If you’re not familiar with bacanora – who am I kidding, you probably aren’t – I’ll give the short description. Bacanora is mezcal’s obscure northern cousin, or one of the many little known liquors of Mexico, one only now receiving attention as tequila has ceded some room in the spotlight.
Hailing from the state of Sonora, and the town of Bacanora, this mezcal variety is heavy on the smoke, big on character, and still largely produced at the small batch level.
It is that very smoke-heavy flavor of bacanora which makes it an ideal pairing with sweet fruit flavors. Nothing of the smoke is lost in the combination, only enhanced. While the egg white in this cocktail is not strictly necessary, it does add a pleasant body to the drink, as well as a beautiful foam.
Hibiscus flowers are not used only for beverages in Mexico, also being eaten in savory crunchy tacos, mixed with potatoes, chiles and occasionally cheese. Using the flowers in this way isn’t surprising at all once the very meaty texture of the rehydrated flower is experienced.
This recipe takes advantage of the leftover flowers from a batch of agua de jamaica. There’s absolutely no reason to waste this still useful ingredient. Combined with the the strong beefy flavor of short ribs and the earthy heat of New Mexico chiles, jamaica flowers bring a light floral flavor to an otherwise straight forward dish.
Though short ribs are used in this recipe, any other braising cut of beef would substitute just as well. New Mexico chiles are frequently found in sweet and hot varieties, with the occasional ‘medium’ thrown in. Do not take the warning of hot lightly, even those ‘sweet’ chiles will be spicier than the average anaheim (aka California) or ancho chile. If these chiles are not available, dry anaheim, ancho, or guajillo chiles will do just fine, though each has their own particular flavor.
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown on all sides over medium high heat in a dutch oven. Remove the ribs from the pot and add chopped vegetables, seasoning with salt and pepper and scraping any browned bits from the bottom. Sweat until onions just become translucent. Add garlic and bay leaf and cook until fragrant. Deglaze with dry red wine (or your average lager style beer will do), cooking until dry. Return short ribs to the pot, along with enough cold water to cover them almost completely. Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer, cover and braise for approximately two hours, or until the short ribs begin to tenderize.
Add the dried chiles to the pot and gently simmer until soft, approximately 15 minutes. Remove the chiles, along with some bits of onions, celery and carrots, and place in a blender. Add just enough of the braising liquid to keep the blender blades moving, pureeing until completely smooth.
Carefully remove the short ribs from the pot. Strain the braising liquid, skimming as much as the fat from the surface as possible. Return the ribs and braising liquid to the pot, adding the reconstituted hibiscus and straining the red chile into the liquid. Check for seasoning. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes, or until the short ribs are fork tender.
Serve with a generous portion of the sauce and cooked hibiscus.
For other savory hibiscus recipes, check out Lesley Téllez’ wonderful book, Eat Mexico, which includes a recipe for jamaica quesadillas.
Hot hibiscus beverages are one of those things I can’t accept. Hibiscus has a sharp tart flavor which is wonderful cold, but warm, it feels like a molten acid wash exposing a fresh layer to my insides. I exaggerate, as usual, but this weightless flower contains a strong tart flavor. Only a small amount is needed to properly flavor a large batch of agua de jamaica, fortunate as this is an expensive ingredient, usually selling for $8 a pound or more.
Look for hibiscus which is bright in color and dry but still pliable. Even with its considerable tartness, my preference for agua de jamaica is for it to be just barely sweet. There’s no reason to throw away the hibiscus after steeping, not when the flowers could easily be used to flavor simple syrup, the kind hipster mixologists have been putting into pricey cocktails.
Rinse the flowers under running cold water. Squeeze out any remaining water.
Bring one quart water and hibiscus flowers to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to infuse at room temperature for at least an hour.
Strain, pressing down with the back of a spoon to extract any liquid from the flowers. Add the sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. Add the remaining quart of water and refrigerate. Consume within three days.