#thePerfectComplement with Chef Rick Bayless

#thePerfectComplement with Chef Rick Bayless

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a media event featuring Chef Rick Bayless. When I was first invited to the event, I didn’t know much about him, but I did some digging and was quick to accept the invitation. The event was being sponsored by Negra Modelo, a Munich Dunkel Lager style beer brewed by Grupo Modelo in Mexico City, Mexico. It makes sense that he would be working with Negra Modelo… Rick is known for his authentic Mexican cuisine, and while I’ve never dined at any of his restaurants, from what I can tell online he does it better than most.

Before dinner I joined a few other bloggers for a meet and with the Chef. We only had a few minutes with him, but I had to learn more about his history with craft beer. Rick owns several restaurants including Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco River North, Xoco Wicker Park, Tortas Frontera and Frontera Fresco. His most famous establishment is Frontera Grill, and he is also available for private dining and catering. Friends on Twitter were raving about Frontera Grill, and through my research I learned that Rick was into craft beer. When they opened the floor up for questions, I raised my hand and asked him about it. He explained his history with Goose Island Beer Company, and a beer that he once brewed called Marisol, a Belgian pale ale. Since Goose Island was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev, he cut ties with them and is now working with the guys from Two Brothers Brewing Company.

Two Brothers originated in Warrenville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Not long ago Two Brothers opened a location in Old Town Scottsdale. When it first opened I asked why they decided to operate in Arizona… Apparently their parents have a house here and they were coming to visit. With an explosion of craft beer in the Valley, they came at a good time. The beers that Rick is brewing with them will only be available at his restaurants, and I assume, will be brewed to pair with his award-winning menu items. We didn’t get the chance to try any of this beer during this event, but we did drink a ton of Negra Modelo!

During our time together, Rick was very approachable and I am glad I got the chance to spend time with him. I think he was excited to meet another craft beer nerd, and a nerd that knew a thing or two about Two Brothers. In just a few weeks I’ve become obsessed with his work, and I need to plan a trip to Chicago so I can eat at all of these restaurants. During this event Rick hosted a cooking demonstration and talked about his passion for Mexican food as well as an explanation for all that he was making for us. Of course the food included some Negra Modelo. Rick commented on that, saying, “Throughout my travels in Mexico and Latin America, I’ve learned that savory, spicy food needs a strong beer to help balance its boldness. With its truly unique, rich flavor, Negra Modelo is the perfect complement for a variety of Mexican dishes.”

While Chef was cooking, he explained what the slow cooker means to him. He spent several minutes explaining the meals he would make, the things he would smell and the deliciousness that he would taste after stuff marinated for hours at a time in his favorite slow cooker at home. On the menu this night was Slow Cooker Lamb Barbacoa aka Barbacoa de Borrego. I wasn’t taking notes during his demonstration, but I was able to get my hands on the recipe. If you are feeling adventurous and want to give it a try, here it it… This serves 6, so invite all your friends over for an unforgettable dining experience.

For the lamb:

A 12-inch chunk of agave leaf (penca de maguey) or 1 large banana leaf, optional
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
1 12-ounce bottle of Negra Modelo

For the marinade:

2 guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 canned chipotle in adobo
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano

For serving:

Your favorite hot sauce or salsa
A little chopped white onion
A handful of cilantro leaves

1. Roast the agave leaf (being careful not to touch the exposed flesh of the agave) over an open flame, turning every few minutes until pliable and charred, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness. (If using a banana leaf, run it briefly over an open flame to soften it.) Cut into 3 pieces.

2. In the stovetop-safe insert of your slow cooker or in a very large (12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel, sprinkle generously with salt and lay it in the insert of skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until richly brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Fit the insert into the machine or transfer the meat to the slow cooker.

Before I go on, while Chef was making this, he even stopped to explain how much salt he typically uses… He used a lot of salt, and when I tasted his lamb barbacoa, I could really taste the salt that he used. Not saying that is a bad thing, just something I noticed per the explanation above.

3. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender with 2 cups of water and blend to a smooth puree. Pour through a medium meh strainer into the slow cooker. Nestle the pieces of agave leaf or banana leaf under and around the meat, if you are using them. Cover and turn on the slow cooker to hgh. Your barbacoa will be done in about 6 hours, though you can hold it for longer. (Certain slow-cookers can be programmed to switch from high after 6 hours to a “keep warm” temperature for up to another 6 hours. Some slow cookers click to “keep warm” automatically; others need to be switched manually.)

4. When you are ready to serve, coarsely shred the lamb and arrange it on a warm platter. Skim any fat from the sauce that remains int he slow cooker, and then taste it. If you feel it would be better with a mode concentrated flavor, pour it into a medium saucepan or remove the insert and set it over high heat. Boil for a few minutes to reduce that quantity, then taste and season with salt if it needs it. Spoon as much as you like over the lamb or beer. (Chef likes to sprinkle coarse salt over the meat at this point.) Serve the barbacoa with the hot sauce or salsa, onion and cilantro. Grab some tortillas, if you like, and you’re ready to make some delicious tacos.

I told you he used a lot of salt! Chef served the lamb barbacoa with tortillas, and while I wish I had more hot sauce/salsa, the taco was delicious and a flavor that paired perfectly with a fresh pint of Negra Modelo.

For dinner, I invited fellow blogger Sheryl Hugill to join me. She had a great time, too, commenting on the evening, saying, “I’ve had Negra Modelo before, but never thought to pair it with food. Chef Rick Bayless brought the beer to life tonight preparing some of the most delicious Mexican dishes I’ve ever experienced.”

After dinner we enjoyed a cup of coffee and some fresh churros before saying goodbye. The demonstration and meal lasted nearly 3 hours, and throughout we made quick friends with the folks at our table. I’ve since connected with them via Twitter and we have been sharing ideas and foodie recommendations for popular places to eat in the Valley. What this event did was not only showcase how well Negra Modelo pairs with food, but allowed me the chance to meet an authentic Mexican chef that makes his living sharing some of the best recipes around. We live close to Mexico, and hearing Chef talk about his inspiration for these dishes encourages me to eat more Mexican food. Chef, thank you for giving me this opportunity and know that Negra Modelo will always be #thePerfectComplement. ¡Salud!