It is truly a beautiful time of year to be in Mexico, important religious images are displayed, altars are decorated at home and in the streets, and flower decorations and palm crosses are everywhere. Semana Santa (Holy Week) begins with Domingo de Ramas (Palm Sunday) and lasts Easter Sunday or Pascua. Since nearly 90% of Mexicans are Catholic, Holy Week is one of the important holidays, second only to Christmas. It is also the release from the sacrifices of Lent, which began this year on Ash Wednesday, March 9.
As with Mexican food, each region celebrates a little differently, but pretty much the whole country participates in the tradition of breaking cascarones, colored egg shells filled with confetti, on the heads of friends and family. Churches everywhere will be full tomorrow for Easter Sunday mass.
As with each Mexican holiday season, certain food specialties began to appear in local markets just before its onset. For the Lenten period, you’ll typically find “very large dried shrimp for caldos (broths) and tortitas (croquettes), perfect heads of cauliflower for tortitas de coliflor (cauliflower croquettes), seasonal romeritos” (this, according to Chef Claudia of Can Cook in Cancun, whose recipe for romeritos is below). Also common are Pambazo which are special sandwiches drenched in a salsa (recipe below) and capirotada (bread pudding) and aguas frescas. For the Mission’s best Capirotada you’ll want to hit El Mejor Panaderia on 24th between Mission and Bartlett.
“All of Mexico celebrates Semana Santa, but certain cities and villages are better known for celebrating the holiday, and often provide reenactments of the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion on the cross. The best known cities are Ixtapalapa (in Mexico City), Pátzcuaro, San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas), and Taxco. Smaller and silent torch lit processions, Processión del Silencio, also take place in Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosí. ” according to Playa Maya News. As with so many Mexican festivities, the re-enactments are colorful and amazing, fully-staged with costumes and acted, with participants preparing for their roles well before Lent even begins. PMV continues, “The most moving event of Semana Santa is the reenactment of the Passion of Christ, or the Passion Play. The event’s in the mentioned cities are sponsored by religious or community groups, and can include large processions of penitents, sometimes on their knees, a portrayal of the last supper and the crucifixion itself”
Pambazos are softer than regular Mexican bolillos, so use bread rolls, sometimes known as peasant bread, rather than French rolls, you’ll find these at King’s Bakery on Mission and 25th.
For the pambazos:
- Pulled chicken breast (start with 2 whole breasts)
To make pulled chicken, place bone-in breasts with skin on in a large saucepan, cover well with water to which you add a couple of celery stalks, carrots (old ones are fine), Mexican oregano, salt, 1/2 a Spanish onion and couple of cloves of garlic. Boil for at least an hour until chicken meat falls right off the bone. Reserve the broth for Mexican rice, you can freeze the broth. Let the chicken meat cool slightly and “pull” it off the bones in medium sized chunks (not too small as it will get dry).
- 8 soft rolls, split and hollowed out slightly
- Spanish white onion, sliced into thin rings
For the sauce (adapted from Playa Maya News):
- 1 pound plum tomatoes
- 2 ½ ounces guajillo chiles,seeded and deveined (The Guajillo (wha – hee – oh) Chile Pepper (Capsicum Annuum) is the most common chile in Mexico after the Ancho. The flavor of the Guajillo is distinct, slightly fruity with a strong piney, berry under taste. Guajillo flavors dishes easily, a little goes a long way. This chile measures 3 to 5 inches in length and is about 1 inch wide. The color is a brick red with deep burgundy tones and the skins is smooth. This Chile is between a 2-4 on the heat scale of 1 – 10.)
- 1/8 teaspoon cumin
- 2 whole cloves
- 2 whole allspice berries
- ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
- ½ stick cinnamon
- ½ medium white onion, peeled and grated
- 1 large clove garlic, crushed
- 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- salt to taste
Dry roast the tomatoes on a comal until charred on all sides. Reconstitute chiles in a medium saucepan with a cup of water to which allspice berries, cloves and cinnamon stick have been added. Boil until chliles are just soft, add to roasted tomatoes and liquefy in a blender, adding cumin, push through a sieve or food mill, and set aside.
Heat the oil, add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened. Add strained tomato mixture and cook until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
Assemble the sandwiches by filling the rolls with the chicken, ladling warm sauce over all, and topping with sliced avocado and onion.
Makes 8 sandwiches.