My husband is fortunate in that he sometimes gets to go to Chicago and when he does, he eats at Rick Bayless’s restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. I am unfortunate in that I have not done either of those things, although I very much want to. But my husband has brought me back three of Rick Bayless’s cookbooks from his visits, and we have tried several of his recipes at home.
Rick Bayless is pretty much the acknowledged American master of authentic Mexican cooking. Even before I saw him win Top Chef Masters, I was a fan. Mexican cooking is not simple, by any means, but Bayless’s cookbooks convert the difficult cooking methods and long lists of ingredients into something achievable by the home cook. I have not tried a single one of his recipes that was not an instant hit in my household, although I will say that many of them are not intended for quick weeknight cooking.
Authentic Mexican is my favorite of the three cookbooks. The recipes are very detailed and include many notes on techniques and ingredients. The section on timing and advance preparation is extremely helpful for planning my cooking strategy; I wish every cookbook included such thoughtful notes. I also appreciate the many traditional and contemporary variations on each recipe provided, which enable the cook to try the dish multiple ways or easily substitute ingredients.
Favorite recipes: Chile-marinated Vegetable Tostadas; Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce; Quick-cooked Tomatillo-Chile Sauce; Potatoes with Mexican Sausage; Scrambled Eggs with Mexican Flavors
Salsa That Cook is a fun little cookbook from which I have made several very successful recipes. The cookbook opens with a selection of salsas made from a variety of chiles. The recipes that follow use the salsas as key ingredients to enliven such dishes as macaroni and cheese and baked goat cheese. I usually make the salsa ahead of time and hope that I have enough left over for some good old-fashioned chips and dips.
Favorite Recipes: all of the salsas; Tangy Green Guacamole; Seared Red Chile Enchiladas with Chicken and Aged Cheese; Chiaquiles with Spinach, Zucchini and Aged Cheese; Today’s Macaroni and Cheese; Spicy Vegetable “Stew”; Chipotle Mashed Potatoes; Mexican Fruit Pops
I have cooked the least out of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, probably because the recipes are the most advanced of the three cookbooks. Once again, each recipe is long and detailed, with notes on advance preparation, shortcuts and variations. I cannot stress enough how helpful these notes are, and I am surprised more cookbook writers don’t take the same approach. This cookbook also includes mouth-watering photographs.
Favorite Recipes: Guacamole; Essential Chopped Tomato-Serrano Salsa; Essential Roasted Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa; Chilied Tortilla Soup with Shredded Chard
If you would like to tackle true Mexican cooking, I think one of Rick Bayless’s cookbooks would be an excellent place to start. I would most highly recommend Authentic Mexican, but from the recipes I’ve tried, it seems like you can’t go wrong with any of his books.
Tagged: Rick Bayless