So, I decided it would be fun the participate in Nick’s “Mexican Chicken Challenge.” For those of you who know me, you know one thing: I don’t cook. No, let me rephrase that: I can’t cook. I can bake. And I love baking. I’m kinda famous world-over for my baking. (Well, it helps that the last people I baked for got sent out to 7 different countries and 9 different states!) So, to accept this challenge was to put myself at great personal risk for humiliation. Add to that fact that I was so excited about this challenge that I actually thought it a good idea to bring in a new type of audience participation, and asked some of the guys from work to be the taste-testers of my dish. I decided for my variations to substitute fish for chicken (making it now the “New Papi’s Hat Dance in Your Mouth Chicken sans Chicken” dish), to make my own salsa instead of buying jarred salsa, and to do a homemade saffron rice instead of the packaged deal. High expectations.
So the challenges of participating in this gauntlet throw down ran deep and varied: I can’t cook; I was attempting to cook with fish – something I had never cooked with before; I was asking a group of Asians to judge my attempts at a Mexican dish; and oh, I live in Hong Kong and finding ingredients for Mexican dishes is next to impossible.
I am sad to report that I did not get to make my own salsa, which is the part I was most excited about. I absolutely LOVE homemade salsa, but unfortunately, trying to gather all of the proper ingredients was impossible. I couldn’t find cilantro ANYWHERE!! In hopes of finding what I needed I even ventured to the Western market, a store I’m rare to shop in. The ingredients I did find were incredibly costly, and shipped from all over the world (tomatoes from Turkey, onions from Japan, cheese from Sweden). The travel cost of my dinner would have been ridiculous, and I knew that I would be eating a Hat Dance in my Mouth that had made such a negative impact on the environment just to make it to my kitchen, that the idea suddenly became less appealing. So I decided to only purchase items that were local, unless absolutely unavoidable. So I bought a jar of organic salsa from New Mexico (of which half of the proceeds of purchase were donated to Breast Cancer research – which made me feel a little better), pepper jack cheese from Oregon (made from cows that were not raised with artifical growth hormones) and cayenne pepper that came from one of HK’s sister companies in the UK (there is still a lot that is British related here in HK, even after the 1997 handover). Everything else was local. (My aunt had sent me a package of taco seasoning in a care package not too long ago, so it was not something I had to purchase.) I bought fish that was caught here in South China Sea, rice that was packaged in Hong Kong, garlic and limes from a local veggie market, and I had some saffron spices that I had bought when I was in Bali. Time to cook.
I pricked my fish like Nick instructed, and did a rub with a mixture of taco seasoning and cayenne pepper. I let it sit and soak in for about 20 minutes. Then I covered the fish in the salsa, and baked for 15 minutes. I shredded the pepper jack cheese (which brought up memories of Lane’s Man Against Machine post) and squeezed a little bit of lime over the cheese, then put the fish back in for another 8 minutes. Meanwhile, I realized that I didn’t have all of the necessary ingredients for the saffron rice (saffron, known as the “Most expensive spice in the world,” is another item I had never cooked with). So, I decided to make do with what I had. I mixed the rice with butter, saffron, a little bit of lime juice and minced garlic. Once everything was finished, I decided to do a private tasting before taking the meal up to the office for the guys to try. I plated my meal, squeezed a little extra lime over the whole deal and viola!
I took a bite and instantly, I was relieved. I didn’t screw it up!! High praise for this little non-cook. The next thought that came to my mind was, “MAN I’ve missed Mexican food!!” So I packaged up the rest of the food and took it up to the office for the real critics. Here is a sampling of their reviews.
“Next time, cook more food.”
“The rice needs a little less saffron seasoning, add a little pepper too.”
“The fish is cooked perfectly. Very tasty.”
“Good amount of spice on the fish, though I wouldn’t complain if there was even more.”
“What kind of cheese is this?”
“The lime with the rice really makes it work.”
“What is the name again? Hahaha…why?”
“When are you cooking Mexican for us again?”
I also got the nod of approval from Gi, which is the highest form of praise, considering I have never heard him talk before.
So all in all, I think the New Papi’s Hat Dance in Your Mouth Chickens sans Chicken was a huge success! I am glad that I used the fish, as I think that it absorbed the spices perfectly. When I get back to the States I will definitely try to make this dish again with a homemade salsa. But for now, this one is certainly going in the recipe book that as of now only contains cakes and cookies! Thanks Nick!