Wouldn’t it be wonderful to cook a dozen pork chops, or 10 pounds of chicken, or individual portions of beef, almost to the perfect degree of doneness, then toss them in the freezer, kinowing you can make each and every meat serving into a completely different dish, usually in 15 minutes or less?
Well, I have news for you. You can, and in fact you’ll find that sometimes dinner comes together even quicker than 15 minutes.
All you need to know is the secret of sauces.
What? There’s a secret? Actually there is. For each cuisine, you need a fairly minimal set of seasonings on hand, and you can throw together a unique sauce for each of those pre-portioned meats. Or vegetables. or even fruits, although we’ll talk about that later.
Let’s start with the ingredients I pictured for you – don’t worry, this is the Mexican Cooking equivalent of the Crayola 64 crayon box.
You’d spend about $40 if you went out and bought everything in the sizes I show, but you don’t have to spend that kind of money. In fact, you can begin with a $10 bill and a careful search of your cupboard.
BASIC MEXICAN SAUCE INGREDIENTS:
I’ve listed the ingredients in order of importance. The first ones appear in most Mexican sauces, in one form or another.
Most of these ingredients I bought in the Hispanic and spices section of Walmart. If you have a Save-A-Lot nearby, they usually have Hispanic seasonings at a very good price, and they almost always have fresh cilantro. If you have a Mexican grocery nearby, they may have good prices, and they are great fun to shop at. But beware – where you live will determine if they are a bargain or a rip-off.
If your town has a large Hispanic population, there will probably be one or more real Mexican groceries, or “supermercado’s”, and prices will likely be good. On the other hand, if there’s not such a large Hispanic population, the groceries will likely be more like “gourmet” grocery stores and charge an arm and a leg.
When I lived in the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois) we had a large Hispanic population and also Asian population, and had 2 big Mexican groceries and 3 or more Asian markets. And competition is great for prices. Where I live now, 30 miles north of Tampa, Florida, I’d have to drive in to Tampa to get great prices. Hence, WalMart and Save-A-Lot. And, of course, the Internet.
Minced Garlic: You can get a small jar at Dollar Tree for a dollar, obviously my 4-pound container cost a little more lol.
Garlic Powder: $.98 – $1.99. Mine is bigger, I use it for everything.
Ground Cumin: $.98 – $1.99. It’s what makes Chili Powder taste like Chili Powder.
Chili Powder: $.98 – $1.99
Oregano: I just ran out of the dried kind and put in a few sprigs of fresh from my garden. The dried should run $.98 to $1.99 and should still have a little green color.. Get Mexican Oregano if you can, the flavor is a little different from the greek kind. If you have a garden or a sunny porch, it’s worthwhile to grow a plant. They last about 4 years if you take them in for winter (or live in Florida)
Fresh Lime and/or “Real Lime” juice: Limes run 2-5 for $1.00, can’t recall what my lime juice cost, but it’s lasted a year or more.
Fresh Cilantro: $.50 to $1.00 depending on the grocery store. A trick to make it more economical: Use it fresh one or two days, then finely mince the rest (including the stems) put it in a freezer bag, and freeze. Works great for cooking and sauces. Otherwise, it tends to rot in the refrigerator by about day 4.
Jalapenos: This one cost me $.18 at WalMart and is enough for 2-3 sauces. They are cheaper at Save-a-lot.
Serrano Peppers (the skinny green ones: These cost $.28 at WalMart. Milder than Jalapenos.
Dried Arbol peppers: One of my favorites. Spicy but not a lot, NOT smoky flavored, and almost sweet. The bag cost $2.24 and they last a couple of years.
Dried Guajillo peppers; I think they taste a little smoky, though not like chipotle peppers, which are actually smoked. $2.24 for the bag.
Canned Chilies and Canned Jalapenos – under a dollar a can and good in all kinds of things.
Annatto seeds: $.98 at WalMart. They either need to be steeped in oil to flavor it and make it red, or ground in a spice grinder. I’m still looking for pre-ground ones. They should be nice and red.
Tomatillos: Actually a gooseberry relative, they look like little tomatoes in wrappers and are delicious in green sauces. Usually about a dollar a pound – they only keep a week or so, so buy them when you need them.
Foods you probably already have:
Allspice (more carribbean than Mexican, but you probably have it anyway) (not shown)
The following ingredients are not as necessary, but they have their uses:
Coriander seeds (Not shown)
Cilantro Boullion (I’ve never tried this, but when shopping for this display thought it looked fascinating)
Tomorrow you begin getting recipes. Today, let’s talk about sauces. there are various kinds of sauces:
Cooking sauces: These sauces you either make separately or add the ingredients to the meat or veggies for all to cook together. Think of Chicken Mole, or Pork Verde.
Condiment-type sauces – they may be added to the dish in the kitchen or served at table, but they are not cooked with the food. Cheese sauces and salsas fit in this category.
Dips: Typically, dips are thicker than other sauces, are often a little saltier, and go well with raw vegetables and chips or crackers.Guacamole and Mexi-Ranch dip are good examples.
Then, of course, there are the really spicy sauces, such as Tabasco and other bottled hot sauces. The professionals do a good job with these – I don’t think it’s worth making my own, but do sometimes use them as ingredients to add zest.
Tomorrow, we’ll start with some basic Mexican cooking sauces. All can be made mild or spicy, but I recommend making the sauce mild and letting my diner’s add spice to their taste.