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Beer : Beer Food: Tastes Great, More Filling

September 30, 1993

You can drink beer with anything--even breakfast--but that's more a lifestyle than a culinary choice. There are, however, dishes that demand beer.

Books have been written about beer food--strong-flavored and hearty stuff that occasionally parades under the dated name "men's food." Usually, this is food without much subtlety, food that wins with sheer force of personality rather than creativity.

But Stephen Pyles knows better.

Former chef at Dallas' Routh Street Cafe, Pyles has written "The New Texas Cuisine" (Doubleday: $30, 1993), a book about food that has both heft and glamour. Consider the likes of honey-fried chicken with thyme-mint cream sauce, which is at once hearty and intriguing. Or enchiladas stuffed with shrimp and papaya and sauced with an avocado-tomatillo salsa.

Pyles grew up in the big sandy of Big Spring, where his family ran one of the best truck-stop cafes in West Texas. After graduating from college with a degree in music, he toured France and fell under the spell of haute cuisine. After working with chefs Alain Chapel and Roger Verge, he returned to Texas in 1974.

A summer job at the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1980 gave him the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in French cuisine--Michel Guerard, the brothers Troisgros and George Blanc. In 1981 he returned to France to study pastries with Gaston Lenotre.

In 1984, he opened Routh Street, which was instantly acclaimed as one of the two or three best restaurants in Texas. Before long, it was being mentioned as one of the nation's best, though it closed earlier this year.

Routh Street also had a more casual spinoff called Baby Routh that opened in 1986, and in 1987, Pyles and his partner John Dayton opened their third and fourth restaurants, Goodfellows and Tejas, in Minneapolis.

Pyles is a gifted natural cook--perhaps too natural for cookbooks. The fine details of time and measurement sometimes seem to have escaped him. Specifically, The Times Test Kitchen ran into problems with timing on several of the recipes in his new book. The following recipes have been corrected, but when following the book, be sure to cook until done, not when the recipe tells you. Persevere, though; the flavors are worth it.

And if it gets too much, just have a beer.

--RUSS PARSONS

SHRIMP AND PAPAYA

ENCHILADAS

WITH AVOCADO-

TOMATILLO SALSA

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

4 ancho chiles, pureed (about 6 tablespoons)

1 papaya, peeled, seeded and diced

4 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced

14 ounces shredded Chihuahua or Jack cheese

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Vegetable or canola oil

18 corn tortillas

3 tablespoons water

1 cup Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

Heat olive oil in large skillet until lightly smoking. Saute onions and garlic in oil 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Add shrimp and continue to cook until they just begin to turn pink. Add cilantro, 4 tablespoons ancho puree, papaya and poblano chiles. Cook 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add 6 ounces of cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well. Set aside.

Pour enough vegetable oil in skillet to come 1/2 inch up sides. Over medium heat, bring oil to 350 degrees or to just smoking. Submerge tortillas 1 at time in oil 5 seconds to soften. Place tortillas on paper towels to drain. Keep warm. Do not stack tortillas.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons of ancho chile puree in bowl with water. Dip tortillas 1 at time into mixture, lightly coating both sides.

To assemble enchiladas, divide shrimp-papaya mixture among tortillas, spreading evenly down middle. Roll up tortillas and place seam-side-down on baking sheet or in oven-proof baking dish, placing them snugly together. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve 3 enchiladas per plate, together with Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

833 calories; 1,108 mg sodium; 242 mg cholesterol; 46 grams fat; 58 grams carbohydrates; 48 grams protein; 2.58 grams fiber.

Note : To puree ancho chiles, rinse chiles and thoroughly dry with paper towels. Cut off stems and slit open chiles with knife and remove seeds. Roast at 450 degrees in single layer on baking sheet 1 minute. Put chiles in bowl, cover with warm water and soak 30 minutes. Strain chiles, reserving liquid and place chiles in blender. Puree chiles, adding just enough soaking liquid to make pureeing possible. You should have thick paste. Puree can be passed through medium or fine strainer.

Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

2 large avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into medium dice

1 teaspoon diced sweet red pepper

1 teaspoon diced green pepper

1 tablespoon diced green onion

4 tomatillos, husked, rinsed and diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

2 serrano chiles, seeded and diced

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

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