The nuances, flavors and techniques of Mexican food vary throughout the beautifully unique regions and one celebrity chef is putting Sonora on the map for people looking to travel through their palate, no passport required.
After a successful run making it to the top five on "Top Chef Portland," Maria Mazon's standout Mexican food wowed both judges and viewers and gave a glimpse into the warm, thoughtful and brilliantly executed dishes, leaving everyone with an appetite for more.
The James Beard semi-finalist raised in Sonora, Mexico, gave "Good Morning America" a taste of her food with an easy-to-make, exclusive recipe below that uses flavors from a classic Mexican cocktail, as well as dished about some inside moments from the hit culinary competition.
"Even on the show or creating a recipe, I just wanted to just showcase me, but also the cuisine because it's so homey and can be so simple," Mazon said. "I always say the best compliment a customer or friend or anybody will give you, is when they taste your food and for one second they close their eyes and they do a simple nod. I'm like, jackpot! That's all I want."
"I created a dish for you, with the classic michelada," Mazon told "GMA" about how she created the sweet, savory and spicy Mexican-style lager, Clamato and lime drink. "It's aguachile. You grab cilantro, serrano and make a juice to marinate -- I was going back to highlight plants so it's chayote [a Mexican squash], cucumber and radishes that I sliced super thin. In a blender I cracked the Estrella Jalisco classic michelada, apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper and a little bit of water. The foam of the beer formed two dishes in one -- the aguachile juice part and the foam."
Since "you need like a thousand ingredients" to make a proper michelada, Mazon teamed up with Mexican brewer Estrella Jalisco, which began brewing in Guadalajara in 1910, and crafted "a great recipe, put it in a can and makes the chef life a lot easier, especially if you're trying to enjoy yourself," she said.
In alignment with her belief that people can be transported places through trying authentic food, Mazon offered up her expertise on what goes into good Sonoran cooking.
"You don't need a lot. Good ingredients doesn't need all the bells and whistles," she said. "I always say that Mexico gets recognized from the waist down. We have such big hitters as Puebla, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Yucatan. And when you hear Sonoran cuisine, like 'oh what is it?' It's very simple, but yet very complicated because the simplicity of it."
To get a true taste of Sonora, here are Mazon's "must-have" ingredients to get started.
"The salt. Sea salt is a must. Chiltepines, the tiny little chilis (a hot pepper found in Tuscon and northern Mexico) -- a good flour from Sonora to make homemade flour tortillas," Mazon shared. "I cannot live without lime. I put lime on everything -- it gives everything from ceviche to michelada -- it wakes up every single ingredient. I tell my cooks and my son, just put lime."
Mazon expertly showcased how to elevate an array of simple, traditional Mexican ingredients on "Top Chef" and said, "it is to this day and probably till I die, the highlight of my life that I got to represent my two countries."
From her impressive execution of homemade bolillo -- a sort of short, soft Mexican version of a baguette -- to serve traditional Sonoran hot dogs to her lengua (tongue) sandwich with dipping broth that knocked people's socks off in the famed restaurant wars challenge, Mazon's ability to stick to her roots helped her rise to the top among the cheftestants.
"I got a chance to make a little nopal salsa in one of the challenges and remember one of the judges looked at me [yelling] 'wow what is this? I love it!' And I said, 'just wait.'"
Check out her full recipe for vegetable aguachile with michelada and recreate it in your own kitchen as an appetizer or salad this summer.
Using an already concocted and canned classic michelada, Mazon made a fresh spin on the highly popular Mexican dish that is usually filled with shrimp and submerged in juices, tangled with red onion, cucumber and chili peppers. For this recipe prepared exclusively for "GMA" Food, she omitted the raw seafood in favor of even more veggies to highlight a Mexican squash as the star. Plus, her favorite zesty zip of fresh lime juice.
1 1/2 cups Estrella Jalisco Michelada
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic
1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced
1 chayote (mexican squash), thinly sliced
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 small white onion, grilled whole and cut into quarters
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (or regular chili powder)
White soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh herb of choice, roughly chopped or torn (Mexican oregano or cilantro work great here)
Place the michelada, honey, apple cider vinegar, salt and garlic in a blender. Blend until smooth. Place in the fridge to minimize the foam as much as possible.
Arrange the cucumber, chayote, radishes and onion on a shallow plate and season with a little salt and pepper.
Pour the blended sauce over the top of the vegetables.
Juice the lime over the top of the dish, and add a few dashes of the white soy sauce around the edges.
Enjoy as a refreshing appetizer or salad!
Recipe reprinted courtesy of Maria Mazon.
Together, alongside Tastemade, Mazon and Estrella Jalisco launched "Michelada Mondays" that gave fans a chance to win prizes like a paid day off of work and delicious new recipes all summer long.
The executive chef of BOCA Tacos worked with the beer brand and Tastemade to curate other original recipes available online and through social media which pair well with the classic michelada.