On May 5th, 1862, Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin and his army were taking part in one of the worlds favorite pastimes – kicking the French Army’s butt. Known as “The Battle of Puebla” this was the end of 8,000 well armed French troops against a mere 4,500 Mexicans. The celebration of this unlikely victory is what ultimately came to be known to most of us as “Cinco de Mayo”.
Earlier in 1861, the French fleet had landed in Veracruz and chased El Presidente Juarez and his cronies into the hills. While the May 5th victory was a big boost to Mexican morale, it didn’t take long for the French to overtake Mexico city and install Maximilian as ruler of Mexico. Soon, the American Civil war winds down and the US focuses its attention on booting the French once and for all out of Mexico. Napoleon III is fighting a multi-front war (he has that nasty Prussian issue to deal with on the continent) at this point and gives up the ghost stranding our hero Maximilian. So in 1866 the Mexican guerrillas retake Mexico city with Benito Juarez and execute Maximilian and his friends. Politics are indeed muy peligroso.
Why all this history? Because Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican independence day. That would be September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican Culture in the United States and is strongly associated with the South Western states more than it is in Mexico. The French were trying to break up the union by supplying the confederacy – and any friend of the confederacy was an enemy of the United States at the time. And so we celebrate as we have been doing for 100 years.
Which leads me (and most of the West coast) to my excuse to throw a hum-dinger of a BBQ party. This weekend, the Quincho gets its first real workout since it’s construction. We’ll take the left over pulled pork from our last slow smoking session and use that to build our beans with. Making beans is a hot topic of debate in the BBQ world – the ones we make out here West of the Rockies are what’s known as “Ranch Style” beans. Spicy, a little soupy and a perfect accompaniment to Santa Maria tri-tip. They are quite simple to master – here’s how I make them. Note there aren’t any measurements as I never measure these things – it’s always to taste.
First, I start with a base of pork. This is either thick-cut, smoky bacon, left over rib meat or left over pulled pork. I use anywhere from half a pound to a pound. Depending on what you use you may need a little oil to get the party started. Cook this over high heat to render the fat and crisp up the meat. To this I add a minced onion, a clove of garlic or two and a minced seeded jalapeno. Continue cooking the vegetables until they are tender. Deglaze everything with a can of chicken stock. Let this simmer and reduce by about a third. I then add a 12oz bottle of Negra Modelo (Mexican dark beer), and a can of Las Palmas Enchilada sauce (the preferred brand in these parts). Get this to a simmer and reduce again. Add two cans of pinto beans (drained and rinsed), and a diced ripe tomato. Let this cook at a simmer for 20 minutes, then stir in about a quarter cup chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Serve hot with a dollop of Mexican crema.
So break out a cold one this weekend, make some frijoles and grill up whatever comes to mind. Even if it is something French. Viva El Quincho!