Donal Skehan: How to make real Mexican food

In Ireland, Mexican food means Tex Mex meal kits. Try pork fillet with chocolate and chili mole sauce instead

I worry that Irish opinions of Mexican food are largely influenced by cheesy TV adverts, peddling Tex Mex meal kits to time-strapped families, rather than the vibrant, authentic and traditional cuisine that Mexicans around the world are so justly proud of.

Most of the best Mexican food I have had does not come with hard taco shells, or on a tower of sizzling plates. In California, which boasts the largest Mexican population in the US, there is a vibrant Mexican food scene.

Taco trucks are commonly parked up on busy roadsides, with long lines (or queues) waiting to order. Pumping hole-in-the-wall restaurants serve up tostadas and cocteles, while carts are wheeled around places such as popular Echo Park lake, serving hand rolled blue corn quesadillas filled with courgette flowers, chicharónes (fried pork rinds), and huitlacoche, a dark, earthy fungus that grows on corn ears (also known as corn smut, or rather more elegantly, Mexican truffle).

American food writer Diana Kennedy, in her 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico, wrote about the differences between authentic Mexican cuisine and the bastardised dishes of Tex Mex restaurants and fast food joints.


To the uninitiated, the distinctions are important, as you won’t find nachos, cheese dip, or fajitas on the search for true Mexican cooking. Instead, carnitas (slow braised pork served with chopped onion and coriander in corn tortillas), tamales (a parcel of corn-based dough wrapped in corn husks served with salsa) and mole (a deep brown sauce humming with chillies and spices), will give you a whole new perspective on a cuisine often highjacked by big business.

My journey of discovery continues, and I hesitate to share recipes at this point, but the two here are undoubtedly delicious, if not in some ways slightly bastardised themselves.

Mole can be tricky to make and recipes for it are as varied as for Irish stew. My version is somewhat simplified, but still requires some key Mexican ingredients, I source mine online from or Picado, a wonderful Mexican speciality food shop in Dublin, run by Mexican-born Lily Ramirez-Foran and her husband Alan Foran.

Both of these recipes are designed for weekend cooking. The beer braised carnitas require at least one to two hours cooking time. Served with pico de gallo, a fresh tomato salsa, it’s a real feast for friends and family – without a meal kit in sight.