Sweetcorn Margaritas and Tuna Ball Canapés

  • Time: 2 hours
  • Serves: 4
  • Level: medium

I’ve pushed the tuna & sweetcorn boat out here… But the outcome is a really good Mexican cocktail and canapé. The idea is to drink the corn and eat the tuna together!

Mixing corn with alcohol seemed like a good idea, given corn is a grain that is fermented into alcohol and that tequila is fermented from the agave plant – basically a very tough vegetable. The Mexicans also make a hot drink from maize called atole, and they make agua fresca, a cold drink made from fruits – and vegetables.

Tuna and sweetcorn turned into a happy hour treat.

What you need

For the Margaritas

1 x 165g drained tin of sweetcorn (undrained)

2 x large limes – 1 zested and zest retained for canapé below

1 tsp sugar

Cointreau

Tequila

Sea salt flakes

Limes for garnish

For the tuna ball canapés

2 x 150g tins of drained tuna (drained)

Zest of 1 lime from Margarita recipe

Sweetcorn solids from Margarita recipe

100g peeled and boiled potatoes – cooled

1 egg

1 tbs mayonnaise

4 tbs chopped fresh parsley

2 tbs chopped fresh chives

15g finely chopped jalapeño slices from a jar

50g fresh white breadcrumbs

Fine semolina flour or plain flour

Vegetable oil for frying

 



Dad's Recipe Tales

“Tequila!”

My first encounter with tequila occurred when I was very young and living in California; the day was hot, the sun was bright, the transistor radio was blaring, when out from the speaker came a catchy rock and roll riff on the saxophone. Then, it happened; the band sang a single word to end the musical phrase: “Tequila!”

Looking back at that No. 1 hit by The Champs, the song seems rather innocent, but at the time, it felt shocking and subversive. It was a time when crews of local older teenagers, following in the footsteps of movie stars during the prohibition, would travel across the Californian border to Tijuana for a good time. On their return, dazed and sniggering, they would exhibit their smuggled booty – huarache sandals with tyre-tread soles, cheap clothes, firecrackers on strings, beer, cigarettes and of course, tequila.

Tequila had a connotation of being bad and sinful. This might also have applied to many other spirits, as America has always had a love/hate relationship with hard liquor; it cannot seem to make up its mind whether it is exotically attractive elixir for high society or a dirty and dangerous intoxicant for low society. The Champ’s rebellious rock and roll song celebrated this ambiguity.

However, it goes further. Tequila’s reputation in America suffered from a belief that the liquor was raw and base: a moonshine – with all the risk. Some of this animosity derives from a distaste for the idea of distilling tequila from the agave cactus – and especially for the habit of putting worms in some bottles of mezcal (also made from agave and very similar to tequila).

But the real downer on the drink was mainly attributable to being ‘Hecho en Mexico’, or ‘Made in Mexico’. Sadly, for this energetic and evocative country of rich history, colourful people, and culture, there persists in the minds of some Americans, a Hollywood vision of unruly, sombrero-clad bandits, firing guns and menacing villagers on their rearing horses. Even if these perceptions are based on stereotypes, for many there endures real prejudices and suspicions of the people and products beyond the border.

For my elder compatriots, it was therefore risqué to drink tequila. Yet for some – either happy to ignore the bias of others, or enamoured with Mexico – sampling tequila was a revelation. They discovered to their surprise that tequila is neither crude nor unpalatable, but remarkably agreeable and mellow. To add to their enjoyment, they would also learn that tequila is full of elusive and evocative character. Slowly, tequila started to lose its disreputable status, and grow in deserved popularity.

And what does tequila taste of? Most spirits evoke a flavour of their native land: think of the Highlands and a single malt whiskey of Scotland, or golden fields of grain and the rye whiskey of Tennessee, beautiful vineyards the fine cognacs of France, or even ragged gorges and the raki of Crete. So, open a bottle of Cuervo Gold, take a sip of tequila and close your eyes… You will soon be in Mexico, tasting the smoky, sweet burning piña core of the blue agave, feeling the hot sun on the dusty hills and canyons, and sensing some of the vibrant clashing colours of Mexico, contrasting with the warm caramel-toned ochres, terracotta tiles, and dark woods of an inviting cantina interior. With a little more imagination, you might also hear the shuffling syncopated bass notes of the huge guitarrón mexicano and the distant soulful strains of a Mexican lament…

These days, Mexico is very different from the days of The Champs’ hit. It has turned from a land of perceived outlaws to a land of real gangsters. As daily news reports testify, these modern drug-trafficking outlaws are far more lethal than the bandits of lore. Sadly, it seems Mexico cannot shake off this historical curse of recurring violence (nor America curb its insatiable demand for illegal drugs).

However, despite modern troubles, Mexico remains an attractive country and is still popular as a tourist destination. In legal markets, Mexico has prospered: the world loves Mexican food and music; they drink its beer; and especially they drink tequila. Lots of it. Despite the old perceived jeopardies of Mexico – or perhaps because of them – tequila has become one of the world’s most popular and coolest drinks. Cocktail bars everywhere boast tequila preparations to suit every taste and occasion.

More recently, tequila is experiencing a further elevated trend in the form of ultra-stylish (and expensive) ‘designer’ tequilas, each with a detailed unique provenance and exquisitely-shaped bottle. These are not for mixing, but for showing off and sipping. It seems, after all, that Mexico can produce a distillation of the highest quality, comparable with the world’s best – “tequila!”

How Dad Cooked It

Both these recipes require a mini chopper/processor or stick blender and suitable bowl or pan.

For the Margaritas

  1. Tip the corn (and the liquid) into the processor bowl and add 1 tsp of sugar. Juice two limes and add to the corn. Blitz thoroughly until it is a very fine puree.
  2. Scrape out all the corn into a fine sieve over a bowl. Press the corn using a large spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Retain the solids and the liquid in separate bowls.
  3. Dampen the rims of the cocktail glasses and dip onto a plate of scattered fine sea salt flakes.
  4. For each cocktail measure 30ml (i.e. 2 tbs) of corn and lime mix, 30ml of Cointreau, and 50ml tequila. Put into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Pour equally into glasses. Garnish with lime slices.

For the tuna ball canapés

  1. Into a mini porcessor bowl, add the tuna, corn solids, lime zest, potatoes, egg, mayonnaise, and blitz until smooth.
  2. Scrap out the tuna mix into a bowl and add the parsley, chives, chillies, and breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly. Leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Put a small handful of flour into a large flat bowl. Remove the tuna mix from the fridge and form into small balls with your hands and drop into the flour. Work in stages forming balls, then rolling in flour and transferring to another plate with a thin layer of flour. Let these rest again in the fridge for half an hour, but retain the bowl of flour. Remove the ball from the fridge and roll once more in flour and hands until smooth and round. Transfer again to a plate with a thin layer of flour.
  4. In a large deep frying pan or large saucepan, pour sufficient vegetable oil to reach a depth of about 15ml. Heat to around 170C. Fry the balls in stages until cooked through and piping hot. Drain on kitchen towels.
  5. Season with salt and serve whilst still hot or warm.
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