Suds and Supper: Pairing with Dos Equis Ambar, pt. 3

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe in Phoenix, Arizona

by: Jesse Hom-Dawson

Photos by: Grace Stufkosky

Although wine and cocktails are popular food pairings, beer has started to join the party, providing a more casual yet tasty alternative pairing to dishes. Ambar, a full-bodied Vienna-style lager from the well-known Dos Equis portfolio, is what Dos Equis calls, “a beer with brawn from Germany, swagger from Mexico and the finest North American pale and roasted malts.” Munich, Pilsner, Vienna toasted and dextrin malts are used to create the 4.7% ABV beer. With notes of caramel and burnt sugar, it’s the perfect beer to sip on while tasting cuisine from all backgrounds. Toting such an international pedigree, we decided to branch out from your typical cerveza and lime, and challenge six chefs from all over the U.S. to come up with a dish that pairs with Dos Equis Ambar. Check in every month to see what culinary deliciousness these creative masterminds have cooked up!

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, Owner of Barrio Cafe in Phoenix, Arizona

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza insists she does not cook Mexican food. “Once the food crosses the border between the United States and Mexico, it’s no longer Mexican,” she states adamantly. “I’m a purist. A street taco is only a street taco when you’re on your feet, in the street. You cannot execute true Mexican food unless you’re using true Mexican ingredients. I do the best that I can.” For the first eight years after the opening of her Phoenix restaurant Barrio Café, Esparza would make frequent trips down to Tijuana to get her ingredients, bringing them back stowed away in the trunk of her car. A first-generation Mexican American, Esparza understands the importance of her Mexican heritage and regional Mexican cuisine: “I do what I can with the ingredients I have, just like the people who have come to the country before me.”

“I come from a family of bakers. We can be traced back to medieval times, and one of my ancestors was a pastry chef for the King of Spain,” Esparza notes. “My grandfather was a baker, my father was a baker and my great aunt moved from Chihuahua to Mexico City to carry on the tradition. I’m essentially a chef by default.” Fifteen years ago, Esparza traveled to Mexico’s remote regions, from the Yucatan to Oaxaca, to learn cooking from anyone and everyone who would teach her. “I was taught by women who didn’t even speak Spanish, but indigenous languages like Nawat.”

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In 2002, Esparza opened Barrio Café, specializing mostly in southern regional Mexican food, determined to change the perception of Mexican food in the United States, and her featured dish isn’t one you’ll see on a Tex-Mex menu anytime soon. A duck breast is marinated in Dos Equis Ambar for 24 hours, then seared so the fat crisps up like a chicharron—a traditional Mexican snack of fried pork rinds—and carmelized. The sauce the duck is served with has elements of tamarind, a pod-like fruit that is used in many different types of ethnic cuisine, although Esparza says, “Mexicans like to put it on everything!” The duck is served with lemon sautéed spinach with chiltipín, beans and peppers that are handpicked wild in the mountains of Sonora, along with garbanzo beans and garlic. “The gaminess of the duck pairs well with the brightness of Dos Equis Ambar, and with the brine, it elevates the duck to a different flavor and helps caramelize the skin to a beautiful color,” Esparaza says. “The yeast in the beer also makes the fat bubble more, giving the duck a crispy, crunchy skin.”

The Dos Equis beer that Esparaza serves alongside her dish is adorned with tamarind candy, a little bit of salt and chili. “The body and the boldness of the beer has a great flavor, but the Ambar is not as dark as other beers, so it lets the dish stand on its own without overpowering its flavor.”

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Esparza might not believe she is cooking true Mexican food, but it’s clear that she has perfectly captured the flavors that make Mexican cuisine so compelling and tasty, and it’s clear that Dos Equis Ambar has managed to do the same, creating a truly authentic Mexican experience in a meal.

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