Modern Mexican Menu

CHEF ON A SHOESTRING, Richard Sandoval
Chef Richard Sandoval began his culinary journey in his native Acapulco working in two highly regarded restaurants his parents owned.

He has since opened his own restaurants in New York, Denver, and Las Vegas -- wowing diners with his modern Mexican menu.

The Saturday Early Show asked him to take our Chef on a Shoestring challenge. We gave Sandoval a $30 budget to create a delicious "modern Mexican" three-course meal for four.

Richard Sandoval grew up in the food business. His parents owned two well-known restaurants in Acapulco, Madeiras and Villa Flore. He attended the Culinary Institute of America and he returned to Mexico upon graduation.

Sandoval opened his first restaurant in New York City in 1992. It did not feature a Mexican menu. Instead, the restaurant featured traditional French cuisine. In 1997, he opened "Maya" in N.Y.C. Maya opened the doors to what he calls "modern Mexican" cuisine. The restaurant and Sandoval soon became local culinary celebrities earning a 2-star review from The New York Times and sparking a citywide love affair with all things Mexican.

Maya, San Francisco followed directly behind and earned 3 stars from the ever-discerning San Francisco Chronicle.

In 2001, Richard Sandoval headed west to bring his bold inventive style of gourmet Mexican cooking to an initially skeptical Denver, Colorado audience. Tamayo has been very successful in Denver.

Back in New York, Sandoval partnered with famed opera star Placido Domingo to bring Modern Mexican seafood to midtown with Pompano. The restaurant specializing in the coastal cuisine of Mexico received a 2-star review from The New York Times and was voted one of "The Best New Restaurants in America" by Esquire magazine. That same year, Sandoval was named one of the "Best Chefs of 2003" in New York Magazine -- further solidifying his reputation as the Modern Mexican chef in America, and soon the world.

In 2004, Richard Sandoval will have two new restaurants. Zengo brings Latin-Asian fusion to Riverfront Park located in bustling downtown Denver and Isla will bring the energy and excitement of Mexico to TI (formerly Treasure Island) in Las Vegas.

Sandoval's menu as our Chef on a Shoestring: an appetizer of Give 'n Take Chicken Salad; an entrée of Pork Chops With Pineapple Compote; and for dessert, Banana Empanadas.


Adobo: Of Mexican origin, this dark-red, rather piquant sauce (or paste) is made from ground chiles, herbs and vinegar, according to "The New Food Lover's Companion." It's used as a marinade as well as a serving sauce. Chipotle chiles are often marketed packed in adobo sauce.

Empanada: Empanar is Spanish for "to bake in pastry," and these Mexican and Spanish specialties are usually single-serving turnovers with a pastry crust and savory meat-and-vegetable filling. They can also be filled with fruit and served as dessert. Empanadas range in size from the huge empanada gallega, large enough to feed an entire family, to empanaditas--tiny, ravioli-size pastries, according to "The New Food Lover's Companion."

Brine: Sandoval uses a brine to bring out the flavor his pork chops and also to tenderize the meat. Traditionally, a strong solution of water and salt used for pickling or preserving foods. A sweetener such as sugar or molasses is sometimes added to brine. You can also add a variety of other herbs or spices to impart some flavor to the meat.

Give 'n Take Chicken Salad
4 servings

1 5-ounce chicken breast, roasted and shredded

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Rub the chicken breast with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Place in a baking dish. Roast in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let the chicken meat cool. Then shred into bite-sized pieces. You can prepare the chicken a day in the advance if you wish.

Salad Mix
1 pound shredded napa cabbage, shredded)
1/2 pound shredded red cabbage
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup bean sprout
8 pieces wonton skin, julienned and fried (see method below)
1/4 cup scallions, julienned

Fried Wontons
In a heavy-bottomed pot, add 3 cups of canola oil to the pot. Get the oil hot.

Meanwhile, stack the 8 pieces of wonton skins on a cutting board. Julienne the skins. Place the skins into the hot oil (they will fry very quickly). Remove them with a slotted spoon or a spider when the wontons turn golden brown.

Let the wontons drain on paper towel.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
1/4 cup yellow onion, peeled, finely diced
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons scallions, julienned

1 cup walnuts, rough chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter warmed to room temperature
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
1 tablespoon honey

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl, combine all the salad mix ingredients together. Make sure to toss well. Set aside.

In a separate non-reactive bowl, combine the yellow onion and the ginger together first. Then whisk in the remaining dressing ingredients. In another bowl, toss nuts with butter, chili flakes and honey. Then place the nuts mixture into a baking dish or place on a baking sheet. Bake until medium brown in color, which will take approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Set aside and let cool.

Add to the salad mix bowl the shredded chicken, the dressing, and the nut mixture. Toss well. Serve.

Chuleta de Puerco
Pork Chops with Pineapple Compote and Sauce

4 servings

Pork Chop:
4 5-ounce pork chops, frenched, with bone-in

1 quart water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 apple, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, rough chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, rough chopped
1/2 cup achiote (optional)
5 pieces star anise (optional)
1 orange, peeled, segmented

1 8 ounces can of pineapple, chopped
1/2 cup mango puree (see method below)
2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
3 tablespoon white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Mango Puree:
Peel the mango. Dice the mango into 1/2-cubes.

Place the diced mango into a food processor, and puree smooth.

Strain into a bowl using a fine mesh strainer to remove any chunks.

1 cup store bought adobo
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

The day before:
In a large bowl, whisk brine ingredients together until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Place the pork chops in the brine for 24 hours.

Cover the bowl. Place in the refrigerator.

The day of:
Remove the pork chops from the brine liquid. Discard the liquid.

In a non-stick pan, add 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and pan fry to desired doneness. Chef Sandoval prefers his pork chop cooked to medium. This will take about 4 minutes on one side and then flip over and cook for another 3 minutes. You may have to pan fry the pork chops in batches. Do not crowd the plate.

Combine all compote ingredients in saucepan. Cook 5 to 8 minutes or until pineapple is semi-soft on medium heat. Transfer to blender and pulse so compote is rough, not smooth.

In a non-reactive bowl, combine the sauce ingredients together. Set aside.

To plate, place pork chop on plate and spoon some compote over each pork chop. Ladle some sauce around each plate.

Empanadas de Plátano -- Banana Empanadas
4 servings

Ingredients For the Filling:
1 banana, peeled and sliced thinly
1/8 cup walnuts chopped
1 teaspoon crème fraiche (or sour cream mixed with heavy cream, see below)
1/4 teaspoon white sugar
1 package puff pastry, thawed
1 large eggs, lightly beaten

Chef's Note: If you can't find creme fraiche, you can combine 1/2 cup sour cream with 3 tablespoons of heavy cream. Whisk together well. Set aside until ready to use.

Garnish Suggestions: You may serve this dish with all of the garnishes below or choose two. For our chef segment, Chef Sandoval will serve the empanadas with sour cream/heavy cream mixture or creme creme fraiche and the raspberry sauce.

creme fraiche or heavy cream/sour cream mixed
shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
raspberry sauce - Pureed Frozen Strawberries
coconut ice cream
4 fresh strawberries, halved

Remaining Ingredient:
Canola Oil for Frying

In a medium bowl, combine the banana, walnuts, the sour cream/heavy cream (creme fraiche), and white sugar. Set aside.

On a cutting board, unfold one of the puff pastry sheets. Using 4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 4 circles from sheet. Brush each with a beaten egg.

Slightly off center of each circle, spoon 1 tablespoon of banana mixture.

Fold one side over the filling and crimp the edges together to seal.

Place on a sheet of waxed paper and repeat with remaining filling and circles.

In a deep saucepan, heat 3 to 4 inches of oil until it registers 350 degrees F on a deep fat frying thermometer. Working in batches, fry the empanadas, turning over form time to time with slotted spoon, until crisp and golden brown (5 to 10 minutes).

With a slotted spoon, transfer empanadas to a rack over paper towels to drain.

Alternate cooking method: As Chef Sandoval discussed on the show, the empanadas can be baked in a 350 degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes.

To Serve:

Cut the warm empanadas in half, and arrange on plates. Garnish with any of the garnish suggestions.