Forgive me for a second, I’m on a tear. If you follow the blog you’ll know that I bought a bunch of cookbooks in Thailand, lugged them across the city and to an airport, traveled to Japan, continued to lug them to not one but two different hotels, then flew to LAX, lugging and lugging all the way with a six-hour layover and nowhere to sit, all to get to Mexico City, lug a little more then fly home to Oaxaca. I live in Mexico. What I was doing buying Mexican cookbooks in Thailand is beyond me except it’s in English and I was all fevered up about finally getting Prune, which truth be told was worth the whole ordeal with just that one book.
About Mexico: The Cookbook
Still. STILL. I have to take exception to a cookbook I was sold in plastic wrap, without seeing the interior, that has become known in my household as “Christine’s rage”. I flip through pages and announce to the room, “Oh really? Pork loin? Don’t you mean carnitas which is a completely different thing and comes from all parts of the pig? Namely, ALL THE PARTS?”
That being said, I’m not a chef, I’m just an avid home cook. But I went to Amazon to check out the reviews and saw no other than David Sterling, who wrote what I consider one of the best cookbooks on Mexican cuisine ever, took time out of his busy, award-winning schedule (he wins the awards, not his schedule) to write an Amazon review. Do you know how rare this is? It’s like Mario Batali chiming in on a book about Italian cuisine. It’s insane. He’s there on Amazon writing and calling out this specific cookbook as being a complete piece of trash. That’s how bad it is.
I have a lot of issues with this cookbook, but here’s the thing. MAYBE she wanted to write it for American audiences. Maybe, she didn’t really get what that meant. Maybe as David pointed out she lost control of the editorial process. But here’s what I think.
If You Can’t Make a Corn Tortilla…
I don’t think she wrote this cookbook. And I know, nobody at Phaidon or the author herself tested these recipes. Here’s an example… this cookbook has a recipe for corn tortillas. It calls for five parts masa harina (the flour used in corn tortillas) and 1 part water. I’ve made tortillas many times. That’s dead wrong. You can’t make any kind of dough with 5:1 dry to water mixture. I looked it up, just to be sure. I couldn’t find a single recipe that called for this.
So I did it. I wasted about 10 pesos worth of flour and mixed it the way she wanted. Did the water get all of the flour wet? Nope. Was it edible? Nope.
What does the internet say?
No one is coming even close to 5 parts flour to 1 part water. In my experience I do what Rick Bayless does… I go about 2:1 but I add two parts flour, hold back the water and add it slowly until it gets to that cookie dough consistency that is neither sticky nor too dry. I make a tortilla, adjust the recipe and keep going until it’s perfect. Differences in the dryness of the flour will adjust the recipe but certainly in no planet is it twice as much flour as every single damn recipe writer in the world is recommending.
Are you feeling me yet?
Okay maybe you aren’t aware of the glowing reviews this book has received.
You can read more on the Amazon page for the book, but let’s just say New York Times Best Seller.
Everyone is a Liar
First of all, I get that it’s 600 recipes and not every reviewer is going to review everything, but there are so many errors in this book it’s not even funny.
Let’s just take the tortilla recipe. I mean it’s TORTILLAS. The basics.
Okay let’s overlook that she says 5 cups of masa harina with 1 cup of water. (I tested it, it doesn’t work, but maybe, somewhere, there’s really moist flour). In the recipe above it for masa dough it says 4 and 1/3 cups of flour plus 1/2 cups of water. I know this is the part that makes your eyes glaze over so let me provide an image:
Masa dough is needed for corn tortillas, so it’s basically the same recipe. How does this work? Okay let’s put aside that as almost identical recipes you have one calling for 8.6 to 1 and the other 5 to 1. We could argue this. Sure! Add three more cups of flour to the mess that didn’t work with the corn tortillas recipe, maybe that will make it better (no I didn’t test it, I only have so many pesos to waste on lost causes). But basic math still applies, right? They say 4.3 cups is equal to 450 grams. Fine. Then 5 cups is also equal to 450 grams. It’s right there. Their basic math is off. (By the way, I even went through the trouble of finding out how much flour weighs and 5 cups is closer to 600 grams).
Let me repeat. This is the worst cookbook ever. The recipes were not tested and I really doubt the author wrote this.
Okay let’s move on to David Sterling who went into great detail about this cookbook, no doubt finally relieving his loved ones of having to hear more, “And another thing… it says right here… how the hell… oh god… seriously though…” (I’m only guessing but considering that this home cook is freaking out, I can’t imagine someone who actually knows what they are doing is holding it together any better.)
David wrote a bit about their guac recipe in his Amazon review and I will include it all here for reference. Feel free to skip ahead because, yup, I actually made it according to the recipe. It didn’t end well.
“As one quick example to satisfy your curiosity, many people know how to make guacamole; maybe they have even done it so many times they don’t need to follow a recipe. Check out this author’s recipe for guacamole on page 40. Maybe you will like this nice, fattening version. The ingredient list specifies “1 avocado, diced”. Is the author (or editorial team) aware that avocados come in a wide range of sizes and weights? Any clues for us home cooks? This recipe is supposed to serve four. In my experience, you should plan on at least one-half medium avocado per person, unless each diner is going to be satisfied with about 1 tablespoon of guacamole. A bizarre instruction tells the cook to “gently fold in the avocado” (which you will recall was diced). No mention of mashing it? Did you ever have guacamole served tableside and watch how the waiters mash everything in the molcajete? The author-slash-editorial team instructs the cook to add 4 tablespoons of olive oil at the end of the recipe. That is one-quarter cup! Eighty-five percent of the calories in avocados come from fat, so I hardly think more is necessary, or even desired. And remember that lonely little single avocado? It has been diced, “folded in” (to 1/2 chopped red onion of indeterminate size) and now the cubes are apparently swimming in a quarter cup of olive oil! Some pop chefs like Tyler Florence may use olive oil in their guacamole, but I can aver that it is not traditional, nor even necessary, unless you want to increase your fat intake.”
Oh David. You don’t even know.
Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly said after only (apparently) reading the author’s resume, seeing the publisher name, feeling the heft of the book and looking at the cover: “For those interested in learning how to make authentic Mexican cuisine, Arronte has provided the definitive guide.”
How to Make Guacamole According to the Definitive Guide on Authenic Mexican Cuisine
Here’s the photo. This is what we’re going for.
Here’s the recipe. In case you can’t read it, it calls for 1 tomato, 1/2 red onion, 1 serrano chile, the juice of 1 lime, 2 tablespoons cilantro, 1 avocado, 4 tablespoons olive oil, salt.
That’s right, one whole tomato, half an onion, one avocado plus 1/4 cup of olive oil. This is not going to work out well. First of all, that’s an insane amount of tomato and onion considering the photo above looks like there’s almost nothing except avocado. A whole serrano? I hope you like heat! Oh and the lovely olive oil, which I have never, ever, heard of in a guacamole recipe. Let’s see how this goes.
I dice the tomato. Already I’m nervous because there’s just one avocado in this recipe.
I have to add half a red onion, a whole serrano pepper and the juice of one lime. I am not going crazy here, I just use local ingredients and go small.
I cut the ends off the onion, remove the thick outer layer… it reduces the onion quite a bit, but still at 1/2 an onion this is a huge amount.
As you can see the onion really dwarfs the tomato.
Okay here we go! Yikes!
Then the serrano pepper. She doesn’t say to remove the seeds, so I don’t. OMG.
This goes with one avocado. Okay. It’s at least as much stuff as two avocados. So our ratio is like 2/3 onions and tomatoes to avocado. Let’s do it!
I add the lime and cilantro, then the avocado. I am not trying to be jerk here, but this is literally what I’m left with… avocado salad.
This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. I then added the olive oil. It was horrible.
I tried to smoosh everything around but you know, she didn’t say use a molcajete, so I left mine in the cabinet. It’s so shiny! Looks just like guac. Sort of.
Let’s taste test:
Yeah Drew, I didn’t tell you, but that’s not right. Sorry. I tasted it too. It’s super oniony, very spicey (which I don’t mind) and weirdly greasy. I mean guacamole should not have oil it, am I right? The saddest part was seeing the pool of oil in the bottom of the bowl:
But just for reference, here is what the cookbook promised:
What I especially love is that they used a molcajete to show the dish but didn’t tell the cooks that they should use one. I have no words. Okay yes I do. These are the publications that gave positive reviews to this cookbook (see below), which only leads me to believe that these reviews can be influenced. It took me 2.2 seconds to see errors in this book. I was reading recipes like, wait, what? So obviously pretty covers, a good name, a nice publisher and a fantastic PR team can get you on the best seller list, home cooks be damned. If this was any other genre this book would have been retracted faster than you can say Jonah Lehrer.
Excuse me while I drain oil out of my guac, add two more avocados and beg my husband for forgiveness. Also, Dear Phaidon… you owe me a cookbook. I also have your Thailand book, but I’m too nervous to crack it open.
“If you want to give your taste buds a gustatory tour of Mexico, then Margarita Carrillo is ready to be your guide with Mexico: The Cookbook, her new, encyclopedic take on her country’s cuisine.” – NPR Morning Edition
“Mexico: The Cookbook does for Mexican food what Julia Child did for French cuisine.” – Vogue.com
“Jammed full of recipes, Mexico: The Cookbook is a work of staggering breadth, but it’s also a pleasure to read, with recipes ranging far from enchiladas suizas.” – The New York Times Book Review
“A showstopper. The recipes are as approachable as they are plentiful. Consider it a necessity.” – VanityFair.com
“Exquisitely beautiful and encyclopedic.” – T Magazine
“Foodies rejoice, this is a cookbook like no other.” – NBCNews.com
“All my life I have wanted to travel through Mexico to learn authentic recipes from each region and now I don’t have to – Margarita has done it for me!” – Eva Longoria
“Absolutely wonderful. I wish I could close my door and read it all day.” – Nancy Wall Hopkins, Senior Deputy Editor–Food & Entertaining, Better Homes and Gardens
“Hasta La Vista, Tex‐Mex. Mexico: The Cookbook may kill your taste for supermarket salsa for good.” – Elle Magazine
“Mexico: The Cookbook promises to introduce even the biggest fans of tort as and tamales to something new about Mexican cuisine and aims to prove that it can be as refined as it is accessible.” – Time.com
“A show‐stopper! Mexico: The Cookbook will make you throw your sad burrito out the window immediately!” – The Kitchn
“Prepare to suffer from hunger pains as you visually chow down… You’ll curse the publishers for only including one book‐marking ribbon.” – Saveur
“Whether you’re a novice or an expert in Mexican cuisine, you’re in good hands here.” – Food52
“Mexico: The Cookbook is a sure‐fire first reference, with beautiful photos throughout. The breadth of this superb, 700‐page cooking bible is astonishing.” – The Globe & Mail
“This beautiful new tome shows us there’s so much more to the country’s cuisine than our usual Chipotle order.” – Metro
“Essential. Your go–to guide to Mexican home cooking.” – Tasting Table
“If ever there was a comprehensive bible of Mexican food, this is it. If you know and love Mexican food, you definitely need this cookbook.” – The Austin Chronicle
“I have long been an admirer of Margarita Carrillo’s work. In her new book, her warm and expert voice shines and proves to be a most delightful guide through the fascinating labyrinth of Mexican cuisine. Every cook, be it expert or beginner, will benefit and savor from this splendid Mexican cookbook with hundreds of tried and true recipes: a must for any Mexican food lover.” – Pati Jinich
“For those interested in learning how to make authentic Mexican cuisine, Arronte has provided the definitive guide.” – Publishers Weekly