Many great chefs rely on writers and cooks like JJ Goode, one of the handful of behind-the-scenes writers who help chefs translate the wild and woolly ideas in their heads and palates into cookbooks. JJ is a youthful spirit who writes, mostly about food, from his apartment in Brooklyn, and whose most recent collaboration is with the contemporary Mexican chef Roberto Santibañez. The result is Santibañez's new book, Truly Mexican, coauthored by Goode.
I am interested in real working kitchens and so I asked JJ if I could come over and scope out his "office." He invited me for salsa on what ended up being the hottest day of the year so far. We pushed the chiles to the limit, and without air conditioning, we slurped salsa from spoons while we we kicked back and talked about how a regular guy like JJ in a regular apartment (and tiny kitchen) in Brooklyn can make a great Mexican chef's recipes make sense to the rest of us.
I visited JJ to do a Kitchen Tour (that will come soon). To watch him cook is a marvel; he has one arm and can cook (and write books) as well as anyone. JJ's spirit infuses his modest pad with sincerity and playfulness. He has a fridge covered in memorabilia, like a scrapbook. He keeps his ground chiles in an ice cream pint. An IKEA paper lantern bobs from the one small window. I loved being there.
For today I just want to share with you this tomatillo salsa from Truly Mexican. Sure, if you have the traditional Mexican gear — comal, molcajete — use them. If not, you can still make something pretty spectacular with a toaster oven, broiler and blender. Shoot, mash it up with a fork; who wants to put hot chiles in the smoothie blender?
As for the salsa, first know that having a recipe for salsa is almost silly. You really need to taste it as you go. There is a lot of flavor variety with anything fresh, like tomatillos, and flavors like garlic and elements like heat are always a matter of personal taste. But as a guide, this recipe is a place to start for a kick-ass salsa. It uses two types of chiles, roasted garlic, and a few spices.
Adapted from Truly Mexican: Essential Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Mexican Cooking by Roberto Santibañez (Wiley)
Makes 1 1/4 cups
1/2 pound tomatillos (5 or 6), husked and rinsed
8 dried árbol chiles, wiped clean and stemmed
2 chipotle mora chiles (purplish-red color), wiped clean and stemmed
1 garlic head (about 12 cloves), cloves separated and peeled
10 whole allspice berries
1 large whole clove
1/2 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Set the oven or toaster oven to broil (alternatively, you can preheat the oven to 500°F) and preheat. If you’re using the oven broiler, position the rack 8 inches from the heat source.
Put the tomatillos on a foil-lined baking pan and roast, turning them over once halfway through, until their tops and bottoms have blackened and the tomatillos are a khaki-green color and cooked to the core, 20 to 30 minutes. Let them cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, heat a comal, griddle, or heavy skillet over medium-low heat and toast the chiles and roast the garlic on the comal, pressing down on the árbol chiles until they are brown all over and blackened in spots and chipotle mora chiles have puffed up and are blistered in spots, 3 to 5 minutes. Continue roasting the garlic, turning it over frequently, until it is tender and golden brown with some blackened spots, 8 to 10 minutes.
Put the roasted tomatillos, chiles, and garlic in the blender jar with the allspice, clove, and salt and blend until smooth (the tomatillo seeds will still be visible). Season to taste with additional salt.
Keeps in the refrigerator for up to five days.
• More JJ Goode at JJGoode.com
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)