Spice Things Up with “Chopped” Chef Aarón Sánchez

Chef Aaron Sanchez

This holiday season, why not kick it up a notch in the kitchen? Toss out the traditional Christmas ham or New Year’s oysters (that’s a thing, right?) and instead make these savory, delicious Latin dishes from chef Aarón Sánchez.

Chef Sánchez took some time off from running his restaurant, Johnny Sánchez, tying with the Iron Chef, co-starring in “Chopped”, hosting the Emmy-nominated “Taco Trip,” hosting two more Spanish-language cooking shows, and writing cookbooks celebrating Mexican food, to travel to Argentina for some gastro-inspiration. He wanted to learn more about how they pair foods with wine varietals, like the famous Argentinian Malbec and the Torrontés, a white indigenous grape varietal. He came home with a wealth of new recipes, sharing a couple with us.

“I wanted to combine the recipes and techniques of Mexico that I was raised with and infuse some Argentinian flare,” Chef Sánchez tells us. “Grilling outdoors is also so applicable to American culture because we like to BBQ a lot here in the states, so I like to think of this as a marriage between the three cultures. Adding spices, herbs and other fresh ingredients that are indigenous to Argentina in traditional Mexican recipes is what really makes these dishes special.”

These recipes, focusing on Argentinian and Mexican traditions for bright, complex flavors simply prepared, will put a pep in your holiday step and are sure to blow the minds of your friends and family. Plus, learning new cooking methods is a great way to kick off the New Year.

chef aaron sanchez adobo pork ribs

Adobo Rubbed Pork Ribs

Makes 6 servings

What you’ll need:

  • 5 lbs. St. Louis-style pork ribs
  • 1 small carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stems, roughly chopped
  • á1 small onion, chopped,
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 6 whole peppercorns
  • Aarón’s Adobo, for seasoning (see below for recipe)
  • Ancho Agave Glaze, for seasoning (also see below)

Cut the ribs in half or in sections of four bones so they fit in a large pot.

In a large pot, add the ribs, carrot, celery, onion, garlic cloves, salt and peppercorns and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to let simmer for approximately 1 hour, until the meat is tender but not falling off the bone.

Remove the bones from the water and lay flat on a baking sheet. Immediately season both sides with adobo seasoning and cover with plastic wrap or foil. Place the ribs, bone-side down, and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes or until hot.

Flip them over and brush the bone side of the ribs with the ancho-agave glaze and cook for another 5 minutes. Flip again, so the glaze side is on the grill, and brush the meat side with the glaze and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the already-glazed side.

Remove ribs from the grill and glaze one last time before serving.

Adobo Seasoning:

  • ¼ cup cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 2 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, deveined, torn into quarter-sized pieces
  • 4 tablespoons dried whole oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons Spanish paprika (pimento), preferably sweet or hot

Heat a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cumin, coriander, fennel, mustard seeds, and toast, stirring constantly until it is very aromatic, approximately 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Using the same skillet, toast the chiles until aromatic, approximately 3-5 minutes.

Let the spices and chiles cool to room temperature then add spices, chiles, and oregano to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Store in airtight container.

Ancho Agave Glaze

  • 4 ancho chiles, stems removed
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon adobo seasoning
  • 1 cup agave syrup

In a medium-sized skillet, toast the chiles on medium heat until fragrant. Immediately transfer chiles to a plastic container with enough hot water to cover and let stand, covered, for about 20 minutes. Make sure the chiles stay submerged fully in the water.

In a blender, add the chiles, garlic, and 1 cup of the water used to cover the chiles in the previous step. Puree until smooth. Remove and let cool.

chef aaron sanchez makes argentine dishes

If you’re looking for a beef option, try:

Churrasco with Creamy Papas con Rajas

Makes 4 servings

What you’ll need:

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, halved and diced
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 2 potatoes
  • ½ crema mexicana
  • ¼ cup chihuahua cheese, shredded
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 8-oz. pieces of beef tenderloin or skirt steak
  • ¼ cup Aarón’s Adobo (see below, slightly different this time)
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 350℉. Wash the potatoes and prick them all over with a fork, which will allow the steam to escape while cooking. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for about an hour, until tender. Remove the potatoes from oven and let them cool at room temperature. Once cooled, using your hands or a fork, break potatoes into small, bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Roast peppers on an open flame on the grill or stove top until skin gets black and charred, transfer to a plastic bag and let the peppers steam in it so the skin gets loose; about 10 minutes. Peel the skin off and remove most of the seeds. Slice the peppers and set aside.

Combine 3 tablespoons of olive oil, onions, and garlic in a small skillet and set the pan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often until brown and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and put the garlic and onions in a bowl. Using the same pan, over high heat, heat the rest of the olive oil.

Once hot, carefully add the potatoes, cook until brown and crispy, turning only once. When the potatoes are crispy, add the garlic, onions, and poblano peppers to the pan and cook for 3 minutes then add the cheese, crema, and combine until cheese is fully melted and becomes creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper and reserve warm.

Preheat a grill to high. Season each steak with salt and 1 tablespoon of Aarón’s Adobo. Grill the meat for 4-5 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer the steaks to a platter to rest. Slice the meat once rested, put the meat on a serving plate and spoon the potatoes on the side. Sprinkle with the fresh cilantro and server right away.

Adobo Seasoning:

  • ¼ cup cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup coriander seeds
  • ¼ cup fennel seeds
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard
  • 2 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, deveined, torn into small pieces
  • ½ cup dried whole oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • ¼ cup Spanish paprika (pimento), preferably sweet or hot

Heat a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cumin, coriander, fennel, mustard seeds, and toast, stirring constantly until it is very aromatic, approximately 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Using the same skillet, toast the chiles until aromatic, approximately 3-5 minutes.

Let the spices and chiles cool to room temperature then add spices, chiles, and oregano to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Store in airtight container.

Chef Sánchez suggests serving these dishes with a Malbec and particularly likes Terrazas de los Andes Reserva. “[Their] Malbec is fresh with a great acidity, so it is very versatile,” he explains. “It pairs so well with a variety of different meats and herbs, which contributes to why it is a traditional Argentinian wine. This varietal is full bodied and doesn’t get overpowered by strong spices, bold proteins or complex flavor combinations, which is exactly what you need for these kinds of recipes.” 

¡Buen provecho!