How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tostadas Mayoníficas

This recipe puts the mayo in Cinco de Mayo.

We are still catching up from the culinary bounty of two weeks ago, when three feasts in a row preceded a flurry of academic work. We did blog about the delicious tartlets that we made for my attainment day on Saturday the 3rd.

We did not blog separately about my birthday feast on Sunday the 4th, -- which was a re-enactment of the first meal I prepared for Pam -- because the recipe is already on my web site. I prepared the main course as described, noticing a few problems with the ingredients lists in the process; I'll update those soon. This remains a major endeavor, and one worth undertaking at least once a year. I will add that our ability to pair wines has greatly improved over the past thirty years, with Westport Rivers far outshining Paul Masson. Aside from cooking, I spent my birthday reflecting on the day itself, and ending the day by indulging in a movie starring the most famous person to share my birthday.

All of this was prelude to a very nice dinner with friends on Monday the 5th, Mexican Independence Day.

JUST KIDDING! As Latin Americanists who have spent a lot of time in or near Mexico, we know that Mexico's Independence Day is on September 16 and celebrates Miguel Hidalgo's famous Grito de Dolores in 1810. May the 5th, in fact, marks neither Mexican independence nor any other date significant to the entire country. Rather, it is a local holiday in Puebla, akin to Bunker Hill Day in Boston. The holiday celebrates the defeat of French invaders in Puebla on May 5, 1862, and because Pam and I spent the summer of 1989 in that city, we have taken an interest in the holiday, and I have included some information about the battle and about Puebla more generally on my geography blog for kids.

It was shortly after our summer in Puebla that marketing geniuses at a San Antonio beer importer decided to start promoting the holiday throughout the United States. Clearly they were on to something, as our country suspends its 364-day-a-year antipathy to celebrate Mexico, or at least the excessive consumption of Mexican beverages. Thus has May 5 has become, for us, a date to celebrate Mexico, but as far as possible from Mexican restaurants!

To make this happen, we invited over a couple of friends and turned to our old standby The Well-Filled Tortilla, in which Pam found a tostada recipe entitled "crab, watermelon, and breaded chili strips." This is another of those recipe titles that includes have the ingredients, from bottom to top, this recipe is simple:

  • tostada shell (this is like a giant, round tortilla chip)
  • lettuce
  • watermelon cubes
  • breaded chili strips
  • lump crab meat
  • tomatillo mayonaise
  • abundant cilantro

Since I never liked watermelon much, we substituted a chilled honeydew melon, which was a perfect compliment to the crunchy, savory ingredients. A single large melon also left plenty to be used in fruit salads and smoothies for the rest of the week.

The recipe -- like several in this book -- is a sort of Russian nesting doll, in that some of the "ingredients" are actually other recipes. The first of these is the chili strips. I wondered how slices of chili would hold batter, and it turns out that the answer is "not well" so that in this instance "breaded" was more like "fried with corn meal." This was not a bad thing, though, and this layer added crunch and a lot of flavor.

The recipe calls for lump crab meat to be picked from whole crabs. This is not really possible this far from Maryland, but I hoped to find some lump meat in local fish markets. What I found was simply imported, canned crab, but since we were fairly well committed to this recipe, I bought some. And since I had no idea how much crab we would actually use, I bought two, one-pound cans, one of which turned out to be plenty for for adults to enjoy this meal.

The tomatillo mayo is an even better example of a nested recipe, as it calls for combining mayonnaise with salsa verde and a few other ingredients, and of course salsa verde is an entirely separate recipe. It was well worth the effort, though, to make a cool, tangy mayo that allowed for the weak pun at the top of this article! More importantly, it was a fabulous topping for this recipe and held up well in the fridge as a more flavorful substitute for mayo all week.
4Matic Crab
This dinner far exceeded the 20 to 40 minutes indicated for preparation time, and was messy both on the plate and in the kitchen as a whole. It was delicious and highly satisfying, however, and paired well with both Negra Modelo (one of those beers at the center of reinventing the holiday) and margaritas.

We are likely to try it again some day, but for the remaining can of crab in our fridge, we are mostly likely going to "Crispy Crab and Breaded Chili Strips" recipe -- another of the nesting-doll variety. It calls for cooking the crab with some wine and garlic, and placing it in a soft tortilla with the same chili strips as those used above.

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