The ultimate Cinco de Mayo party menu

The ultimate Cinco de Mayo party menu

When you live in California, Cinco de Mayo isn’t a single day of celebration. It’s more of a 365-day holiday. Or it should be, because whether you hail from the Bay Area or Southern California, chances are good that you revel in margaritas and tacos all year round.

“Yes, we do!” says chef Deborah Schneider, from San Diego’s SOL Cocina. “It’s so funny. It’s really an American holiday with a go-for-broke party, a time to be silly and enjoy.”

Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of an 1862 battle between the Mexican and French armies in Puebla — but the big celebrations are held north of the border. Go figure. We suppose it’s fallout from the Saint Paddy effect, which turns everyone wildly, greenly Irish in mid-March, or the Hans phenomenon that renders them boisterously Bavarian during Oktoberfest. Or — even likelier — it’s the tasty food. Our passion for tacos, salsa and glorious guacamole makes a Cinco de Mayo party a must.

Of course, for chefs like Schneider and Joanne Weir, co-owner of Sausalito’s Copita, that party runs all year round. So who better to offer advice on throwing the ultimate taco party?

“I always lead with margaritas. Shots are a bad idea!” Schneider says. “My other essentials are stick-on mustaches, which double as Frida Kahlo eyebrows for the ladies. We play Mexican pop music and serve fish tacos, carne asada, guacamole, salsas and other good things.”

Tequila and fresh lime are a near-unbeatable cocktail combination, but margaritas have additional benefits for party hosts, who can dilute the cocktails as the night progresses, Schneider says, or serve them sans alcohol for designated drivers. And they’re an easy cocktail to serve. Weir makes both her signature Copita Margarita and her serrano-spiked Hot Lips version in batches and serves them in pitchers or poured into individual glasses or — even better — in canning jars stashed on ice.

“Fill a big galvanized metal tub with ice and canning jars, so people can just pick them up,” the James Beard award-winning cookbook author and culinary instructor says.

Drop an oversized ice cube into the jar or glass and you can control the serving size and melt rate better. Besides, she says, giant ice cubes look great.

Chips, guacamole and salsas are musts for any Mexican-themed party, and even the most classic fare can be customized any which way. Start with Schneider’s pico de gallo, featured in her new cookbook, “Salsas and Moles” (Ten Speed Press, $16.99, 152 pages). The salsa — the name refers to a rooster’s beak — includes chopped fresh Roma tomatoes, a little white or red onion, minced jalapeño, fresh cilantro and enough fresh lime juice to make it zippy — 1 tablespoon of lime juice to 3 tomatoes.

But the Yucatán version is xni-pec, she says by phone from San Diego: “It means ‘dog nose’ in Mayan. They put habanero in to make your nose run. Or add mango, pineapple or even cucumber. I love cucumber in pico de gallo. It makes it crunchy, almost like a salad. Maybe add a little shrimp, too.”

Multiple salsas are always good thing, Schneider says, and her restaurant’s most popular table salsa is the Black Bean Salsa Borracho: “We use it as a dip. It’s really good — and it doesn’t drip.”

Weir’s favorite is a vibrantly hued salsa verde, made with tomatillos, lime juice, garlic, chiles, cilantro and a last-minute flourish of fresh mint. “It is so fabulous,” she says. “You throw everything in the blender, except the mint. Add chunks of avocado — or save the avocado for guacamole. Everyone loves guacamole. I think you have to make it.”

A ceviche with fresh scallops or aguachiles with shrimp makes an easy, refreshing dish. And, of course, you have to do tacos.

“Tacos are everyone’s favorite,” Weir says. “People just love that with carne asada, fried oysters or chicken tinga.”

Her chicken tinga starts with a slow simmer of tomatoes, onions and enough garlic to banish any Cinco de Mayo-loving vampires, then amps up the flavor with chipotle chiles, adobo sauce and brown sugar. Shredded, roasted — or rotisseried — chicken is added for the final simmer, then tucked into warm corn tortillas and embellished with salsa verde and a squeeze of lime.

“This is how I would entertain on Cinco de Mayo,” Weir says. “I don’t want people to spend hours and hours.” So rather than lavishing hours on time-intensive desserts to round out the menu, Weir whips up Oaxacan Chocolate Milkshakes. She blends rich dark chocolate ice cream with a couple of ice cubes, a dash of minced chipotle en adobo, ground chile guajillo and ground cinnamon — “plus a good splash of anejo tequila.”

Ole.

 

This post was originally published in April 2015.


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Publish date : 2018-05-04 20:46:00
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