In 2010, The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed traditional French and Mexican cuisines on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is the first time that a nation's cuisine has made the list. While any good foodie knows the immense importance of French cuisine, I am glad that Mexican cuisine is finally getting it's due! Mexican cuisine, built on a foundation of corn, beans, and chili peppers, is a fusion of indigenous Mesoamerican and European cuisines (especially Spanish) following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the early 1500s. But did you know that the French have influence as well?
Following Mexico's independence from Spain (1810-1821), in which immigration was previously prohibited by Spanish authorities, the first wave of French immigrants arrived in Veracruz in the 1830s. At the time, the Mexican economy was weak and had many loans from France and were default on all of them! Many incidences of French immigrants losing their lives and/or property due to inebriated Mexican officials and criminals occurred. After a report by restaurant owner Monsieur Remontel that an assault on his pastry supply valued at 60,000 pesos had occurred, the French demanded 600,000 pesos for alleged losses of property. Mexico refused to pay. So, in 1838 a French fleet began a blockade of Mexico's east coast seaports, launching war. French troops invaded Veracruz and defeated the Mexican troops. After British intervention, Mexico finally agreed to pay the 600,000 pesos thus ending the war. This little known page from Mexico's history was dubbed by a French journalist as "The Pastry War."
Thirty years later, in July of 1861, Mexico's President Benito Jaurez suspended interest payments to all foreign countries, angering their major creditors, specifically Spain, France, and Britain. Napoleon wanted military intervention in order to ensure European access to Latin American markets. On October 31, the three European powers signed the Treaty of London to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On December 8, British, Spanish, and French fleets arrived in Veracruz. However, when the British and Spanish realized that France planned to seize all of Mexico (known as The French Intervention in Mexico), they quickly withdrew. The French fought many battles with Mexican troops, including their defeat in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, becoming the Cinco de Mayo holiday we love today. With more and more French troops arriving, they finally seized the capital. In 1863, backed by Napoleon, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (Emperor Maximiliano of Mexico) was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico. In 1864, the new emperor along with his wife Princess Charlotte of Belgium (Empress Carlota of Mexico), arrived in Veracruz to "wild enthusiasm" from the crowds.
Maximilian and Carlota chose their seat in Mexico City and were known for lavish feasts morning, noon, and night. Upon Carlota's insistence, French cuisine was always on the menu. Following the Emperor and Empress, French cuisine was embraced by the upper classes, promoting "la comida afrancescada" or "Frenchified cooking." Unfortunately for Maximilian and Carlota, their reign did not last long. After the end of the American Civil War, the US increased diplomatic pressure to persuade Napoleon to end support of Maximilian and withdraw French troops, which he did in 1866. Carlota fled to Europe to seek assistance for her husband where she had a nervous breakdown and lived the rest of her life in seclusion, perhaps in a mental facility in Belgium. Maximilian was executed in Mexico on June 19, 1867.
During the years that followed, French influences permeated Mexican cuisine, incorporating French terms and sauces to the Mexican culinary repertoire. In addition, native ingredients worked exceedingly well with French techniques. Although many may believe these dishes are new to Mexican cuisine, they are actually offshoots of the French-Mexican culinary fusion of the 19th century! Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 French Mexicans in the state of Veracruz alone! If you are at all interested in the fusion of French-Mexican cuisine, or would like a sophisticated take on the flavors of Mexico with a French twist, I strongly recommend making "Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Cream Sauce!" It is so absolutely delicious! As this recipe incorporates French and Mexican techniques (both of which can be time-consuming), plan to make some of the parts ahead of time, e.g., crepes and sauce a day or two in advance. I promise you'll love it! Vive la France! Viva la Mexico!
Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Cream Sauce
For the crepes
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
Additional melted butter, for cooking the crepes
For the sauce
6 large poblano chiles (For more on poblanos, see For the Love of Poblanos!)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warm whole milk
1/2 cup fresh whipping cream
1 cup coarsely grated queso manchego, Muenster cheese (about 4 ounces)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 fresh corn kernels (if not available, use frozen or even can)
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish
For the mushroom filling
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cups white onions, chopped
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced (a combination of wild mushrooms works very well here, but remember to never eat the shiitake stems - they are too tough!)
2 tablespoons minced epazote or fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons minced garlic
For the crepes (Can be made 2 days ahead, wrap, and chill.)
Blend milk, eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and salt in blender 5 seconds. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, blending batter until smooth after each addition. Let rest 1-2 hours. Reblend batter 5 seconds before using.
Heat a nonstick skillet or crepe pan (see Gadgets) over medium-high heat until hot. Coat the pan lightly with butter and pour in about 1/4 cup of the batter. Lift the pan from the heat, tilting and rotating, to allow the batter to spread evenly. Return the pan to the heat and allow to cook until dry on top and lightly browned on the edges. Loosen the edges with a plastic or rubber spatula and flip the crepe over using your fingers or spatula, then cook the other side for about 15 seconds, or until lightly browned. (For pictures, see Crazy Crepe Man!) Remove the crepe to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the crepes as they are cooked.
For the sauce (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Whisk over medium heat until just warm before continuing.)
Char chiles directly over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag or bowl covered in plastic wrap for 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and thinly slice chiles. Set aside. (See Techniques)
Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; saute until soft, about 2 minutes. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and continue to cook 1 minute. Whisk in warm milk and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 5 minutes. Pour sauce into blender. Add cream and half of roasted chiles (reserve remaining chiles for garnish). Blend sauce until smooth. Season with salt (at least 1 tsp or so) and pepper. Set aside.
For the mushroom filling
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, epazote or cilantro, and garlic. Saute until mushrooms are brown and mushroom liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Finishing the dish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a baking sheet with some canola oil or line with parchment. Arrange 1 crepe, brown spots up, on work surface. Place 2 packed tablespoons filling in the center. Fold crepe in half, then half again, forming a triangle. Place filled crepe on prepared sheet. Repeat with the remaining crepes until filling is gone. (Can be filled and folded 1 day ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use.)
Pour 1/4 cup sauce into the center of 6 ovenproof plates. Top each with 2 filled crepes. Pour 1/4 cup sauce over. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts, about 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons canola oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add reserved poblano chiles and corn; saute until heated through, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt.
Garnish crepes with sauteed chiles and corn, then cilantro sprigs, and serve. Mmmmm!
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit and Mexconnect.com.