Last Thursday, my friend Julie emailed, asking if I wanted to attend a cooking class at Escuela Gastronomico Letty Gordon, a cooking school in Mexico City’s Polanco neighborhood. One of her class members was out, so she needed a sub. I scrolled down, and read the menu for the night. All dishes from Yucatan state — Sopa de lima, queso relleno, cochinita pibil, dulce de frijol. (Which translates into “delicious, delicious, delicious and delicious.”) I have a love affair with cochinita pibil, or pork slow cooked in a citrus-achiote sauce. And queso relleno — stuffed cheese — sounded like it simply couldn’t go wrong, no matter how terribly I might goof the recipe. So, hellz yeah, I said, I’m there. “Bring wine,” Julie suggested. Claro que si!
I ended up being on the team preparing the most complicated dish of the evening — queso relleno — which had 31 ingredients, including a giant “bowl of cheese” (a melon-sized mound of Edam cheese, dried for 24 hours and then hollowed out…or hollowed out and then dried for 24 hours. The cooking school does a lot of the prep work, and not much English speaking, so some of the finer details have been lost to history). Here’s a partial list of the ingredient list:
- the giant Dutch cheese
- 7 or so “guero” chiles (long, mild yellow peppers)
- 1/2 kilo of pork meat
- green olives
- bell peppers
After an hour of chopping the many vegetables, and drinking copious amounts of wine to steel ourselves, the real cooking began. The proceedings got a little chaotic, as the dessert team (dulce frijol) already was finished, and started watching us wrestle with an incredibly complicated ingredient list. And a poorly translated recipe.
Julie tries to sort it all out. The recipe included head-scratching instructions like “rectify the seasoning and let in the fire.” Which kinda makes sense now, but at the time, we were lost. What we eventually figured out: Cook all the veggies in the seasonings, and then pour in brandy, and set the pan on fire. Easy enough, right? After sauteing for a long time, Julie grabbed the brandy…
…And promptly had the brandy taken away. Doh! Lighting alcohol in a pan full of food, on the stove, is WAY more complicated than they make it look on cooking shows. So one of the instructors took over and saved us from ourselves. At this point, we had far surpassed adding the 1/4 cup of brandy that was recommended. Oh wellsies!
This turned out to be an addictive mix of savory and sweet with a spicy little kick. The abundant brandy and the green olives — mmmm! The acitrons and the capers — delightful! Edible completely on its own, but we were just getting started.
My role was mostly to observe and make sure everyone’s wine was refilled promptly. However, I pulled my hair back, just to look official.
I also played a pivotal role in unwrapping the mound of cheese, and placing it in the cazuela (clay cooking pot). Then, I photographed my hard work. After the cheese was fully loaded up with our veggie-pork mix, we poured a saffrony sauce in the dish, and placed the whole thing into the the oven, so it could become even more awesome.
To pass the time as our cheese melted, we had more wine. One of the perks of this cooking school is that helper staffers come along and sweep away all the dirty dishes, lest you have to put down your wine and do any real work.
Queso relleno once it’s done. Those are two guero chiles tucked into the sauce.( Guero means “white person.”)
With one slice of the knife, out came oozing the veggies/pork/brandy/ mixture, all so obviously desperate to be wrapped in a corn tortilla and consumed.
Yes, I took a photo of my left hand holding a taco de queso relleno estilo Yucateca. Then I put the camera down and got down to business, making airplane sounds as I aimed the taco for my mouth.