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The Basics : Cooking Techniques

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One way to add a nice rustic feel to a dish is to char, or roast, a few of the ingredients. Charring concentrates and deepens the flavor of an ingredient and brings out a subtle sweetness.

It is one of the signature cooking techniques in Mexico where, traditionally, ingredients like chiles, onion, garlic, spices, herbs, tomatillos and tomatoes are charred on comales or directly over the flame. If you don’t have a comal, or don’t want to cook directly over the burner, you can just as easily char ingredients on a grill or in a skillet.

OR, the way I find to be the easiest and fastest: in a pan under the broiler in your oven. Put the ingredients on a large sheet pan leaving plenty of space between them so they roast, not steam, and broil until they are nicely browned on one side. Carefully flip and repeat on the other side.

You want the outside to darken until almost black, and the inside cooked and transformed, but not burnt.

Below are the specific techniques for a couple of the ingredients most often charred in Mexican recipes: tomatoes and garlic.

Charring tomatoes
Charring tomatoes, aside from concentrating and deepening their flavor, brings out their sweetness and juices.

To char or roast tomatoes, you can either place them directly on a grill,  or on an already hot comal or griddle over medium heat, for about 10 minutes, turning them around a couple times. However, for me the easiest method is to place them in a single layer in a baking sheet or shallow pan under the broiler for 7 to 10 minutes. Turn them once in the process.

You know tomatoes are ready once they are completely cooked through and mushy, their skin is charred, blistered and wrinkled, and juices have started to come out.

Charring Garlic
Place unpeeled and pricked cloves (so they don’t make popping sounds) on the already hot comal over medium heat. Turn form time to time until it is charred on the outside and soft but not burnt on the inside, about 6 minutes. You can also place under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes.


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