Cafe Azul. Just the name brings back such festive and delicious memories.
Years ago, it must have been about 1996, two sisters named Shawna and Claire Archibald opened Cafe Azul in downtown McMinnville. Claire was the chef and Shawna ran the front of the house. Claire trained with Diana Kennedy, that legendary cookbook writer who is sometimes referred to as “the Julia Child of Mexican cuisine.” Cafe Azul sported a bright blue (naturally) and orange color scheme and featured the wonderfully complex and delicious dishes of Oaxaca, Mexico.
It was a bold move to open a restaurant like Cafe Azul in little old McMinnville at the time. Twenty years ago we were still the heart of the Willamette Valley, but we were hardly a well-known tourist destination, and the locals did their best to support the restaurants in town, but there just weren’t that many of us.
Rob and I moved here in 1994 and at the time we were one of only two wine business families actually living in McMinnville. Now, of course, it’s a much different scenario. Everyone wants to visit McMinnville, and after they do, they want to move here. And who could blame them? I did exactly the same thing! And, since the wine industry has grown so much in the last 25 years and McMinnville is a great place to live and raise a family, there are now lots of wine industry folks living here. This really boosts the population of people who are eating out on a regular basis.
When my more newly arrived colleagues happen to grumble about lack of access to something in McMinnville today, I shake my head and say “Ha, that’s nothing! When we moved here you couldn’t even buy goat cheese without going into Portland.” That’s true too. Now we have three cheese counters in McMinnville!
But I digress, back to Cafe Azul. The food was stellar. It was beloved by so many of us and the first year it opened The Oregonian named it Portland Restaurant of the Year (even though it was in McMinnville). Throughout my first pregnancy, I craved their Carne Asada so much that I think we ate there two or three times a week! My other favorite thing to order was the Tinga Pie.
After just a couple of years, the sisters closed up shop here in McMinnville and moved the restaurant up to Portland. They were hopeful that a bigger pool of adventuresome diners would make their business solvent. It did for a few years, but after awhile they had to call it quits there too. It turns out people just weren’t really ready to make the leap to paying high-end prices for Mexican food, no matter how high the quality.
When they closed here, Claire gave me her recipe for Tinga Pie. And though I treasured it dearly, I still somehow misplaced it in all of the stacks of paper and file folders in my house. Then I was saved because The Oregonian printed the recipe in the paper. I clipped it out and started cooking again. Eventually, I misplaced that version as well. I kind of forgot about Tinga Pie, though every once in a while I would see a recipe for something like Tinga tacos, and remember how delicious it was. When I’ve experimented with those, they just don’t compare to Claire’s recipe.
I had never heard of Tinga Pie before Claire made it here, and I’ve never seen it on another menu since. It’s a savory chicken and chipotle filling, wrapped in a luscious and rich crust – such a delicious and unusual combination.
Eventually, the recipe was found! I was reminiscing about it at dinner not too long ago and my son picked up his phone and Googled “Cafe Azul Tinga Pie.” There it was, of course – and didn’t he feel smug? It must have been posted since the last time I searched (which was probably a few years ago) as none of my previous Google searches ever turned up anything, nor when I did a search on The Oregonian‘s site. Whatever the case, there it was on another blog. From my memory, the recipe looked pretty accurate, so I gave it a go. However, I made the pie in a rustic tart shape, as Claire did. This blogger made individual empanada shaped pies. Either way, I’m grateful to him for posting the recipe.
And now a favorite has returned to our home. Last weekend I called a couple of friends we hadn’t seen in awhile and invited them over for Tinga Pie. One brought guacamole and queso dip, the other margaritas. When we sat down to dinner the pie had turned out perfectly, just as Rob and I remembered it. I served it with only a green salad alongside, embellished with orange and avocado slices. And also, our Love, Oregon Pinot Noir, which, somewhat to my surprise, turned out to be a spot on match.
P.S. Both of my boys (ages 19 and 20) tasted the Tinga Pie the next day, but separate from each other. Both of them sent me almost the exact same text “What is this pie? It’s SO GOOD!!” I think it’s a keeper.
Café Azul's Tinga Pie
For the crust
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons champagne or white wine vinegar
- ice water
For the filling
- 3 pounds cooked chicken meat see above, I prefer dark meat, shredded, skin and bones discarded
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 yellow onions julienned
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes drained, you want about 4 cups (I prefer Muir Glen fire roasted)
- 1/2 cup currants
- 3 tablespoons canned chipotle chilies minced
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 tablespoons milk
- First, make the pastry. Sift together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with your fingers or a pastry cutter. Combine the egg and vinegar in a glass measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork. Add enough ice water to equal 1/2 cup. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture all at once. With your hands, work the ingredients together into a ball. Flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour before rolling, and up to six hours. (This dough can also be frozen).
- Then make the filling. Heat a large saute pan over medium-low heat, then add 1/4 cup olive oil and warm. Saute the onions and the salt until the onions are translucent and fully cooked, but they have not begun to brown. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, until warmed through.
- In a separate pan, add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and the currants and fry over medium heat until the currants are puffy and brown. Add the minced chipotle chilis to this pan. Mix well and add to the onion and tomato mixture. Add the shredded chicken and combine well. Taste for salt. Let the whole mixture cool to room temperature. If you want to make this in advance you can cover and refrigerate the filling for a day or two.
- To assemble: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface, cut about the size of your sheet pan. Unwrap the dough and place it on the parchment paper. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle it with some flour. Roll the dough out in a large (it's okay if it's imperfect!) circle, until it is about 1/4 inch thick, maybe a little less. Place the filling in the center of the circle, leaving about 2 to 3 inches of dough around the edge. Fold the edges of the dough up and over the filling forming an enclosure for the filling, but not covering it all the way. The center will be exposed.
- Combine the egg and milk in a small bowl and whisk them together with a fork. Brush the mixture all over the exposed parts of the dough. This will give it a nice shine when it's finished. Using the parchment paper to lift the pie, transfer it onto your baking sheet.
- Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is a little bubbly.
This can also be made into individual pies, that you would serve one per person. This recipe would probably make 4 of those. That's nice for a dinner party, but it's a big serving. If you do make them smaller, adjust the cooking time down.
Tinga Pie is best served warm, but it's also pretty darn good at room temperature for lunch the next day.