Celebrating Mexican food with chef Edgar Nunez
A rich and storied cuisine based on indigenous produce and cultural confluences
Learning more about culture and people through food is my great passion. I spend a day with chef Edgar Nunez in Mexico City eating, learning and eating some more. I’ve put together this page to share the story of our trip to the bustling Coyoacan Market, and also added a series a videos that focus on particular Mexican ingredients. Oftentimes, when people decry the Mexican food that’s available outside Mexico it’s because the special ingredients that give Mexican food its character are only available there. Ah well, we’ll just have to go to Mexico then…But in the meantime, let’s watch and learn.
Exploring Mexican cuisine with chef Edgar Nuñez
When I travel, I always head straight for the produce markets. It’s because I love seeing what’s growing, what people are eating, and I also love the buzz and bustle of market life. Mexican markets are so incredibly energetic: noisy, busy, fragrant, intense! I knew I needed an expert by my side to help me understand what I was seeing, smelling and tasting at Coyoacan Market in Mexico City – there are thousands of indigenous Mexican herbs, for a start! – so I enlisted the help of top Mexican chef Edgar Nunez.
Join us as we explore moles, pepians and mushrooms, eat tortillas and carnitas and drink delicious goblets of juice, chat about huitlacoche, a crazy fungus that inhabits corn, and collect a sugar skull with my name on it. We then head back to Sud 777, Edgar’s fine dining restaurant to cook up some of the beautiful produce we’ve purchased.
Huitlacoche (say: wheat-la-cotch-ay) is a wild and mysterious ingredient. It’s a fungus – stay with me – that inhabits corn, turning the kernels from neat golden rows into misshapen black lumps. In most cases, if a farmer saw that their crop had been overwhelmed by fungus it would be terrible but in the case of huitlacoche it’s cause for celebration. Not only does the transformed corn taste funky and rich like great cheese or mushrooms, it’s also gone up in value! Some translations of huitlacoche touch on its deep flavour: it’s variously known as corn mushroom or Mexican truffle, and it can be used anywhere you might use mushrooms. As you’ll see, I struggle to describe the flavour as it’s so unusual: there’s powerful umami savouriness, a backnote of the corn and a bit of mushroom flavour sneaking around the sides. I’ve only ever seen fresh huitlacoche in Mexico but you can find it canned in Australia, the US and elsewhere.
Epazote (‘eh-pah-zoh-teh’) is a herb that I often see in Mexican recipes but I never see at the market. When I was lucky enough to visit Edgar Nunez’s greenhouse it was the epazote that I was most excited to see. It has such a particular flavour (minty, tarry, lemony) that when I asked Edgar what we could add to a recipe if we didn’t have the epazote it called for he thought for a long moment and then answered decisively: “If you don’t have epazote then you just need to cry.” So, through my tears, I watch this video and remember the days of epazote-eating joy.
Also known as Mexican pepperleaf, this floppy, velvety herb has a lifted citrusy fragrance and a flavour profile that swirls somewhere in the midst of mint, tarragon, lemon and even eucalyptus. It’s used in sweet and savoury dishes; you can cook it with eggs (as we do here), add it to Pozole Negro and moles (sauces), even muddle it into cocktails.
If you’ve got my Entertaining cookbook, you have hopefully fallen in love with the Mexican chapter there. It’s a fiesta waiting to happen, especially when helped along by my Mexican Entertaining page: I’ve got drinks and decorating ideas, even a music playlist that is a guaranteed party starter.
- Fall-apart spiced meat, a tart and zesty salsa, grilled greens all tucked into a taco - this dish is a winner! It's great for a family meal but I've also served it for casual gatherings with all the fixings laid out for people to make their own tacos. The flavours are brilliant! Thanks to Hagen's Organics for the inspiration!
- Slow-cooked chicken in 30 minutes? Sounds crazy, right? But that’s what we get with this Mexican chicken: after just half an hour, you end up with shredded chicken that looks and tastes like it’s been slow-cooked for hours. Serve it with your own tortillas and a vibrant salsa and you’ve got a simple but special meal on your hands.
- This delicious and sustaining green juice isn't just a breakfast packed with vim and vigour, it's also a quick dip into my trip to Mexico. Watch the video of my market adventures with chef Edgar Nunez, then get a taste of the energy and excitement of Coyoacan market by making the green juice recipe inspired by my visit.