FOOD: Some Mexican warmth for cold autumn days

Beef rib en adobo
Beef rib en adobo

Mexican food is a perfect fit for the shortened days of autumn when temperatures drop sharply as the light falls away.

The deep, rich flavours in this beef rib en adobo casserole reflect the season: the reds of falling leaves, the smoke from Guy Fawkes bonfires and the flare of fireworks from the chipotle-infused sauce.

The cremita served with it is polenta by another name but it comes with a more complicated Latin American genealogy. Cremita is a sweetened mais porridge commonly served in Puerto Rico where they spice it with cinnamon and sugar and eat it for breakfast but my version has a gentle, savoury paprika flavour, which works well as a foil for the livelier meat. I recall eating a savoury cremita as a child in northern Mexico but after asking friends still living there about it, I am at a loss when to explain where our Mexican housekeeper might have got the recipe from. Cremita is not traditional in Mexico and nor is polenta and in those days what was cooked locally was, basically, local food unless the person had moved there from another part of the world.

The chipotle en adobo comes in a can and I bought mine from Faraway Foods of St John’s Street in Bury St Edmunds but it is widely available online from supermarkets and specialist Latin American food suppliers. It is well worth hunting down for its incomparable depth of flavour and colour from the sauce the chipotles are preserved in but if you cannot find it, soak some dried chillies in the tomatoes overnight or use chilli powder instead.

We also serve this beef stuffed inside soft wheat or corn tortillas with avocado crema, sour cream and refried beans dolloped on top and it’s also lovely scooped up with tortilla chips. Either way, it makes a fantastic supper for a colder evening. ¡Disfruta!

BEEF RIB EN ADOBO

(serves four)

2 x 800g cans of tomato

tbsp chipotles en adobo from a can

2.4 kg beef short ribs, bone in (ask butcher to chop into cubes)

2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 tbsp cumin powder

3 dried bay leaves / five fresh

4 tsp dried oregano or large bunch of fresh

juice 2 oranges

1 (12-ounce) bottle dark Mexican beer

tsp cinnamon

tbsp achiote powder (available online or via good supermarkets)

800g can black beans, drained

fresh parsley or coriander, chopped

one lime

The night before you plan to cook the adobo, dry the beef ribs and massage the achiote powder and a teaspoon of salt on to them. Leave overnight in fridge. (Skip this step if you don’t have achiote.)

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Mash the chipotles into the canned tomatoes and heat the oil in a heavy, wide pan over high heat. Sear the ribs in batches until browned but don’t cook them through. Remove and place inside a large, lidded casserole.

Add a dash of oil to the pan and turn heat down to medium. Add and saute the garlic and as it starts to colour, add the onion and cook for at least 3 minutes or until the onion has started to brown. Don’t let the garlic burn.

Now add the chipotle and tomato mix, the pepper, cumin, bay, oregano, cinnamon and the bottle of beer, squeeze the oranges over the pan (catching the pips) and add the leftover salt. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the lovely sticky bits. Cook down for two minutes, taste and adjust seasoning, then pour this mixture over the ribs in the casserole.

Cover the dish with a lid or double layer of foil and place in oven to bake for 1 1/2 hours. After this time has passed, remove lid, stir, taste and adjust seasoning (add some beef stock if liquid is low), pour in black beans and return to the oven for another 45 minutes or until the beef is soft and starting to slide off the bones, It is now ready to serve.

To make the cremita:

150 ml milk

600 ml water

½ tsp salt

150g cornmeal

50g butter

pinch paprika

pinch cumin powder

Pour the milk and water into a large, heavy pan, add the salt and bring to the boil. Measure out the cornmeal and keep to hand.

When the pan comes to the boil, add the cornmeal, pouring it in a thin stream and stirring continuously to prevent lumps. Keep stirring until it starts to thicken- this will take a minute or so then turn down the heat, add paprika and stir every couple of minutes or so, keeping an eye on it to avoid sticking. When the polenta starts to come away from the pan sides, stir in the butter, and then plate up, with the beef adobo on top. Sprinkle the parsley or coriander over it and serve with lime wedges.