Essential to the preparation of Aqui es Texcoco’s lamb barbacoa, the maguey plant has an important role in Mexico’s history as well as its cuisine. Also known as the century plant, the maguey dates back to pre-Columbian Mexico and thrives in dry rocky or sandy soil. This plant of many uses was worshipped by the Aztecs and cultivated by Spaniards, who then introduced it to the Philippines (where its popularity continued to spread across the globe). Though resembling a cactus, complete with thorny edges, the maguey is actually a member of the agave family – a cousin to the Tequila blue agave. Each plant will produce up to 50 leaves about 4” wide and up to 5 feet in length.
Once highly sought after for its fiber, maguey was integral in the making of carpets, hammocks and fishnets until the 1970’s when synthetics and other natural fibers took its place. Its strong fibrous threads were also used for piteado (a technique to embroider on leather), often woven into expensive saddles by Spanish artisans. The leaves were also mashed into a paper for Aztec “codices,” pictorial books written to pass down their history. The ground, cooked pulp of the maguey leaves were blended with salt and applied to open wounds as a compress in Aztec culture; the sap has antibiotic properties which was also used to kill both staphylococcus aureaus and E. coli bacteria.
The maguey dramatically blooms only once – at the end of its lifespan of up to 35 years. Its trunk-like stalk (quiote) rapidly grows up to one foot a day, soaring up to 40 feet high before its large yellow flowers bloom, and then the plant dies. If the flower stem is cut before it blooms, a sweet liquid (agua miel) accumulates at the center of the plant. Over 2000 years ago this liquid was fermented into an alcoholic beverage named “pulque” by the Aztec warriors and kings who swore by its healthful and aphrodisiac properties. Today this drink is known as maguey mezcal, known for its smoky flavor.
Aqui es Texcoco uses the maguey leaf in the preparation of its lamb barbacoa. For centuries maguey has been used to flavor and tenderize meats. First, the thorny sides of the leaves are removed. Then the leaves are heated until pliable enough to bend and line a large steam pot or a “hoyo” (authentic underground oven), and then wrapped around the meats to be cooked. The cooking process is slow – a minimum of eight hours – and the meat becomes so tender it “melts” off the bone. The juices are used as a consomme and are an integral part of traditional barbacoa.
A favorite at Aqui es Texcoco, these aromatic meat stews are wrapped in a thin outer layer of the maguey leaf (similar in consistency and texture to parchment paper), tied with twine, slowly steamed and then served in a soup bowl. When the twine is untied and the delightful package is unwrapped, the tenderizing juices become part of the dish – traditionally served with salsa verde and tortillas.
Flor de Maguey
Only the outer flower petals of the maguey plant are edible; stew them at least ½ hour to soften up and absorb the flavors from onion, garlic, tomato and some green chile. Roll the mixture up in a corn tortilla and you have a very rare and tasty treat.
Maguey Agave Nectar Sugar
Agave sugar, unlike white table sugar, isn’t broken down until it enters the lower digestive tract; meaning it does not affect your blood glucose levels. It is also very low on the Glycemic index and the perfect replacement for white sugar, especially for diabetics. The nectar comes in a syrup form as well (agave syrup) and used widely by vegetarians, vegans and wholesome food devotees.