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Chef Edson Diaz-Fuentes shares three showstopping Mexican dinner recipes from his new cookbook: salmon en mole, ancho rub chicken and a vegetarian cauliflower centrepiece.
Edson Diaz-Fuentes has had a lifetime’s experience cooking Mexican food. Born and bred in Mexico City, he’s the co-owner of Santo Remedio – a critically acclaimed restaurant and mezcal bar near London Bridge, inspired by the taquerias and street food markets of his home country. Famed for its punchy flavours and simple dishes, Santo Remedio’s food is as bright and eclectic as its mosaic-studded decor.
In his new cookbook Ciudad de México, Diaz-Fuentes shares everything we need to take an at-home journey through Mexico City’s diverse culinary scene. Featuring everything from cantina-style starters to citrusy cocktails (hibiscus margarita, anyone?), it’s the ultimate guide to the city’s rich food culture – and below, Diaz-Fuentes shares three seriously impressive dinner recipes from his new cookbook.
If fresh and fruity is your summer vibe (this works for both food and perfume, we find), you’ll want to try the salmon en mole. Fish is cured with salt, sugar and garlic for an intense flavour and silky texture, then slathered in a mole de frutas, a wonderfully tangy sauce packed with chillies, almonds and caramelised fruit.
Diaz-Fuentes prepares his version of this dish in a comal (a traditional Mexican flat-topped griddle like this pewter version by MexGrocer, £18), but you can also rely on your oven and a heavy non-stick frying pan.
In the mood to upgrade your usual roast dinner centrepiece? Try Diaz-Fuentes’ ancho rub pot chicken. A whole bird is elevated with garlic, ginger and spicy dry rub, and served alongside orange-spiked coleslaw.
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Fair warning: the chicken needs to marinate for at least one hour before roasting, and the homemade ancho rub requires crushing spices in a coffee grinder or molcajete (the Mexican equivalent of a stone mortar and pestle – find a granite option by KitchenCraft at Sous Chef, £29.50). But the stunningly flavoursome result is well worth the effort.
Finally, if you’re after a vegetarian take on classic Mexican cuisine, look no further than the smoky cauliflower. This versatile vegetable is steeped in a punchy chilli marinade and set alongside pipián blanco, an almond-based dip that’s as comfortingly toasty as it is fiercely garlicky (always a good thing in our book).
Start the prep for this dish the day before – the toasted nuts in the dip need to soak for at least 12 hours, as do the dried chillies in the marinade. Hot tip: you can order all of the authentic Mexican chilli varieties used in these recipes at the Cool Chile Company.
All that’s left to do now is mix a batch of paloma cocktails – provecho!
Salmon en mole de frutas
Edson says: “This is my interpretation of a fruity mole that I tried once in a fonda. I have never had it since, I never asked for the recipe, and I didn’t manage to speak to the mayora, but I have never forgotten it and decided to recreate it from memory here.
“This mole is rich in nuts and buttered caramelised fruits. Although I ate it served with pork ribs, I have found it is the ideal accompaniment for fish, as it gently enhances it without overpowering. It is equally delicious with pork or prawns. I like to blend half the fruits into the mole and use the other half as a garnish to bring texture and tang. You will only need half of the mole for this dish (see tip), but the other half can be frozen. Curing the salmon 30 minutes before grilling will greatly improve its flavour and texture.”
- 4 salmon fillets, about 200g each
- 2 tbsp salt flakes
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 large garlic clove, grated
- about 3 tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
- cooked quinoa, to serve
For the fruit mole:
- 1½ guajillo chillies, trimmed and deseeded
- 1½ ancho chillies, trimmed and deseeded
- 75g almonds
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- 25g peanuts
- 3 tomatoes
- 1 onion, quartered
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ fully ripe plantain, sliced
- 1 small apple, peeled and diced
- 1 large pear, peeled and diced
- ¼ pineapple, peeled and diced
- 150g raisins
- 3 bay leaves
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
To make the mole, toast the chillies in a comal or a heavy non-stick frying pan over a medium to high heat until they are soft and pliable. Place the cooked chillies in a bowl and cover with 250ml of boiling water. Leave to soak for 1 hour.
Toast the almonds in the comal or frying pan until golden brown. Set aside to cool, then toast the sesame seeds, followed by the peanuts. Roughly chop the almonds and peanuts.
Place the tomatoes, onion and garlic in the comal over a medium to high heat and roast for 25–30 minutes until charred and soft.
Alternatively, you can roast the vegetables in an oven preheated to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 for 30–40 minutes.
Remove from the comal or oven and allow to cool. I like to deglaze the comal with 50ml (3 tablespoons) of water for maximum smoky flavour.
Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat, then fry the plantain for 6–7 minutes until caramelised. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In the same frying pan, fry the apple, pear and pineapple for 5–6 minutes until caramelised and soft. Set aside. Finally, pan-fry the raisins for a couple of minutes, until puffed. Set aside.
At this stage, you can remove the salmon fillets from the refrigerator. Mix together the salt flakes, sugar and garlic and massage this mixture all over the fillets, including the skin. Cover with cling film and set aside at room temperature while you finish preparing the mole.
Place the roasted tomatoes, onion and garlic in a blender, along with the smoky comal juices. Add the chillies and their soaking water, and blend until smooth.
Add half the nuts, plantain, apple, pear, pineapple and raisins, plus 150ml of water and blend again. If your blender is not big enough, do it in batches.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over a low heat and fry the bay leaves and cinnamon for 1 minute. Add the mole and cook over a low–medium heat for 10–15 minutes until it thickens but remains pourable. Keep warm.
Preheat the grill to medium high. Line a roasting tray with tin foil and lightly brush with the remaining oil. Arrange the salmon pieces on the tray, skin-side up, and grill for 10–15 minutes, depending on the thickness. They should be just cooked, with a slight translucence in the centre.
Arrange the salmon fillets on serving plates with the quinoa and spoon a generous ladle of mole over each one.
Garnish with the remaining nuts and fruits. Serve with some quinoa on the side.
You will have enough mole for a second batch, but you will need to toast and fry more nuts and fruits for the garnish.
Ancho rub pot chicken
Edson says: “Every cuisine has an iconic roast chicken dish. In our family, this ancho rub pot chicken is our stress-free Sunday lunch. It comes with a healthy coleslaw and a big bag of (less healthy) good-quality crisps.
“Roasted chickens – pollos rostizados – are normally sold in Mexico City right next to panaderías, which also sell pickled chillies, salsa and handmade crisps: comfort food to take away. To make your own, marinate the chicken overnight in the refrigerator and prepare the orange dressing in advance – that way, all you have to do on the day is shred vegetables and open a bag of crisps!”
- 1 orange
- 1.5kg whole chicken
- 20g fresh ginger root, peeled
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 40g ancho dry rub (see below)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- a large packet of crisps – or 2!
For the orange coleslaw dressing:
- 6 tbsp orange juice
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp dark agave syrup
- ¼ tsp Mexican oregano
- 25g red onion, thinly sliced
For the coleslaw:
- ¼ red cabbage
- ¼ white cabbage
- 2 carrots, peeled
- ½ chayote (a type of squash)
- 10g coriander leaves
To prepare the chicken, juice the orange and transfer the juice to a bowl. Place the squeezed orange halves inside the chicken cavity. Grate half the ginger and 2 of the garlic cloves into the orange juice, then place the remaining ginger and garlic in the chicken cavity (no need to grate them).
Stir the ancho rub and olive oil into the mixture in the bowl to create a thick marinade, a bit thinner than a paste. Spread the marinade over the chicken and massage it both over and under the skin. Leave to marinate for at least one hour, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5.
Place the chicken in a heavy casserole dish fitted with a lid. Cover and bake for 1 hour, then reduce the oven temperature to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3½ and bake for another 20–25 minutes, or until cooked through.
To check that the chicken in cooked, insert a digital thermometer in the thickest part of the leg. It should register 75°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, pierce the chicken where one of the legs joins the body. If the juices run clear, the chicken is done. If not, cook for an extra 10 minutes and test again.
Once cooked, remove the chicken from the casserole dish and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the coleslaw. Begin by mixing together all the dressing ingredients in a bowl. Leave to infuse while you prepare the vegetables.
Thinly slice both cabbages and place in a large bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, shred the carrot and chayote into thin ribbons and add these to the bowl too.
Pour the dressing over the top and mix gently. Leave to infuse while the chicken is resting. Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.
Carve the chicken and serve with the coleslaw and crisps.
I like using the leftovers – if any! – the following day to prepare a chicken torta. Cut a telera bun and toast it with a little bit of butter. Spread over some avocado black bean refritos, chipotle mayonnaise and a bit of coleslaw. Add some shredded chicken and a few avocado slices.
When I was a child, I used to top the chicken with a few crisps to add some crunchiness, a school trick that was also allowed at my dinner table (I still occasionally do this!).
Ancho dry rub
Edson says: “This is a grown-up version of a slightly sweet chilli powder called miguelito. It is eaten as a candy, but also sprinkled over mango, jicama, cucumber or popcorn by street vendors. A special treat, especially after school!
“To make a powder for rubs or marinades, dried chillies are toasted, then ground. You can use your molcajete – or a coffee grinder, for a less authentic (although much quicker) alternative! I like using ancho chilli in this recipe, which is the dried version of much loved poblano peppers. It adds the fruitiness and the sweetness of a sundried tomato or raisin to this rub with a mild spice note.”
Makes about 80g
- 30g dried ancho chillies, trimmed
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp soft brown sugar
- juice of 1 orange (optional)
Toast the chillies in a comal or non-stick frying pan over a medium to high heat for a couple of minutes until soft and pliable. Be careful not to burn them or they will become bitter. Set aside to cool.
Toast the fennel and coriander seeds in a small frying pan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until fragrant, then leave to cool.
Place the toasted chillies, fennel and coriander seeds, cinnamon, salt and sugar in a molcajete (or coffee grinder) and crush until finely ground. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning.
To use this as a seasoning, simply sprinkle it on fruit or vegetables, such as fresh pineapple, apples, cucumber or jicama. It’s also great on popcorn.
To use it as a marinade or rub, add the orange juice and mix to create a thick paste. Rub it on chicken, pork, portobello mushrooms or even squash before roasting.
Smoky cauliflower with pipián blanco
Edson says: “The smoky barbacoa adobo is perfect for vegetables like cauliflower or even butternut squash. I like to serve it with pipián blanco, a traditional Mexican roasted nut sauce, to temper the heat of the chilli marinade.
“You can also roast cauliflower florets and serve them with the sauce on the side as a healthy dip. The florets will be cooked in about 25 minutes.”
- 1 cauliflower, kept whole, with leaves intact
- 100g barbacoa marinade (see below)
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- sea salt flakes
- chopped toasted almonds, to serve
For the pipián blanco:
- 75g almonds
- 2¾ tbsp sesame seeds
- 3 tbsp pine nuts
- 250ml water
- 1 tbsp butter
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 10g garlic, finely chopped
- sea salt and ground white pepper
Begin by preparing the pipián blanco. Dry-fry the almonds in a small frying pan over a medium heat, stirring all the time until they are golden. It should take about 4 minutes.
Repeat for the sesame seeds and then the pine nuts, which should each take about 2 minutes.
Transfer all the toasted nuts and seeds to a bowl and pour over the water. Leave to soak for at least 12 hours.
When you are ready to cook, melt the butter in a frying pan over a low heat and fry the onion and garlic for 10–12 minutes until caramelised.
Transfer to a blender and add the nuts, along with their soaking water. Process until smooth. Season well and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 5 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
Keep any leaves attached to the cauliflower: they are delicious roasted. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the cauliflower, head down. Blanch for 5 minutes, then drain and leave to cool for 15 minutes.
Place the barbacoa marinade in a bowl and gradually whisk in the oil until well incorporated.
Massage the marinade into the cauliflower head, making sure it gets into all the crevasses, then place the cauliflower on the prepared baking tray. Bake for 45 minutes, or until tender and well roasted.
Serve the cauliflower cut into wedges, sprinkled with sea salt and toasted almonds, with the pipián blanco on the side.
Edson says: “Mexicans have made marinades into an art form. This barbacoa adobo perfectly balances the smokiness of chipotle chillies with the sweetness of ancho and the chocolate notes of pasilla mixe.
“It also incorporates dried avocado leaves, which bring a wonderful aniseed flavour. Please note that the dried chillies require a 12-hour soak before use.”
- 50g morita chipotle chillies
- 2 ancho chillies
- 2 pasilla mixe chillies
- 500ml hot water
- 100g garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 20g dark agave syrup
- 10 dried avocado leaves
- 250ml grapeseed oil
Place all the dried chillies in a bowl and pour the hot water over the top. Leave to soak for at least 12 hours. Soaking doesn’t just soften the chillies; it also helps temper their heat.
Once they are soft, drain the chillies, reserving the soaking water. Remove and discard all stems.
Place the chillies in a blender or food processor, along with most of the soaking water and the garlic. Blend until smooth, then add the salt, balsamic vinegar, agave syrup and avocado leaves and blend again until the leaves have disintegrated into the mixture. The marinade should be pourable but not runny. Add some more of the soaking water to adjust the thickness if needed.
Running the blender or food processor at a low speed, slowly add the oil and blend until emulsified.
Taste the marinade, being careful as it is very hot. This marinade should be on the salty side, so adjust the seasoning accordingly.
Once you are satisfied, transfer the marinade to an airtight container. It is ready to use straight away, and will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Ciudad De México: Recipes And Stories From The Heart Of Mexico City by Edson Diaz-Fuentes (£26, Hardie Grant) is out now
Photography: Robert Billington