Famed Canadian celebrity chef Chuck Hughes may have French blood coursing through his veins, but his heart beats hard for Mexico.
And if anyone's going to be celebrating the upcoming Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo this weekend, it's Hughes, who seriously fell head over heels in love with the country during filming his Chuck's Week Off lively travel and cooking show which chronicles his amazing adventures in Mexico.
Everything about Mexico – from the heat (both from the sun and from the food) to the ambience to the people, touched this iconic chef (who defeated Chef Bobby Flay in the U.S. show Iron Chef America, becoming the youngest chef to win and has also appeared as a competitor on Food Network's The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs competition, not to mention hosting his own Food Network Canada series, Chuck's Week Off) — deeply. He advocates eating Mexican every day — and not the North American version of fast-food of tacos, burritos and guacamole.
We're talking serious flavours, and key ingredients "that are based on really good, really fresh ingredients. I remember visiting the markets and picking up the purest items and then going back and creating these amazing dishes with flavours layered in such a way that had you going back for more!" said Hughes during a recent visit to the newsroom.
Hughes is certainly on to something — with the famous Mexican holiday on the horizon, which commemorates the Mexican army's victory over French forces during the battle of Puebla in 1862, it's worth noting Canada is Mexico's second most important international tourist market, and that authentic Mexican cuisine food is fast becoming the next hot cuisine.
Hughes has become a passionate ambassador for the country and its culinary heritage, teaming up with the Mexican Tourist Board (visitmexico.com) to get the messaging out there's more to Mexican cuisine than refried beans. "Oh no!" laughs Hughes. "You have to get out of (this) perception to truly appreciate what Mexican cuisine is all about — bold flavours, delicate balances and true adventures that incorporate a variety of foods."
To this we say — ole! And enjoy the following recipes from Chuck Hughes.
Shrimp Cocktail Mexican Style
"Cooked shrimp are chilled in a spicy tomato-juice cocktail with avocado, red onion, and cilantro," says Hughes.
- 2 lbs. (1.2kg) cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined â¨1 Tbsp. (15ml) crushed garlic
- 1/2 cup (125ml) finely chopped red onion
- 1 cup (250ml) cucumber, peeled and diced
- 1/2 cup (125ml) celery,
- 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh cilantro, chopped
- 11/2 cups (375ml) tomato and clam juice cocktail
- 1/4 cup (60ml) ketchup
- 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lime juice
- 1 tsp. (1ml) hot sauce
- 1/4 cup (60ml) prepared horseradish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 ripe avocado-peeled, pitted and chopped
Place the shrimp in a large bowl. Stir garlic, red onion, cucumber, celery and cilantro. Mix in tomato and clam juice cocktail, ketchup, lime juice, hot pepper sauce, and horseradish. Season with salt. Gently stir in avocado. Cover, and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours. Serve in one large bowl or ladle into individual bowls. Serves 4 to 6.
Tropical Coconut Flan
- 1 cup (250ml) sugar
- 1 can (14 oz/392ml) condensed milk
- 1 cup (250ml) coconut milk
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 tsp. (2ml) vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 tsp. (2ml) coconut extract
- 1/2 cup (125ml) fresh coconut, toasted
Preheat oven to 325F. (160C). In a heavy bottom saucepan add sugar and cover with 1/3 cup (75ml) water and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook WITHOUT stirring for about 10 minutes until the sugar has turned to an amber colour. Pour into a 9-inch (23-cm) pie plate; swirl to coat.
Blend condensed milk and coconut milk, eggs, milk, salt, vanilla & coconut extract in a blender. Pour into pie plate. Place pie plate in a roasting pan, and fill pan with hot water half way up pie plate. Bake in oven for 45 minutes, until custard is just set. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. To serve run a sharp knife around the edge of custard. Invert custard on to large plate. Let caramel run over top. Garnish with shards of toasted fresh coconut. Serves 8.