food; Mexico.
So, whack on your sombrero, knock back some tequila and join us on a journey deep into Mexico’s approach to the good old barbecue grill.
Sorry, I really had to fit that joke in somewhere. However, the point is that Mexicans are pretty well served when it comes to cooking food over an open fire. We’ve been using open fires for cooking as a race for thousands of years, but the western world largely prefers to shove their food in a modern oven rather than go through the fuss of setting up an outside barbecue. Of course, we know that having a barbecue doesn’t have to be a complicated or lengthy affair, but the majority of Mexicans simply don’t have the modern convenience of an oven there home. Besides, who needs an oven when you’ve got a grill?
Traditionally Mexicans would cook their food on mesquite wood – a common tree in northern Mexico – which was then ringed with stones. The food would be either placed on sticks above the flame or placed on a flat stone that would rest on or near the fire. The arrival of the Spanish brought iron, which ultimately led to the development of the grill. These grill cooking grates are placed directly over the fire, much like a barbecue you can buy from a shop, and doing it this way allows Mexicans to still use the traditional setup with a modern touch.
There’s a reason that mesquite wood is used for cooking, and it’s not just because it’s a common tree in those parts. It’s knowing what charcoal or wood chips to use that gives you better results from your barbecue, and mesquite gives a hot flame and an incredible touch to the flavouring of your meat – making it perfect for grilling!
As with other countries Mexicans love their barbecue get-together’s. These are known as ‘parrilladas’, and a range of meats including beef, chicken, pork and sausages are presented on the grills alongside the likes of tortillas, quesadillas and vegetables such as chilies.
Mexican Barbecue Food
Of course, how they cook their food matters little if it isn’t any good. Thankfully that isn’t a problem here, and Mexico has a wide variety of foods cooked on the grill that have become well known worldwide. For a country of Mexico’s size, there are bound to be certain types of food that are more popular in one area of the country than in others, although certain dishes have grown to be cooked nationwide. One of these dishes – pictured above – is carne asada (which means ‘roasted meat’), which has become one of the most popular grilled dishes available in the country, having originally originated from the northern areas.
Carne asada starts with thin marinated beef steak. It’s usually rubbed with salt, but lemon, pepper, garlic salt and lime can all be used to marinate the meat too. The meat is normally cooked by searing on the grill, which adds a heavy barbecued flavour in the form of a caramelized crust across the surface of the meat. It’s then either served alone or chopped up and used in your common Mexican staples of tacos, burritos and Quesadillas. Cooking beef on a barbecue is not uncommon here on the UK, but Mexico has other meats that we may not be throwing on our grills quite so fast.
In the northern areas of the country you’re likely to find cabrito being cooked on a barbecue. Cabrito is roast kid goat, and it’s made by slow-cooking a 3 months old goat over a charcoal fire for about eight hours with regular turning. It’s most likely to be found impaled on a spit next to a bed of hot embers, where it’s left to roast without seasoning’s. You’ll be happy to hear that the head, hooves, and entrails (apart from the kidneys) are removed prior to cooking, but if you’ve never tried goat before then it will surely be a new tasting experience if you ever fancy popping along to Mexico.
If you don’t fancy goat then you could always try sheep instead, in the form of Barbacoa. This dish is a whole sheep which is again slow-cooked over an open fire.
Mexicans don’t just love meat though, they will have a healthy supply of vegetables present at a barbecue too. The most popular is the chilli, and the 30 different types used means there’s something for everyone – no matter how hot or not you like it! Fruits also play a part too, and it’s not uncommon to see the likes of bananas, coconuts and other tropical fruits used in barbecued foods too. Then there is, of course, salsa, which is added after cooking and served alongside your meat.
That’s your little taste of barbecues in Mexico for now, although we may give you some Mexican recipes in the future. In the meantime, if you fancy learning more about Mexican cuisine the Wikipedia page contains a wealth of information about the variety of cooking styles and recipes across the country. You should also start thinking about where we should travel to next, and let us know in the comments below!
Mexican flag image from Flickr user bradleyolin. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.