Friday, April 23, 2010
Mexican Hot Chocolate and Churros
I think fried foods get a bad rap. As someone with a nutrition degree, you’d probably expect me to say that you should avoid them like the plague, but that’s just not the case. Their notoriety isn’t completely unwarranted (read fast food French fries, processed donuts and greasy corn dogs), but I will say that when done properly, frying can actually be a delicious, healthy addition to your cooking repertoire.
There. I said it.
The best example of this was back in graduate school when I assisted in a tempura cooking demonstration. We had discs of lotus root, onion and sweet potato plus large, butterflied shrimp. After battering and frying up a few batches, we carefully poured the cooled oil back into its original bottle. People were clearly amazed to see that we ended up with virtually the same amount of oil as when we started. If care is taken to fry properly, the results will be light and delicate.
Here are the main rules of thumb:
1. Use an appropriate oil. This means choosing one that can handle high heat: peanut, safflower, canola and grape seed varieties are all good options. Never deep fry with olive oil.
2. Fry at the right temperature. If the temperature is too low, you’ll end up with soggy, greasy food. If it’s too hot, it won’t be cooked properly in the middle.
3. Use fresh oil only. After being heated to deep frying temperatures, oil shouldn’t necessarily be reused. Continual reheating breaks down the oil structure, rendering it unhealthy for consumption.
That said (thank you for tolerating a soap box moment), I needed a Mexican-inspired dessert to follow those Carne Asada Tacos. Since they were quite light, I thought that an indulgent last course would pair well. And a little fried goodness never hurt anyone.
A traditional Mexican chocolate beverage is made with (surprise, surprise) Mexican chocolate, which is dark chocolate mixed with sugar and sometimes cinnamon and nuts. It is a very grainy product and is often sold in discs.
The process is quite simple. Grate a disc of chocolate and heat it with water or milk and any desired spices. For my special concoction, I used a real vanilla bean, cayenne pepper and cinnamon sticks. You’d be hard pressed to find a better dipping medium for churros than this.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
I was very surprised to find that our local Safeway carried Nestle Abuelita Mexican chocolate in the ethnic section. If you have unsweetened Mexican chocolate, simply add 2-4 tablespoons of sugar to the milk mixture below. If you can’t find Mexican chocolate, a dark chocolate will do.
1 disc (3 ounces) sweetened Mexican chocolate
3 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
Almond Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
4 cinnamon sticks
Using a box grater, grate the 3 oz. disc of Mexican chocolate. In a medium saucepan, add grated chocolate, milk, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Using a sharp knife, split vanilla bean down the middle. With the back of the knife, scrape seeds out of both halves and add them, along with the pod, to the saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted and the milk is very hot. Fish out the vanilla pods and divide hot chocolate into 4 mugs. Top with Almond Whipped Cream, a dusting of cinnamon and a cinnamon stick.
Almond Whipped Cream
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, well chilled
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pour the chilled cream into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip the cream on high speed (start on low to prevent splattering) until it begins to thicken. Sprinkle in the sugar and almond extract. Continue whipping on high speed until soft peaks form.
Unfortunately, these are not something that can be made ahead of time - they taste best immediately after frying. But you can prepare the batter a day in advance - just keep it wrapped in the fridge until you're ready to fry.
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Vegetable oil, such as peanut or safflower oil
Place the water, butter, salt and 1 tablespoon of the sugar into a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add the flour all at once cook, stirring vigorously, until the mixture forms a doughy ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Using an electric mixer, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Mix the cinnamon and remaining sugar together and place in a pie plate or other flat dish. Set aside.
Pour 2 inches of oil into a wok, deep fryer or large pot and heat to 375˚F.
Spoon the churro batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large star-shaped tip, typically 1/2-inch in size. When the oil reaches the proper temperature, pipe out 3- to 4-inch lengths of batter into the hot oil (I used kitchen scissors to cut off each log). Leave plenty of room between churros so that they can cook evenly (I piped out 5 or 6 at a time). Fry until they are golden brown on all sides, about 3 or 4 minutes total.
Using a slotted spoon, remove churros from oil and place on paper towels to drain briefly. Roll the hot churros in the cinnamon sugar mixture and serve immediately while they are nice and hot!