Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg
Food & Drink

How to Make Great Aguachile and Chicken Tacos, Courtesy of a London Chef

Two recipes for traditional Mexican food, by way of Brooklyn and a new London restaurant.

Mexican food in London just got better.

You might rightly think that is from quite a low base: For all the diversity of the city's restaurants, this is one cuisine that hasn't flourished in the U.K. as it has in the U.S.

The opening of Santo Remedio in Shoreditch is a leap forward, accelerating a process that was already under way, largely thanks to the Wahaca chain of Thomasina Miers.

Edson Diaz-Fuentes and Natalie at Santo Remedio.

Edson Diaz-Fuentes and Natalie at Santo Remedio.

Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Santo Remedio, which seats 22 in the ground floor dining room and another 22 in a bar upstairs, is the new restaurant of a husband-and-wife team. Chef Edson Diaz-Fuentes was born in the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City, while Natalie was born in the U.K. to a Mexican mother and a British father.

Edson, 34, is a largely self-taught chef, though he did spend a few months in the kitchens of Casa Oaxaca in Mexico. His love of food began as a child, going shopping in the markets with his mother and then enjoying the cooking of his grandmother.  

"When I was going to my grandma's place, as soon as you opened the door you got that smell of corn, chilis or spices or tomato, onions," Edson says. "That, for me, was like, wow, it was going to be good."

He went on to study hospitality management. It was only when he went to live in Brooklyn that he had the dream of turning his cooking hobby into a career. He started by hosting supper clubs with Natalie in their apartment.

In late 2012, the couple moved to London, where Edson helped to manage Mexican restaurants while developing plans to open his own. He hosted a pop-up in Hackney, organized a street feast, began a catering service and was an adviser for new products to the Wahaca group.

He and Natalie opened Santo Remedio in March. Santo Remedio joins a small group of decent Mexican restaurants and taquerias in London that also includes Mestizo, which was pioneer when it opened in 2004 and remains a destination for the Mexican community.

The menu at Santo Remedio covers several regions and is authentic, though Edson has made a few tweaks - serving chicken pibil rather than the traditional pork, for example.

"A couple of people have come in and said we have toned down the food for London," Natalie says. "They think that Mexican food is hot and spicy, like Indian or Thai. But in Mexico the heat generally isn’t in the dish. The chilis are used for flavor but everywhere you go there will be a very hot salsa which you add."

The flavors at Santo Remedio are vibrant and fresh, from the hibiscus-flower quesadillas at £9.50 ($13) through the octopus tostada (£9.50) to the pork carnitas tacos, the meat caramelized with orange juice and Coca-Cola. The guacamole comes topped with grasshoppers sauteed with lime and chilis (£7).

Natalie runs the front of house while Edson cooks in the open kitchen.

"He is a lovely chef," Wahaca's Miers says. "He really cares about ingredients. It's about time we had more good Mexican restaurants in London."

Here are two recipes supplied by Edson.

Prawn Aguachile Rojo.

Prawn Aguachile Rojo.

Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

 

Prawn Aguachile Rojo

400 grams or 16/20 peeled tiger prawn,
1 cucumber, peeled
300 ml freshly squeezed lime juice
100 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
4-5 Red jalapeño chiles – to taste
Fresh Coriander – finely chopped
Red onion – finely sliced
Fish sauce – a dash
Sea salt – a pinch
Avocado slices – optional
Corn tortilla chips on the side

Aguachiles

Aguachiles come from Sinaloa, Mexico. Aguachiles, like ceviches, are raw fish or prawns cured in citrus juices and chilis. This is a classic dish from Northern Mexico, combining the best of fresh seafood from the Pacific coast, lime juice, cucumber and, of course, fresh chilis. At Santo Remedio, we offer aguachile either rojo or verde on our specials board: Red jalapeños or serranos , which are green. My recipe includes a few twists: add fish sauce and orange juice.

Recipe and Method

  1. Use only fresh prawns from a local fishmonger. Split them in half lengthwise, remove veins and clean them. Put them in a deep container, cover with cling film and store in the fridge.
  2. In a blender, combine half the cucumber, lime juice, orange juice, 2-3 jalapeños – depending on how spicy you want it – a dash of fish sauce, a pinch of salt until all ingredients are mixed together. Make sure the mixture is smooth and the color of the chilis you are using.
  3. Try it and make sure the freshness of the citrus juices and cucumber, the spiciness of chilis are well balanced, along with the fish sauce. Add more salt or chilis if needed. Cover the prawns for at least 30 minutes – or until they turn pink, a sign that they are cured. Make sure the prawns are completely submerged in the mixture, and stir frequently, to ensure all are fully cured. 
  4. Serve on a plate and garnish with a few spoonfuls of the marinade and coriander leaves, chopped cucumber and sliced onions. You can also add avocado slices.
  5. Enjoy fresh with some freshly made corn tortilla chips. Best paired with a lager of your choice, even better with a Michelada.
Yucatan style chicken Pibil marinated in Achiote paste with pink pickled onions at Santo Remedio.

Yucatan style chicken Pibil marinated in Achiote paste with pink pickled onions at Santo Remedio.

Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Chicken Pibil Tacos

100 grams of achiote paste
300 ml orange juice
200ml lemon juice
6 chicken thighs
4 banana leaves (tin foil is fine if you can’t find banana leaves )
50ml apple-cider vinegar
2 red onions cut in thin slices
4 garlic cloves, roasted
4 habaneros or Scotch bonnet peppers
Mexican oregano
Sea salt
Bunch of coriander
Soft corn tortillas

Recipe and Method

This is a recipe from the Yucatan peninsula, only I have substituted chicken for pork. You can use either. Achiote is a traditional paste made of annatto seeds and spices including cloves, oregano and pepper from the Yucatan. You can buy it online from Mexmarket or Cool Chile Co.  here in the U.K.

  1. In a blender, combine achiote paste, orange juice, oregano, apple-cider vinegar, salt and garlic cloves. Blend until the mixture forms a paste-like consistency.
  2. Coat the chicken in the paste, and rub to ensure thoroughly covered. Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.
  3. Take banana leaves and toast them directly over a burner or on a skillet until they turn brighter and softer. Once the chicken has been marinated, wrap the chicken thighs in the banana leaves and put on a baking tray. Cook at 190 degrees Centigrade for 45 minutes or until juices run clear.
  4. While the chicken is cooking, thinly slice red onions and mix with the lemon juice, a pinch of oregano, salt to taste and finely chopped habaneros or alternatively Scotch bonnets. Leave in mixture for at least 20 minutes until the onions turn pink, stirring often and adjust salt if needed.
  5. After cooking the chicken, keep all the juices mixed with the achiote. This is full of flavor. Shred the chicken and keep it moist with some juices from cooking. Serve on warmed corn tortillas topped with pink pickled onions and coriander.

Santo Remedio, 22 Rivington Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3DV; santoremedio.co.uk: no reservations except for groups of 6-10.

Richard Vines is the chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and on Instagram @richard.vines.

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