OK, to acknowledge what’s uppermost in everyone’s mind when the subject is chef Aarón Sanchez: He’s handsome, all right. Very. And even more handsome in person than on television.
If he was a model, good looks would be all he needed to bring to the table. However, Sanchez is a chef, with deep cooking chops honed from a young age as the El Paso-born son of Mexican-American restaurateur and cookbook author Zarela Martinez. As a teenager, Sanchez worked with Louisiana superchef Paul Prudhomme before pursuing formal culinary education at Johnson & Wales University. In addition to running multiple New York restaurants and consulting for the food industry, Sanchez is a familiar sight on the Food Network, including judging “Chopped.”
(Orange County got a taste of Sanchez’ work when the Anaheim House of Blues restaurant rolled out the menu he retooled for all 13 locations of the live-music venue. Read the Taste of Orange County post about the introduction.)
“Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours” (Atria, 2011) is Sanchez’ new book, his second. It seeks to combine and apply flavors and techniques in a simple, doable way that makes the recipes worthwhile for home cooks to tackle.
Cookbook publishing is on a chefs-writing-for-home-cooks jag, undoubtedly due to trying economic times—what I call T.E.T.—occurring simultaneously with growing pressure to eat more mindfully (the post-Michael Pollan effect). Does fresh food cost too much? Is convenience food a one-way ticket to eating purgatory? It’s kind of a double whammy, and this book does a good job of navigating the paradox.
I like the organizational concept of “Simple Food, Big Flavor,” which goes something like this: A solid, simple base preparation, the story of how it came to be, some good information about its components, a few recipes using it, and a slew of suggestions for further application.
Sanchez provides fifteen of these base recipes in as many chapters, drawn from his considerable Pan-American culinary and personal background. Some are sauces that might also be marinades, including classic Mexican salsa verde and roasted tomato-chile de árbol. Another chapter features Aarón’s Adobo, a dry rub showing the influence of lessons learned from southern American barbecue combined with the classic Mexican seasoning for meat. There’s a Peruvian-influenced Mango-Aji Amarillo Purée, and Aarón’s Chorizo, the chef’s way with the fresh Mexican sausage that is easily within the reach of any home cook. (One way he uses his chorizo is in cornbread poultry stuffing, which seems like a really good idea.)
Sanchez writes in the introduction, “For this book, I decided to take all my incredible flavor memories and distill them into fifteen recipes, to cram all that flavor into magical sauces, purées, and pastes that you can keep in the fridge or freezer and pull out whenever you want to turn a simple collection of ingredients into a seriously tasty dinner.” A fridge or freezer stocked with a couple or a few of the preparations could jump-start a quick, good meal any night of the week.
After making Sanchez’ Garlic-Chipotle Love, a rich, reddish-ochre sauce with mellow roasted garlic and the slow-burning, deep smokiness of canned chipotles, I took one of his sidebar suggestions, for “off the hook” roast chicken with Love Butter—essentially a compound butter, made with Garlic-Chipotle Love—spread under the skin.
Serendipitously, as I was anticipating peeling a dozen fat cloves of garlic for this recipe, Saveur Magazine unleashed on the foodosphere a downright revolutionary garlic-peeling video. Not a moment too soon—and something to keep forever! Watch it—it’s a cool 58 seconds for which life-changing is not too strong a term: Saveur.com’s How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less than 10 Seconds.
Garlic-Chipotle Love from Aarón Sanchez
1 c. canola or grapeseed oil
12 garlic cloves, peeled
3 to 5 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Grated zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine oil and garlic cloves in ovenproof dish. Cover dish with lid or foil, cook about 45 minutes until garlic turns a nutty brown and is as soft as cream cheese. Cool to room temperature.
Put oil and garlic into blender or food-processor container. Add chipotles, cilantro, lime zest, and salt and blend to fine purée.
Refrigerate up to two weeks, or freeze for a month.
Roast Chicken with Love Butter
In addition to spreading Love Butter under the chicken’s skin, I also rubbed some on the outside—as Julia Child reminded us, most any roast chicken benefits from a butter massage. You won’t need all the Love Butter for a single chicken—more like half. You could make half the amount, or do as I did and freeze the other for future Off-the-Hook Love Chickens. And there will be others—roast chicken is pretty much a weekly event in my kitchen, and this was a delicious variation. I served the carved chicken on salad dressed with lime juice and a touch of the pan drippings.
4 to 4-1/2-pound chicken, rinsed, dried with paper towels
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
½ recipe Garlic-Chipotle Love Butter (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Into chicken cavity, put a couple big pinches sea salt and several grinds black pepper. With fingers, loosen skin from the breast area of chicken, working down to thighs and drumsticks.
Spread Love Butter under skin. Rub outside of chicken with additional few tablespoons Love Butter. Truss chicken as desired, and salt and pepper outside.
Roast chicken in preheated oven approximately 1-1/2 hours, until temperature in dark meat is 180 degrees, basting with pan juices every 20 minutes or so. Allow to rest 15 minutes before carving.
1 cup (½ pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup Garlic-Chipotle Love
Using mixer or by hand, beat butter until creamy. Mix in Garlic-Chipotle Love until combined. Refrigerate or freeze.