Urban Insider: We spoke with Mauricio Espinoza, Executive Chef & Partner of Papi’s Tacos | UrbanJourney.com

Urban Insider: We spoke with Mauricio Espinoza, Executive Chef & Partner of Papi’s Tacos

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Papi’s Tacos recently opened on Seah Street, and we’re already huge fans of the authentic Mexican eats. In fact, we’re so smitten that we tracked down executive chef and partner Mauricio Espinoza to get the lowdown on what makes the food so fab. Born and raised in Tlaxaca, Mauricio developed a passion for cooking at an early age. After honing his culinary skills in New York City, he moved to Singapore and took on the role of head chef at Employees Only. Now with Papi’s he has the chance to channel his passion for the cuisine of his homeland and bring a bit of that bustling NYC food truck energy to the Singapore dining scene. Here’s what he has to say about Papi’s and the secrets to really great Mexican food.

 

UJ: We love the fish tacos at Papi’s, especially love the fact that they are grilled and not fried – can you share a few tips on making good fish taco?


ME: Thank you! My preference is to grill or pan sear the fish because it creates a crunchy texture on the outside and a tender texture for the inside. For a great fish taco, always use fish fillet (no bones). Next, seasoning and marinating is a very important step for optimum flavour – and it’s important to get the right balance of both.

 

UJ: Where in Singapore can we get some good ingredients to cook Mexican food at home?


ME: I have one ‘go to’ place that sells dried chilies such as chipotle, arbol, guajillo and pasilla and many more Mexican spices, amongst other things. The store is called “Los Jefes”, it is a local shop situated in the East. I frequent this place whenever I am looking to whip up a delicious Mexican meal at home.


UJ: We know you helped your mother in the kitchen while growing up, what was the dish of hers that was your favourite?

ME: Her mole, it is so delicious – I’ve loved it from a very young age. In my opinion, fresh tortillas, rice, beans and mole makes for the ultimate Mexican flavour combo. I also love her tamales with salsa verde and chicken. Each time I visit home, these dishes are at the top of my daily kitchen request list!


UJ: What is one ingredient you can’t live without?


ME: Avocado, I absolutely love avocado. I think everything is better with avocado. I like the creaminess, sweetness, texture, flavour and when the avocado is right, the beautiful green colour which is visually enhancing.


UJ: What is the secret to good Mexican food? Why do you think it’s so hard to find in various parts of the world?


ME: The secret is the produce. Good Mexican food always has to be fresh. In my opinion, one of the biggest factors that makes Mexican food tough to be executed properly internationally is the availability of these ingredients. For instance, it takes a few weeks to get fresh tomatillo or habanero here in Singapore.


Avocados are another example as a staple ingredient to a Mexican diet. It’s important that they’re prepared when as fresh as possible. You cannot eat guacamole that was prepared two days ago as it will taste unpleasant. You also have to ensure that you don’t make guacamole from avocados that are too hard or once its colour has changed.

 

UJ: Do you have two easy recipes you can share with our readers?


Guacamole:


Ingredients:

4 avocados

1 jalapeno

1 tomato

1 medium size red onion

50 grams coriander

50 ml lime juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste

Instructions:

• Dice the tomatoes, coriander, jalapeno and red onion into small cubes and place into a small mixing bowl
• Slice the avocados in half and remove the seeds 
• Use a spoon to take the avocado out of the shell and place it in a separate small bowl
• With a fork, smash the avocado until a smooth texture is achieved, ensuring there are still small chunks of avocado in the mix
• Add in the mixed veggies (diced tomatoes, coriander, jalapeno and red onion)
• Add in lime juice, olive oil, a pinch of salt and mix all the ingredients
• Here’s a secret - use a few seeds from the avocado to keep the guacamole green for longer time. You didn’t hear that from me...

 

Pico de Gallo:

Ingredients:

4 tomatoes

1 large red onion

3 jalapenos

60 grams coriander

50 ml lime juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste

Instructions:

• Dice the tomatoes, jalapeno and red onion and coriander into small cubes
• Remove the heart when chopping the tomatoes
• Extract the seeds from the jalapenos
• Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl
• Add in the lime juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and mix all ingredients


UJ: Why is the ghost chilli salsa so ridiculously spicy! Where do you source the chillies from?


ME: The ghost chilli salsa is an opening gift from a dear industry friend, it’s not officially on Papi’s menu! It’s super spicy due to the use of ghost peppers. For Papi’s salsa, instead of ghost peppers we use fresh habaneros that’s flown in all the way from Mexico. The spice level is still commendable, it’s definitely more tolerable compared to if we were to use ghost peppers.


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