Trends in Mexican Cuisine
Healthy, sustainable, produce-based ingredients and techniques dominate the modern food landscape in 2019. Mexican food will be no exception, with chefs focusing on clean, vegetable-heavy cuisine of the Baja region. Because it is located between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, ingredients like mussels, clams, sea urchin, tuna and octopus are plentiful.
Popular Mexican chefs (think Javier Plascencia of Misión 19, Finca Altozano and Erizo; Miguel Angel Guerrero of La Querencia and El Almazara; and Jair Téllez of the lauded Laja) are using this fresh seafood in combination with the wine of Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe and many fresh produce items grown there, such as tomatoes, green onions, strawberries and cilantro. Baja, sometimes called Baja Med, combines Mexican recipes (mole, fish tacos and ceviche) with European and Asian ingredients like seaweed, hard cheeses, lemongrass, squid ink and olives.
Be on the lookout for ingredients with an authentic edge, like hand-ground blue corn tortillas, a variety of fresh ceviche, house-made mole pastes and sauces, bold citrus juice and zest, charred vegetables (think nopales, avocados and white/green onions), cauliflower and mushrooms as meat replacements, and long-simmered stews like birrias and guisados. Don’t be surprised to also see more adventurous items that support the nose-to-tail style of cooking (lengua, cockscombs and pigs’ ears) as well as insects such as fried crickets and escamol (agave ant larvae and pupae).
Dishes like ceviche and aguachile are booming. Fresh fish combined with tangy notes of citrus (be daring and use yuzu, blood orange, oro blancos) and other strong flavors (cilantro, papalo, guajillo chiles and shiso) are perfect for the increasing number of diners with more sophisticated palates.
Tacos aren’t going away, instead they’re getting more and more authentic. Chefs are importing heirloom corn and hiring Latin grandmothers to make in-house tortillas, while salsas are moving beyond tomatoes over to tomatillos, prickly pears and charred chayote.
Open-fire and grill cooking, especially charring and smoking continue to gain popularity—boosting complexity without added calories.
Mole is being explored—the many different varieties instead of just black or brown pre-made pastes. Green moles made with pumpkin seeds, red moles made with vibrant chiles and yellow moles accented with annatto seeds; these are labor-intensive recipes in which chefs are investing time.
Teach Them Well
For those customers not familiar with regional Mexican ingredients and/or cuisines, some education may be needed to coax them into ordering what might be their new favorite dish.
Oaxacan mole: Research the long history behind the infinite number of variations, be sure to know the main types, and explain the multitudes of ingredients. Your menu doesn’t need to be a history book, but some basic background and flavor comparisons can go a long way.
Ceviche: Try reaching beyond the usual fish or shrimp and use Baja-rich ingredients such as abalone, octopus and mussels as well as contrasting spicy and sour flavors.
Sea vegetables: Sea beans, a.k.a. Salicornia, are branch-like beans with intensely salty notes that work especially well with fish. Introducing different types of nutrient-dense seaweeds is a great way to lend brilliant colors and interesting textures.
Guisados are comida casero, or home cooking. They are stewed or braised dishes made with meats, produce, spices and love (making you recall your—or your friend’s—grandma’s meals). Simple recipes that are long-simmered, guisados are usually served with a simple consomme.