Rick Rodgers is one of the most versatile professionals in the food business. Through his work as a cooking teacher, food writer, cookbook author, freelance cookbook editor, and radio and television guest chef, his infectious love of good food reaches countless cooks every day. He is the author of over forty cookbooks on a wide range of subjects including the best-sellers Thanksgiving 101 and Fondue, and IACP Cookbook Award nominees, Kaffeehaus and The Carefree Cook.
Rick travels the country and internationally working on his various projects. Mamiverse Food recently sat down with Rick in between stops to talk about his background as a California chef and his influences from Latin cuisine. He shares one of his favorite recipes below with Mamiverse Food.
Mamiverse: I understand you have some first-hand knowledge of Mexican cooking. Tell me about it.
Rodgers: I got a scholarship to the University of Guadalajara for my first college semester. At the time, I thought that I was going to be a Spanish minor, so I was eager to experience Mexican culture. I spent more time in the markets than I did in the classroom! At first, my host family insisted on cooking American meals for me. Señora Macías had had other students live there who were not adventuresome eaters, so she thought everyone wanted mashed potatoes. That lasted for about a day, and I learned many Mexican dishes at her stove.
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Mamiverse: How has Latino cooking influenced your cooking?
Rodgers: It wasn’t that long ago that Latin ingredients were exotic to the non-Latin cook, but now you can get chipotles at every supermarket. When I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, cilantro was called Chinese parsley! I grew up eating Mexican cooking at neighborhood cookouts, and to this day, my mom makes some pretty mean enchiladas. When I was a kid, my family would drive 75 miles to get Pioneer Tamales in Stockton. They are long gone, and weren’t very authentic (most Mexican tamales were small, but these were as big as a burlyman’s fist), but they allowed me to develop a taste for spices early on.
Mamiverse: What is your favorite Latino dish to cook?
Rodgers: Authentic mole. Yes, it takes some time, but i love toasting the spices, soaking the chiles, and simmering the sauce. I always have a jar of prepared mole in my pantry, as it makes a great quick sauce for pork chops or chicken breasts.
Mamiverse: You have traveled alot teaching cooking classes in this country. Any recommendations for restaurants?
Rodgers: Julia Child told me about La Super-Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, and whenever I am driving through there, I make a detour. For a super-elegantMexican feast, don’t miss ¡Salpicón! in Chicago. Chef Priscilla Satkoff’s food is innovative but true to its source. (I helped her write her cookbook, and she taught me a lot about Mexican cuisine.) When I am in my hometown of Oakland, CA, I always go to Cactus Taqueria on College for authentic (not California-ized) cooking. In New York, I love Rosa Mexicano. Their restaurants are slick, but the food is delicious, especially the budín de pollo. For amazing Spanish cooking, go to one of the Socarrat Paella Bar’s three locations. (Socarrat is the crusty rice that forms on a properly made paella.)
Pork shoulder is one of the great meat cuts. Sure, it takes a long time to cook, but the flavorful reward is worth the time. Here I’ve cooked chunks of it the Mexican way, simmered until they are fall-apart tender, and stuffed into hot tortillas to make soft tacos.
SOFT TACOS WITH CHIPOTLE CARNITAS
Makes: 6 servings
3 T olive oil, divided
3 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch chunks
½ t salt
½ t freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 t dried oregano
1 t ground cumin
2 bay leaves
One 15½ oz can plum tomatoes in juice, drained
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 canned chipotles in adobo, chopped, to taste
1 T olive oil
1 T cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- To make the carnitas, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 300°F.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper. In batches, add the pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a plate, leaving the fat in the Dutch oven.
- Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until it gives off its fragrance, about 1 minute. Pour in 1 cup water and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits in the Dutch oven with a wooden spatula.
- Return the pork to the Dutch oven. Add the oregano, cumin, and bay leaves and stir well. Cover and bake until the pork is very tender, about 2 hours.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a platter. Boil the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven until reduced to about ½ cup, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the chipotle sauce. Puree the tomatoes, onion, chipotles, and garlic together in a blender. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the puree (it will splatter, so be careful) and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, until reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pork and vinegar and cook until the pork is heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot, with warm tortillas passed on the side.