Sunday, May 3, 2009
My Favorites - Taco
In honor of Cinco de Mayo...
I grew up expecting a taco to have a crisp u-shaped corn tortilla (store bought) for a shell, filled with ground beef seasoned from a packet, topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, cheddar cheese and chopped tomatoes. As my culinary horizons expanded, our family explored “soft” tacos…the same fillings only rolled in a flour tortilla that had been lightly buttered, stacked and wrapped in foil and heated in the oven. Technically the soft tacos are burritos; however, one of my well respected true-Mexican friends simply calls them an effin’ Gringo wrap.
Both dishes...delicious, baby, delicious!
But…since then I’ve eaten a wide variety of “authentic” tacos and have decided the simpler, the better.
Lately I'd been craving a street taco and decided two would be for lunch last Thursday. A drive through East Dallas and I spotted a quick stop with a “Mexican Tacos” sign in the window. Ahhh, Nirvana. As I entered I noticed I was the only Gringo in the place (a good sign). The menu was handwritten in Spanish with subtitles in broken, misspelled English (another good sign). The short, chubby Mexican woman greeted me in Spanish (awesome sign). I ordered a carnita and a barbacoa taco. She asked if I wanted cilantro, onion and jalapeno. ¡Sì, gracias! By now I’m hypersalivating, but then…she asked if I wanted corn or flour tortillas. What! (not a good sign), but I replied “corn”.
She then pulled four thin, packaged corn tortillas and tossed them on the flat-top. My heart sank. Not to say one must make tortillas from scratch, but to have to use TWO packaged tortillas for one taco is an unacceptable shortcut. As she piled on the meat then added the cilantro and onions I thought she may have redeemed herself.
Exactly 29.5 seconds later, in the parking lot, I massaged one of the tacos with my teeth. Juice dripped on my shoes (a must), but where’s the flavor? The meat was perfectly tender, but no seasoning what-so-ever. Ahhh…squeeze of lime…better but can one seriously save underseasoned overcooked meat? Nope.
All in all a disappointing meal. I ate both, but still was disappointed.
So here’s how to do a simple, yet tasty taco.
I start with the meat, a rib-eye steak, cut as thin as possible with a sharp chefs knife, about 3/8 inch thick. Seasoned aggressively, I use Julio’s, then let it rest and warm to room temperature while doing the simple prep. Dice equal parts red onion with minced cilantro and a small clove of garlic smashed and minced and a few paper thin slices of radish. Mix together with course sea salt and just enough XVOO to moisten. Cover and let set at room temp. Cut a room temp lime into wedges.
Heat a cast iron skillet to rip-roaring hot, add a small pat of butter and the steak. Flash fry on one side for about 90 seconds (until lightly carmelized), then flip over for another 90 or so seconds. Remove to a cutting board and rest it under foil.
For the tortillas, they should be thick enough to remain soft when slightly toasted on the outside. I use La Tortilla Factory’s organic white corn.
While the steak is resting wipe the cast iron skillet and add the tortillas. Make sure to let the torts start toasting before removing.
Slice meat thinly, lay across tort, add a spoonful, or two, of the cilantro/onion salsa, squeeze of lime and chew. Slowly. Chew.
Make sure you’re sitting down because these tacos are so good you'll be dizzy.