Melting Pot – Mex up your menu

The Mexican wave continues to sweep across the UK, with 2017 being billed as the year of the big ‘taco takeover’. It’s a trend that has filtered across all areas of foodservice so it’s time that all caterers turned up the heat on their menus. Here, seven “hot” chefs share their tips and advice on how to “Mex” things up…

Emma MacDonald, founder of The Bay Tree www.thebaytree.co.uk Hands-on food like tacos, burritos and nachos appeal to children. ‘Build your own’ has the added fun factor of getting a little bit messy. The smoky, spicy flavours of Mexican dishes can be easily toned down for young palates by adding yoghurt, giving a gentle introduction to heat. The trend for pulled pork continues. Carnitas – the Mexican version – translates as ‘little meats’. Pork is cooked low and slow then deep-fried to add crispy bits before being packed into tacos and topped with coriander and a wedge of lime.

Armando Gomez de Orozco, head chef at Lupita We can observe a trend on street food where tacos, tostadas and wraps (mainly burritos) are the main attraction all over, from the mainly traditional restaurants, to the more recent ones offering a version or a fusion. We can find any combination from octopus, tuna tartare, sea bass and lobster to rib eye, pork pibil, pork belly, duck and venison and recently insects, most notably grasshopper have been a popular, albeit trendy, delicacy. Always the base ingredient of any good taco is the one that has a good quality corn tortilla. (Serving tacos on a fresh prepared tortilla is the only way this trendy dish should be served in order to do justice to a Heritage of Humanity Cuisine. Many providers are now realising this is quickly becoming a necessity to maintain authenticity and be considered one of the better quality restaurants).

Steve Love, principal research chef EMEA, McCormick (UK) Ltd Flavour Forecast 2017 highlights Plancha: Flat-Out Grilling, as a red-hot trend. From Mexico, and also Spain and France’s Basque region, the plancha (a thick, flat slab of cast iron) creates a sizzling, smoky, sear-flavoured crust. Grillers can use the plancha with meats, seafood and vegetables, paired with bold sauces, rubs and glazes. No plancha? No problem! Schwartz Fajita Seasoning, a blend of onion, garlic and spices, adds instant, authentic Mexican flavour. Perfect in fajitas, burritos, tortillas and enchiladas – just stir-fry with chicken or beef; or combine with tomatoes, onion and cucumber for a spicy salsa.

Ben Bartlett, celebrity chef and brand ambassador for Lion sauces Mexican food gets its character from chilli peppers, cayenne and jalapeños, all said to have mood-lifting properties – no wonder diners crave them! Broaden appeal with a range of heat levels to suit a variety of tastes, from a spicy warmth to a fiery heat. Make milder-spiced beef tacos, pulled pork burritos, quesadillas and delicious yet simple seafood tostadas with a flavoursome and punchy Cajun and tomato sauce, or turn up the heat by adding a Piri Piri hot sauce with bird’s eye chillies. Serve with cooling dips such as sour cream and chive dressing to tone down the temperature.

James Davidson, executive chef, Rich Sauces

• The secret to a good salsa is to dry-roast the tomatoes, chillies and onion to get maximum flavour out and before mixing all ingredients together.

• Use lard to get a truly authentic flavour into to all your Mexican style dishes being made, instead of veg oil or butter.

• Keep a BIG bunch of fresh Cilantro by your side at all times when cooking Mexican style foods. Add it plentifully and use as a fresh garnish, whilst not throwing those stems away. Chop them up finely and toss them into salsas, guacamole, cabbage slaws, or in stuffing into those burritos or tacos.

• Try unusual cuts of meat. Mexican cooking provides an excellent opportunity to explore inexpensive cuts of meat. Slowly cooked butts, shoulders, and shanks will reward you with silky tenderness and intense flavour at half the cost of prime cuts. It’s also a great way to use up all those leftover trimmings and using them up for daytime/evening specials options!!

• Theme up an evening, not forgetting to link in the bar drinks options to create a good Mexican evening. Offer classic Mojitos, a spicy Margarita, and Ponche (Tequila Punch), as too a well chilled classic beers such as Corona or Sol.

• Mexican food is a great way to incorporate and broaden out the veggie offering on your menu, whilst keeping it healthy as well. Think of all those fresh vibrant ingredients (peppers, avocado, corn, red/green onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, beans) you can get placed into a good fajita or burrito

Serge Nollent, head of culinary at Young’s Foodservice Caterers looking to create moreish Mexican menus should consider experimenting with new ingredients to create delicious dishes with a difference. Our Young’s MSC Fish Pie Mix, made simply from delicious diced Alaska Pollock & Pink Salmon, sourced from the cool, clean waters of Alaska is ideal for a tasty taco filling. Simply mix with Mexican spices of your choice, top with salsa and serve alongside a fresh wedge of lime for a fresh and tasty summer dish packed with flavour.

Willie Pike, Major’s consultant development chef Scotland Like many universities up and down the country, schools need to follow suit and bring the high street in. Secondary school menus in particular have to be slick, quick and doable which is why Mexican inspired dishes are perfect. From healthy breakfast burritos to fusion tacos, chicken, lean mince, beans or vegetables infused with an international Mari Base, Korean, Thai, Fajita, Bombay, to eat in or grab and go, as long as the offer is tasty and authentically spicy, even healthy versions will have the canteen bustling.

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