Just Another Tequila Sunset

Long a beer and wine (and sometimes saké) man, I’ve recently taken to tequila.

I’ve always drank tequila, in the form of a margarita or the occasional shot. But it wasn’t until I was well beyond my freewheeling 20s that I discovered good tequila — sipping tequila. It was probably Patrón that first won me over to the good stuff, and then of course came my interest in authentic regional Mexican cooking, which lead naturally into a greater interest in tequila. As a bonus, I discovered I don’t get hangovers if I drink good tequila. And that’s quite a bonus, considering the way my head sometimes feels the morning after 3/4 a bottle of wine.

When I’m in Mexico, as I recently was, I like to bring home tequilas I haven’t seen back in the states. My friend and sometime Skinny Girls sidekick Dan brings me home a tequila called Maestro when he goes to Mexico. A few weeks back, while in Puerto Vallarta — located, by the way, in the Tequila distilling state of Jalisco — I thought I’d return the favor. I had convinced my friend and sometime Skinny Girls sidekick Nat to drive my to the Mega (think Target crossed with Costco) on the way to dropping the rental car back so I could shop for tequilas. Nat opted for a short cut through the jungle — which led to a scenic adventure through the outlying neighborhoods and rooster-choked dirt back alleys of the city, depositing us at the Mega sometime after we’d anticipated.

They had an exceptional tequila selection, including Maestro — which was in a locked glass case. Finding a sales associate to open the case was more difficult than getting helped at Home Depot, and time to get the rental car back was running out — especially if we hoped to succeed in our plan to stop at Bodeguita del Medio for a mojito on the way. So I grabbed an attractive looking — and more easily accessible — tequila called Casa San Matias Pueblo Viejo Anejo instead.

Tequila sunset in Mexico

An invitation to the Casa Shores for some carne asada provided the perfect opportunity to hand deliver my gift with the selfish ulterior motive that Dan would be likely to share.

We opened the bottle, I made an accidentally scorching orange juice-and-habeñero sangrita to sip with it. But the tequila was so smooth it really didn’t need anything to chase it down the gullet. And before we knew it, half the bottle was gone. Surprisingly, I found Pueblo Viejo available here at the local Vallarta supermercado — for twice the price. So perhaps I will wait until our planned return to Puerto Vallarta next year, head back to the Mega and get some more.

Nat came for dinner a week or so ago with his wife, Shirley — we thought we’d drink margaritas and quench the longing we all were having for Mexico and each other after our very festive week there. He had brought home a large bottle of Cazadores we had purchased at the Mega, which he promised to bring. But he came straight from work, and so stopped at Ralph’s and bought a bottle of Familia Camarena Reposada instead. “I don’t know,” he said, handing it to me. “It was on sale for $17.”

We opened it and poured ourselves a snoot, just to see what it was like. And what a surprise — it was as smooth a tequila as I’ve tasted, with appropriately Jaliscan notes of vanilla and dulce de leche. (Indeed, I had seen wild vanilla vines growing in the jungle at the Botanical Garden an hour outside PV.) I immediately repaired to the grocery store (well, not immediately, but soon thereafter) and purchased the jumbo size bottle for myself and a regular size bottle for my friend and sometime Skinny Girls sidekick Greg, a man with an appreciation for a good tequila.

Fast forward a week or so, another dinner, tequila sipping and margaritas on the schedule with Nat and Shirley — the friends who we went to Mexico with — and Donnie and Monica — the friends whose home we stayed at in Mexico — I wanted to create something delicious reflecting our common Mexican connection. So I came up with an unconventional take on the tamale — not wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, but steamed in small baking tins, then cubed and re-steamed, and treated almost more like a Mexican polenta — which I topped with langoustines tossed in butter and drizzled with a cilantro pepita lime cream. It tasted as good as it looks. Enjoy.

*   *   *

Chipotle tamales with langoustine & lime cilantro crema
serves 4

1 cup masa harina
2 tbsp. lard
1 tbsp. chipotle powder
1 tsp. salt
20 langoustines, shelled and precooked
1 tbsp. butter
juice 1 lime
1/4 cup Mexican crema (or sour cream or plain yogurt)
1 tbsp. toasted pepitas
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

(Note: you can buy langoustines frozen at Trader Joe’s or other markets. Medium shrimp, deveined and steamed, may be substituted if you cannot find langoustines.)

In a large bowl, using your fingers, mix together the masa harina, chipotle powder, salt and lard until it resembles sawdust. Stir in the water, adding a little extra if it seems dry. Pat masa dough into a small rectangular baking dish (I used 3″x 5″) between 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Place in a large pan with 1/2 inch water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cover. Steam the masa for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Remove and let cool

Make your sauce: Place lime juice, cilantro, crema and pepitas in a small food processor or blender. Blend for 10-15 seconds, until pureed.

Turn the masa out onto a cutting board. Trim edges, and cut into 4 equal cubes. Place cubes on a plate, and place plate in the pan you used to steam the masa. Add 1/2 inch of water, bring to a simmer again, cover and steam the masa again for 10 minutes.

Prepare the langoustines. Since they will be precooked, you don’t actually want to cook them again (or they will shrink and become fought). Instead, you want to lightly heat them. This can be accomplished either by heating in a bowl in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, or placing the bowl in your steaming pan with the water simmering and steaming for 1 minute. In either case, heat your langoustines. Then toss with the tablespoon butter.

To plate: Place one square of the tamale on each of four plates. Divide the langoustines and their butter equally, placing carefully on top of the tamale. Drizzle with the lime pepita sauce and serve.

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