Winner of the 1968 James Beard Award, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz’s debut cook book The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking is a culinary tour de force. Ortiz digs deep into the rich culinary legacy of Mexico offering an extensive masterclass in the creation of various mole and pipian sauces while utilizing a diverse range of red and green chiles.
It’s this commitment to detail and complex authenticity which sets it apart from its rivals. As wife to Mexican diplomat Cesar Ortiz Tinoco, she had ample time and curiosity in while living Mexico to immerse herself in the food there. And ample bravery as well.
In comparison to Victor Bergeron’s Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook who writes of his trip to the food markets of Guadalajara:
In one stall a little woman had a charcoal broiler made from a 5 gallon oil can. There was a variety of tired little pieces of meat which she broiled or stewed in all manner of funny little sauces. The aroma made us want to taste some of her wares but we didn’t dare.Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook, pg 181
One has to wonder if Bergeron was a little chagrined by the time his cookbook reached shelves in 1968 only to find the newly praised, award winning cookbook of Ortiz de-mystifying the culinary recipes he himself eschewed in favor of the more approachable Tex-Mex aesthetic. Probably not. Bergeron was a canny entrepreneur and no doubt knew exactly what he was looking for in creating his Senor Pico empire.
Nevertheless, in a head to head match, there can be no doubt as to who the winner would be. Ortiz’s in-depth account of Mexican cuisine is a true culinary treasure and one of the finest cookbooks ever made on the subject.
This book has been an absolute pleasure to work through and I am sure to discover more recipes in the future. But, for the moment, here are my favorites to date.
Part I – The Corn Kitchen
Part II – Soups
Part III – Dry Soups
Part IV – Salsas (Sauces)
Part V – Huevos (Eggs)
Part VI – Pescados (Fish)
Part VII – Poultry
Part VIII – Carnes (Meats)
Carne de Res Con Tomatillos (Beef wtih Green Tomatoes Saltillo Style)
Part IX – Vegetables
Part X – Desserts
Part XI – Drinks