Most sources list the origin of the word “barbecue” to the Spanish barbacoa, which originally meant meat grilled over a framework of green branches. Later, in Mexico, that word came to mean pit barbecue–with the pit being in the ground rather than in a metal smoker of today. In central Mexico, large outdoor restaurants cook lamb in brick pits and serve it with salsa; in western Mexico lamb is served birria-style–rubbed with ground red chile and roasted on a rack in a metal pit. However, in Mexico there is no tradition of smoked meats as there is in the southern United States. The image at top left seems to belie this statement, as obviously there is a lot of smoke in the air. But considering Tijuana’s immediate proximity to San Diego, I have to guess that this is an American event being held in Tijuana for whatever reasons.
But another form of barbecue is popular in Mexico, and that is grilling. After all, grilling is easier and quicker than smoking because it’s the application of direct heat rather than indirect heat and smoke. I searched my files for Mexican grilling recipes and found one that I’ve prepared many times and it is similar to the citrus-marinated rotisserie chicken often found at informal stands at markets. This recipe can be grilled over charcoal coals or on a gas grill.
Pollo Enchilado (Grilled Chile-Chicken)
In this case, the word “enchilado” means “enchilied,” or covered in chile. This recipe was collected in Querétaro, but I’m not sure that it originated there. It is also wonderful cubed and served in tortillas, fajita-style, with a spicy salsa of your choosing. Note that this recipe requires advance preparation.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 cascabel chiles, toasted, seeds and stems removed
3/4 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 sour orange, juiced (or substitute 1 orange and 1 lime)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken, sectioned
Corn or flour tortillas
In a blender, combine the garlic, chiles, vinegar, oil, orange juice, oregano, cloves, cumin, pepper and salt and process until it is thoroughly blended. Marinate the chicken in this mixture overnight.
Roast the chicken over hot coals until done. Or, bake uncovered in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Serve with lettuce and avocadoes with warmed tortillas.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
For more food history and recipes on the subjects of Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, just click on the image below.