This recipe comes straight from one of my favorite places to eat in Chicago, Birrieria Zaragoza. All they serve is birria, a Mexican goat stew served with fresh thick tortillas, and it's impeccable, moan-worthy. But on my last pilgrimage, chef Jonathan Zaragoza offered me this dessert, the best panna cotta I've ever eaten.
When vanilla is used in a recipe, it's usually either as a star role, like in ice cream and crème brûlée, or shoved as far to the background as possible. This recipe offers a rare in-between. The vanilla is assertive, but it shares equal billing with Mexican cinnamon and lime. There's a little flourish of toasted almonds here if you'd like it, but this recipe is really about the complex interplay of spice in a creamier-than-creamy, not-too-sweet dessert.
This panna cotta is best eaten the day it is made, when it isn't too firmly set.
Read more: Spice Hunting: Sussing Out Vanilla Beans
- Yield:serves 6 to 8 people
- Active time: 20 minutes
- Total time:4 hours (chilling time)
- 1 cup whole milk, divided
- 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
- 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 vanilla bean (either Mexican or Tahitian), split and scraped
- 1 5-inch stick Celyon or Mexican cinnamon
- Zest of one lime
- Slivered almonds, toasted, for garnish if desired
In a small bowl, combine half cup of milk with gelatin. Stir to combine and let sit while heating remaining milk, cream, sugar, and salt to a simmer. Add vanilla, cinnamon, and lime zest, and cook at a bare simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in milk-gelatin mixture until fully combined. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into 8 or 6 6- or 8-ounce (respectively) ramekins. Chill for two to three hours, or until set.
To serve, run a thin knife along sides of ramekins to loosen panna cotta. Flip ramekin upside down onto serving plate and tap several times until panna cotta is dislodged. Garnish, if desired, with toasted slivered almonds.