Wednesday, September 06, 2017

crossing the cultures

Today is chicken day.

Actually, any day can be chicken day in Mexico. There are numerous stands in the local area that serve up the carcasses of perfectly-grilled birds. We all have our favorites, and will do culinary battle to favor our champions. I suspect they are all about the same.

Grilled chicken was one of the first meals I ate in Melaque when I moved down nine years ago. And I still regularly buy from the same vendor -- though my allegiance is gradually shifting to the chicken stand that is just a short walk away from my house in Barra de Navidad.

In 2009, I could buy a chicken with a full complement of sides (tortillas, grilled onions and potatoes, cole slaw, rice, and salsa) for 70 pesos. Not only could you feed a family for that, the chicken tasted as it once did freshly-killed by my grandmother. Northern chickens are now bred to be as huge as they are tasteless -- not unlike most of Hollywood's movies these days.

The quality of the chicken has not changed, but the price has. Today I paid $130 pesos for the same meal. Well, not the  same meal. I now order only the chicken and rice to use in one or another culinary concoction. The price is the same no matter whether or not you take the sides with you.

I seldom eat the chicken off the bone. I strip the flesh while it is still warm and then pop it into containers until I am ready to use it.

Today, my Mexican chicken is going to meet several other cooking cultures. Mainly from the Orient. I call it chicken kumquat fried rice.

It is rather simply. I dissolve several anchovies in hot sesame oil, and then sauté vegetables. Ginger. Onion. Garlic. Bell peppers. Serranos. Habanero (the pepper, not the people). Tomatoes. Along with a handful of kumquats. Then I add the rice to fry. When done, I put in the chicken.

When that is warmed through, I add the most important ingredient. The sauce. Today's will be rather simple. Made of soy sauce, Thai red curry paste, rice vinegar, and a large dose of red pepper sauce.

The recipe is as simple as the sauce. After all, I let the chicken vendor do the hard part by cooking the rice and the chicken. But, as my good friend Colette says, the preparation is still "puttery." All of that peeling, slicing, seeding, and dicing.

I have always enjoyed making (and eating) fried rice dishes. Whatever is at hand usually works. It is a great leftover dish. Just like French toast.

Three days ago, I talked with a Mexican friend who spent his school years in rural communities in The States. He was not the least bit surprised when I told him that even though I once loved Mexican food, I was now bored with it.

Like me, he has found relief in various forms of stir fry cooking. The raw ingredients are readily available here. What was once hard to find -- spices, herbs, and sauces -- now appear on the shelves of local stores. Especially, Hawaii. A store that makes these cross-cultural meals a possibility.

Even though the price of grilled chicken has far outpaced the cost of living index in Mexico, I will continue to rely on it as a staple for my food experiments.

After all, every day is chicken day here on the Coastalegre.

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