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Chef's Corner: Salmon con Manchamanteles

A blender is your best friend for this delicious Mexican dish. If you make the sauce in advance, you could have this extraordinary meal on the table in minutes. This is our rendition of a recipe from Rosa's New Mexican Table by Roberto Santibañez. We are big fans of his cookbooks.

Mole is a Mexican term that encompasses a number of exciting sauces, usually containing chilies. In Spanish, "mancha" means "stain" and "mantel" means "tablecloth", hence a sauce that stains tablecloths or "tablecloth stainer". Wonderful to eat, but they're not kidding about the stains! This dish is one of the famous "Seven Moles of Oaxaca."

This recipe serves 4. We easily cut that in half for ourselves. If cooking for two, consider making all the sauce and saving it for another meal!



(Salmon with fruity mole)

For the Mole

  • 1 large tomato (about 1/2 pound)

  • 1 thick slice white onion

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled

  • 2 guajillo chiles, wiped clean, stemmed, seeded

  • 3 ancho chiles, wiped clean, stemmed, seeded

  • A 2-inch piece of peeled ripe plantain, preferred (or ripe banana)

  • 1 heaping cup Golden or Red Delicious apple, peeled, cored and roughly cut into 1" chunks, more or less

  • 1 cup 1-inch chunks pineapple, more or less

  • 6 allspice berries

  • 3 cloves

  • A 1-inch piece of Mexican cinnamon bark

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or to taste

  • 1 tablespoon shaved piloncillo, or 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon molasses, or 1 tablespoon "Sugar in the Raw". Use more or less to taste

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1½ teaspoons salt, or to taste

For the salmon

  • Four 8-ounce skinless* salmon fillets, any pin bones removed

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Juice of 1 lime

  • Oil for frying

*We like fish skin. If you have very thick fillets it is possible to get the skin really crispy without overcooking the fish. If the fillets are too small, we remove the skin and fry it until very crispy in the pan we will use for cooking the fish. We'll then put it on the plate when serving.

Place the chilies in a heavy frying pan (cast iron is good) pre-heated to hot. When wisps of smoke come off the chilies turn them over and quickly toast a bit longer. Take care not to burn them. They should be lightly browned, perhaps only in spots. When removed from the pan they will become stiff. Submerge them in a container of hot water and let soak for 20 to 30 minutes. They will soften up. Discard the soaking water, reserving the chilies. (We often put the chilies into a microwave proof measuring cup, cover with water, then microwave on high until the water is hot. We'll put a small piece of paper towel on top so that all the chilies stay covered.)

Position a rack about 4 to 6 inches from the broiler and preheat the broiler. Put the tomato, onion slice, and garlic on the broiler pan, place under the broiler, and broil, turning once, until well browned, even charred in spots, on both sides: Depending on the heat of your broiler and size of the portions, about 12 minutes for the garlic, about 15 minutes for the onion, and about 20 minutes for the tomato. Watch them carefully as the times can vary widely. Remove the individual vegetables as they brown, and let cool.

Put the tomato, onion, and garlic in a blender jar. Add the chiles, plantain, apple, pineapple, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and water and blend at low speed until is the fruit is finely chopped, then increase the speed to high and blend until smooth. (If you are working with a high powered blender such as a Vitamix, you can probably just put all the ingredients in, start at a low setting, then quickly increase to high.

Heat the oil in a medium size heavy saucepan over medium heat. Carefully pour in the contents of the blender and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (be careful as you might get some splattering when you start pouring the contents). Adjust the heat so the sauce is simmering and stir in the vinegar, piloncillo, sugar, and salt. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce is shiny and small beads of fat float on the surface, about 30 minutes. As the sauce cooks, add up to 1 cup water in small increments to prevent it from becoming too thick. Check for salt, adding more if necessary. You will have about 2¼ cups sauce. The sauce can be made up to 1 day in advance. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat before serving, adding small amounts of water as necessary to restore the sauce to the right consistency. Taste for seasoning and sweetness. You might want more salt and more piloncillo. Perhaps even a little more vinegar.

Generally the chilies are not particularly spicy hot. If you are heat freaks, consider adding some hotter chili powder (such as ground arbols) to taste.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the lime juice over each side of the fillets. Often your fillets will have a thinner side. To prevent overcooking, slice the thinner side off. We don't throw it away, but just cook it less than the other pieces (usually takes seconds).

Preheat a heavy frying pan with a little oil and fry the skins as described above, if using. Sauté one side of each fillet until the fish is somewhat underdone. Flip over, sear the other side for a second or two and remove. The fish will keep cooking for a short period after removed from the heat and will cook even longer if you place it on heated plates as we do.

Pour equal amounts of sauce onto serving plates, letting it pool in the center of each. Top each pool of sauce with a salmon fillet.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this page, we also dined on white rice and some green onions that had been parboiled for a minute, then lightly fried in the same pan as the fish after the fish was done, adding a bit of oil if needed. Salt the onions and sprinkle some lime juice over them to taste. You could also use the larger bulbed Mexican green onions.

WINE SUGGESTION: A good zinfandel is an excellent match to the fruity flavors of this dish.

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