Corn is the foundation of Mexican food.
Whether that corn is roasted on the cob or, in its more common form in Mexican cuisine, dried, milled and turned into masa harina, or corn flour, it is the basis for a vast array of dishes.
That's why I used Mexican food for "The Plate," a research project for culinary school. The assignment in Culinary Foundations II class was to write a paper describing a plate of food and then describing how it could be deconstructed and rebuilt using different cooking techniques and coming up with a different plate.
The idea is to instill in us the ability to think creatively when building menus and learning to use food products in different ways.
I started with pork and red chile tamales and whole pinto beans. I ended with tacos de carnitas, Sonoran enchiladas dipped in red chile sauce and refritos, or refried beans.
The key was corn, more specifically masa harina, the milled corn flour used to make tamales, tortillas and enchiladas. Instead of preparing the masa for spreading onto corn husks and then filled with meat for steaming as tamales, I proposed preparing the masa for making into corn tortillas to be used for tacos and flat enchiladas to be fried and dipped into red chile sauce.
In the original manifestation, the cooking techniques included braising the pork, sauté for elements of the chile sauce, steaming for completing the tamales and poaching for the beans.
For the new plate, the techniques included roasting the pork, roasting for elements of the chile sauce, sauté for making the tortillas, (deep) frying for the enchiladas and a combination of poaching and sauté for the beans.
I will turn in the research paper today. Then will come the true challenge -- actually making the two plates -- tamales and whole beans; tascos, enchiladas and refritos -- from scratch. We don't have to demonstrate that for class, but I plan to do it just for the practice of it.
Same products -- corn, pork, chiles, beans -- but different meals, different tastes and flavors.