How do you spell A-C-H-I-O-T-E please?
I grew up in Chula Vista, California near the Mexican border so Mexican food was a regular part of my life. I frequently downed tacos, enchiladas, refried beans and fried rice and sometimes snuck in a chimichanga or two. I even considered myself somewhat of an expert on Mexican food until I was invited to a preview tasting for the annual Taste of Downtown event held in San Diego on October 2, 2014.
With over 30 restaurants taking part in this event, several other food bloggers and I were given preliminary tastings at 8 of these venues, including several Mexican bar and grill restaurants. I was expecting the waiters to bring out the usual tacos and enchiladas, but instead was presented with dishes like Pot Stickers with Achiote Sauce and Grilled Pineapple Salsa and Hicama Sticks with Sriracha-Lime Aioli.
“Whatever happened to the simple old Mexican dishes?” I asked myself. Leaning over towards a fellow blogger I whispered, “How do you spell ‘achiote’? What is sriacha sauce? HICAMA WHO?” The other bloggers were scribbling away like old hands as they took notes and were eying me with suspicion. “Where has she been all these years?” they were probably asking themselves.
Anyway, I had to fast-foward 10 years really quickly and get up-to-scratch on what’s been happening to Mexican food, at least in SoCal and some other parts of the US. Traditional Mexican food has now morphed into something called Baja Med, a blend of Mexican food with Asian and Merditerranean influences, often blending the magnificent seafood of Baja California with olive oils, fruits and vegetables found in the San Quintin Valley and Guadalupe Valley of Baja.
I’d love to do a full blog post one day on Baja Med cuisine, but for now I’d like to present the recipe for Pork Pot Stickers with Achiote Sauce and Grilled Pineapple Salsa. This was one of the tasting dishes from the San Diego restaurant Comun Grill and Tavern so here is my version of the dish.
A pork shoulder roast is first cooked for several hours on the stovetop until the meat falls apart and is then blended with some achiote paste. The mixture is then placed inside a wonton wrapper (called a ‘pot sticker’) and baked in the oven and finally served with a spicy grilled pineapple salsa. This dish makes a great appetiser.
Achiote paste is made from ground annatto seeds and is mixed with cumin and other spices. It is used as flavouring in Mexico, the Carribbeans and in the Philippines and gives a nice smoky taste and vibrant red coloring to food. You can purchase achiote paste in Mexican food specialty stores or online at Mexgrocer.com or Amazon.com.
Olé! Who said that Mexican food was still stuck in the past?
Pork Pot Stickers
- 1 pork shoulder roast
- water to cover the roast in a pot or Dutch Oven
- 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, whole
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 3 cups of the pork cooking liquid
- 3 tbsp. achiote paste
- 2 -3 tsp Mexican chili powder
- salt to taste
- wonton wrappers
Grilled Pineapple Salsa
- 1 fresh pineapple, cut into cubes
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (coriander)
- juice from 1 lime
- 1 red chili, seeded and finely diced
- salt to taste
- Place the pork, garlic, salt, peppercorns and onion in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the meat is tender and falls off the bone (about 2 hours).
- When the meat is cooked, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Strain the remaining cooking broth through a sieve; there should be at least three cups of broth remaining (if not, top-up with more water).
- After the meat cools, shred using several forks. Add the reserved pork cooking broth to the shredded pork; start by adding 2 cups of the broth and then gradually add the remaining broth until the meat becomes moist but not runny.
- Add the achiote paste and Mexican chili powder to the meat; add more seasoning if required. Add salt to taste.
- Place a small ball of the pork mixture on top of each wanton wrapper (about 1 tsp) then brush the outter edge of the wrapper with water. Fold the edges of each wrapper together and then pinch the sides together.
- Brush the pot stickers with olive oil and bake for 6 – 7 minutes at 350 F. on a parchment-lined tray until the outsides turn golden brown. Turn each one several times while baking for even coloration.
For the Grilled Pineapple Salsa
- Peel and core a fresh pineapple and dice into 1/2 inch cubes. Combine with the chopped onions, cilantro, lime juice, diced chili and salt.
- Serve the salsa on top of a banana leaf (optional) and arrange the pot stickers around the side of he dish.