Picada (Picadita)

Picadita is a regional name for a sope, a fried corn tortilla, often slightly cupped at the edges to hold salsa, that can be piled with various toppings. The term is commonly used in Central Mexico where simple picadas are popular breakfast fare topped with salsa, cheese, onion, and cream.


In the simplest sense, Garnachas are tortillas, topped with meat, marinated cabbage, salsa and grated cheese. Some form of this ubiquitous layered antojito is common in most countries across Mesoamerica including Guatamala and Belize. In Mexico, the popular street food originated in Oaxaca  is distinguished from memlas, huaraches, sopes, chalupas, and other laden tortilla snacks primarily by shape. The hand-made fried tortillas of garnachas are quiet small and round, while huaraches are sandal shaped, memelas are oval, sopes are cupped, and so on. Secondly, it is not a garnacha without the vinegary cabbage garnish known as repollo. Although enjoyed year around, these treats are the turkey leg equivalent of fair food in Mexico – gracing nearly every town’s harvest festival.


Before you start ewwwwing, stop and consider that we have consumed the eggs of birds, reptiles, and fish abundantly throughout human history. What precludes us from whipping up a batch of insect eggs? The name escamoles comes from the Aztec tongue, Nahuatl, combining azcatl (ant) and molli (stew) – a logical descriptor for the creamy white edible larvae of ants.

Like other forms of rare “caviar”, escamoles are an expensive treat that must be collected exclusively between February and April from the high plains of Central Mexico, where the velvety tree ant burrows into the roots of maguey plants.

Escamoles look a little like small pine nuts and they have a poppy texture—although they do not spew liquid as do fish eggs. Rather, they offer a nutty taste with a hint of meaty umami. To protect the delicate flavor, escamoles are most often prepared simply, fried in butter with onion and chili, and served with corn tortillas.


We can thank the Spanish for bringing pigs to the new world but we owe the brilliant cooks of Mexico for the creation of Carnitas. Michoacán, Querétaro, Jalisco, Hidalgo, Mexico state and even the capital claim rights to the dish but Michoacán popularly holds the title. A method of slow braising or simmering pork meat in pork fat (preferably lard) for several hours until tender, yields golden meat that shreds at the touch yet offers crisp edges.

Traditionally, carnitas is cooked in large copper cauldrons, painstakingly crafted by skilled metal workers, to evenly disperse the heat. Carnitas gluttons like myself, rely on a selection of meats including: pork shoulder with bone and skin, pork back fat, rib (costillas), lean meat (maciza), thick skin (cueritos) with meat, and ears (orejas) – yes, ears. But, historically, virtually all parts of the animal would grace the bubbling bath including lung, belly, cheek, heart, testicles, liver, tripe, tongue, and kidneys, among others.

The meat is seasoned with a mix of spices called “Hierbas de Olor” or herbs that smell: marjoram, thyme, and bay leaf. However, preparations may also include chili, cumin, oregano and garlic. Over time, other ingredients have come to provide regional twists, such as the addition of orange juice and even Coca Cola. Evaporated milk may be added toward the end of cooking to increase the caramelization.

The meat is typically served with chopped cilantro, diced onion, salsa, guacamole, lime, and refried beans. It may be assembled as tacos, tortas, burritos, or used in tamales. In Guadalajara, Jalisco, humble carnitas are elevated to legendary status in Tortas Ahogadas, a sandwich served on a salty birote wheat roll and drowned in a tomato sauce with chile de arbol.


Bonito Tuna is a staple in the Mediterranean but also prevalent around the globe, including the Pacific cousin in Mexico. In the Basque Country, Bonito del Norte (Thunnus alalunga) line-caught in the Cantabrian Sea is the great culinary protagonists throughout the summer festivals. This fish begins its life in plankton-rich water of the Azores and then heads for the Bay of Biscay, like so many tourists, in late spring in search of warm water and food, primarily anchovies and crustaceans. Its flesh is similar to a yellowtail tuna or albacore, firm and flavorful, making it shine in many traditional Basque dishes, including a deliciously filling fish and potato stew, Marmitako.


There is a general understanding that Mexican food derives some of its best qualities from the use of lard – flaky empanada shells, melt in your mouth tamales, crispy carnitas, creamy refried beans and the unparalleled pliability of a Sonoran flour tortilla…. But, most people imaging the white block of shelf-stable hydrogenized trans fat sold at supermarkets. No way, Jose. REAL Mexican food relies on something much more sublime, in fact, three distinct products rendered at home from one ingredient – pork fat. As the fat melts down on the stove or in the oven, first, a clear, clean liquid can be lifted from the surface for baking. What remains in the pan will take on a porky goodness as it browns. This amber liquid is gold for savory cooking. At the bottom of the pot, the third treasure awaits. The browned dregs, known as asiento, add rich meaty flavor to many dishes, including the foundational flavor for the Oaxacan favorite, tlayudas.


A tlayuda is a staple dish in traditional Oaxacan cuisine. Large, thin, corn tortillas are toasted on the comal until crunchy and filled flavorful toppings. This format is what earns it the title of “Mexican Pizza” but it is far from the cheesy slices of Italian origin. First, the tortilla is spread with asiento, the brown drippings from rendered pork skin. Then, refried beans seasoned with epazote or aguacate criollo leaves are layered on. Lettuce or cabbage, avocado, various meats, Oaxaca cheese, salsa, and any number of crunchy insect toppings come next. The most common meats include tasajo (thinly-sliced beef, cecina (marinated pork) and chorizo. It can be served open face, like a pizza, or folded in half if it has benefited from a steam session in a banana-leaf lined basket, producing a pliable but still crunchy treat.


Tejate is a pre-hispanic cold beverage made with corn, white cocoa beans, mamey seeds, corozo palm fruits, cocoa flowers and sugar. As is the case with many pre-hispanic preparations, this one is a labor of love that involves grinding corn, toasting the seeds and fruit on a comal, pulverizing the toasted ingredients, and slowing mixing with water by hand  to achieve the ideal texture and foamy cap. Kept ice cold, the tejate is served in jicara, hand-painted gourde cups made from guajes. The oils from the cocoa solidify and float on the surface. It is delicious, not too sweet, and very refreshing.

Kitchen Tape

In a restaurant kitchen you will inevitably find a roll of colored 3M “painters” tape. This indispensable tool is used to label product, establish freshness, and force accountability for less-than-perfect mise en place. The tape stays put but comes off with ease. In my home kitchen there is no need for accountability. If it is wrong, I did it. But, I relish the ability to identify the contents within my refrigerator, bulk food jars in the pantry, and nondescript satchels in the freezer. No more discovering fuzzy forgotten food items. If you want to impress a Chef, be sure to use a tape dispenser or scissors for clean edges. Torn tape is a punishable offense in most kitchens – a neurotic edict that speaks to my A-type soul.

Stock Scraps

Homemade soup stocks are priceless in creating flavor and richness in soups, stews, sauces and more. The base of Western stocks is a classic mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery. These commonly used kitchen staples produce a fair amount of waste trimmings in the due course of cooking. The next time you trim an onion, cut the tops off your celery stalks, or peel carrots, consider starting a freezer stash of stock scraps. Did your garlic sprout? Toss it in. Green onion tops, in the go. Parsley stems, why not? Remove any dirt or rotten parts and store these scraps in the freezer. Continue to build your stash until you have enough veggie bits to make a pot of stock – a gallon-sized Ziploc is perfect. You have everything you need for a delicious vegetable stock. Add bones for chicken stock, beef stock, or fish stock and you can say goodbye to bland store-bought boxed stock.