Great art is horseshit, buy tacos.
~Charles Bukowski

But, don’t judge your tacos by their price.
~Hunter S. Thompson

They are both gracefully dead, in their own ways.  However, they gave tacos a good name before they left, as should be the case.

More important, both Bukowski and Thompson cast ripe books, short stories, verses, screenplays and journalism that left the imagination brimming, eloquently reeling, and sometimes in utter disarray. The lives of everyday folk, countercultures, writing as drudgery, altered minds, alcohol and drug use, prurient depravity, vivid taboos, dark binges, expressive depression, broken renewal, anguished desolation, inherent absurdity, flirtatious promiscuity, and often such unrecognizable tongues…laureates of supposed lowlifes, yet intimate and not at all shameful souls were their subjects.

Although one died more slowly of leukemia, the other passed suddenly from committing suicide with a .45 within a decade or so of one another.  Is there really a difference between how they departed?

Eye rolling rapture follows.

TACOS DE POLLO (CHICKEN TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C chicken stock
A pinch or so of sea salt

Sauce
1 small to medium yellow onion, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 t ground cumin, toasted and ground or dried
Adobe sauce from a small can of chipotle chiles

Pollo (Chicken)
1/2 each parts of water and chicken stock to cover birds
2-3 chicken thigh/leg quarters, later shredded
Sea salt and a hint of freshly ground black pepper
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 t dried oregano, broken

Flour tortillas, warmed

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chiles and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup stock and 1 t sea salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée and then pour into a medium glass bowl.

Season the birds on each side in salt and just a little pepper and cumin on the skin side.  In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, over medium high heat, place bay leaves, thyme sprigs into the mix. Add the chicken skin side up and cover with 1/2 water and 1/2 stock, simmer for about 25-30 minutes, then shred off the bone with fingers or fingers and a fork. Strain and reserve the chicken stock.

In a small heavy saucepan, heat olive oil and/or canola oil, yellow onion, sea salt, garlic cloves, cumin and adobe sauce. Sauté, then add the chicken stock derived from cooked chicken and cook until thickened.  Add chicken and sauté a bit longer, until the meat glistens some.

Wrap 6 or so flour or corn tortillas  in foil and place in a preheated 325 F oven for 15-20 minutes, so they become soft and warm.

Serve chicken in warmed tortillas with the tomatillo salsa forming a base and quickly add the following to your liking to each taco, many of which should be in bowls on the table or counter (but, please do not overload tacos — just choose a few fillings, at most):

Radishes, sliced
White or red onion, peeled and chopped
Green cabbage (Brussels sprouts, possibly), cored and thinly sliced
Black beans (frijoles negros) , drained
Refried beans (frijoles refritos), slightly cooked
Salsa roja and/or salsa verde (red and/or green salsas), warmed
Gochujang (hot pepper paste) and/or (soybean paste) ssamjang (both at Korean markets)
Fried eggs
Queso fresco, crumbled
Crema, just a few dollops
Fresh chiles of any variety, sliced thinly
Lime wedges
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″slices
Cilantro leaves (not stems)

Pourboire:  many advocate the use of 2-ply tortillas by placing one tortilla centered directly upon the other, then filling the inside one.  Both warmed, of course.

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It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.
~C.S. Lewis

That ever perplexing riddle: which came first, the chicken or the egg? British researchers claim to have resolved this mystery. Apparently, a protein found only in a chicken’s ovaries is necessary for the formation of the egg. This same protein (ovocledidin-17) enhances the development of the hard shell, which is essential to protecting the delicate yolk and fluids while the chick grows inside the egg. The protein works by converting calcium carbonate into the calcite crystals that make up the egg shell. In a paper entitled Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by an Eggshell Protein, a team of scientists from universities in Sheffield and Warwick claim to have answered this age-old question. While it had long been suspected that the egg came first, the chicken preceded the egg.

One of a slew of Mexican egg dishes, robust huevos rancheros (rancher’s eggs) are thought legendary in some parts. Fried eggs nestled on soft tortillas then drizzled with two sauces are an egg slut’s manna. The red and green sauces juxtaposed with the yellow yolks make for a deliciously hued plate.

HUEVOS RANCHEROS WITH TOMATO & TOMATILLO SAUCES

Tomato Sauce (Salsa de Jitomate)

3 medium to large tomatoes, parboiled, peeled, seeded, and cored
3 serrano or jalapeño chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/2 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 T vegetable oil
Pince of sea salt

Place the tomatoes in blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the chiles, onion and garlic to the mix. Stir to mix evenly, then process in bursts until roughly pureed.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high until just shimmering. Add the mixture from the blender and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes thicker, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and remove from the stove.

Tomatillo Sauce (Salsa Verde)

1 lb fresh tomatillos (10-12 medium), husked and rinsed
3 jalepeño chiles, stemmed and seeded
Sea salt

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 sprigs of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

1 T vegetable oil
Sea salt

Boil the tomatillos and chiles in salted water in a covered pot until tender and softened, about 10-15 minutes. Drain.

Transfer the tomatillo/chile mix, garlic, onion and cilantro into a blender or food processor fitted with a steel knife, and blend in pulses until it reaches a coarse purée.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high until simmering. Pour in the purée and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes thicker, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, allow it to reach a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer until thick, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.

Eggs and Assembly

Salsa de Jitomate and Salsa Verde, warmed

4 medium corn tortillas
1/4 C+ vegetable oil
8 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Queso fresco and/or queso anejo cheese, crumbled
Cilantro leaves, chopped

Frijoles refritos (refried beans)
Freshly sliced avocados

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high. When quite hot, saute the tortillas one at a time 2-3 seconds per side, just to soften them. Drain on paper towels, wrap in foil and keep warm in a low oven.

Heat a heavy, non-stick skillet coated well with vegetable oil to medium to medium low. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet and let them cook, slowly, sunnyside up. If necessary, cover the skillet to allow for more uniform cooking. Sprinkle with salt and pepper then transfer the eggs to a baking sheet, keeping them warm with the tortillas. Cook the remaining eggs in the same fashion.

Set a tortilla on each of 4 plates. Top with 2 fried eggs then carefully (even artfully) spoon the two sauces in even amounts over the tortillas and egg whites, leaving the yolks exposed. Garnish with crumbled cheese(s) and cilantro.

Serve with frijoles refritos (refried beans) and fresh avocado slices next door.

I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.
~Chico Marx

As a late teen first visiting Paris, I was struck (even smitten) by the provocative public displays of affection on the streets, in parks and cafés. Passionate and intimate — open mouthed, deep kisses, with cuddles and caresses. Face dwellers. Blissfully awesome came to mind then and now. In the puritanical States though, you are ridiculed, derided for such shameless ardor. Frowned upon here, public kissers are brusquely advised to “get a room.” I mean, God forbid you be so deeply enamored with each other that you really do not give a damn about those leering, envious “get a life” voyeurs. Just that kind of “refulgent” act that no doubt makes Sarah Palin feel “squirmish” (sp?). Maybe she should stick to more basic, monosyllabic words, like “dolt.”

Thankfully, face whiffing and canoodling in public venues have now become national pasttimes in Mexico. In 2009, nearly 40,000 people gathered at Zocalo Square in Mexico City to break the tally for the most people kissing at one moment. This Valentine’s Day simultaneous smooching was dubbed Besame Mucho or “Kiss Me A Lot”. The intense, overt sensuality of young and old has continued forward with lovers inveterately kissing and ardently embracing in and near squares and promenades in Mexico’s most populus city.

Ah, to create a culture of sweet, tender mercies with those ever expressive, soft yet hot kisses…panochitas.

While my preference would be fresh tomatoes or tomatillos or both, the earthy sundried ones are a luscious substitute in the off season. Then, fast forward to late summer and replace the sundried ones with home grown or farmers’ market beauties—even heirlooms. A third option is to boil about a half dozen fresh, husked and washed, medium tomatillos in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and zip in a blender or food processor.

GUACAMOLE & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

1/2 medium white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro leaves

4 medium large ripe avocados
Sea salt
Fresh lime juice

Queso fresco crumbled, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Radishes, halved and thinly sliced, for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix the onion, garlic and chiles with the sundried tomatoes and cilantro.

Close to when you are going to serve, halve the avocados lengthwise by cutting from stem to stern and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit with the blade and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl with a spoon. Roughly mash the avocados into a coarsely textured, thick mash. You probably want some chunk.

Taste and season with salt and lime juice to suit your personal preferences.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until ready to serve. Mound the guacamole in a serving dish, and serve with queso fresco, cilantro and radishes.

(Cooking) is a form of flattery….a mischievous, deceitful, mean and ignoble activity, which cheats us by shapes and colors, by smoothing and draping…
~Plato

The etymology of the word tacos—tortillas rolled around food—was derived from the Mexican Spanish, “light lunch,” or more literally, “plug, wadding.” Taco is a broadly applied generic term much like the English word “sandwich.”

The word has multiple meanings, from the culinary to some nether worlds. For instance, there are over 50 references to the term “taco” in the online slang lexicon Urban Dictionary, some of which are undeviatingly anatomical and may offend a few readers’ sensibilities. So they will not bear repetition, as what some find humorous or titillating others deem crude. Then again, who am I to be the arbiter of the definition of obscene? Even Justice Potter Stewart vainly struggled with the lewdness issue once and was left with the enigmatic: “(b)ut, I know it when I see it.” Now, that is one concrete translation which only leaves you to ponder when he saw it, where he saw it, or what he saw. Somehow brings to mind the image of an elderly, yet scholarly looking man with styleless glasses, a starched collar, dark tie and flowing black robes peering into a poor quality video in a tawdry booth. A neon OPEN 24 HOURS spasmodically blinks outside. “I’ll know it when I see it,” he murmurs into the night.

The mainstay of the Mexican diet was, and still is, the ever versatile tortilla which is the “bread of life” for tacos. Eaten as an entrée or one of the world’s most supreme street snacks, tacos come in seemingly endless varieties according to geography, local ingredients, and the kitchen itself…folded, rolled, soft, fried…tacos de cazuela (with stew fillings), tacos de la plancha (griddle cooked), tacos al carbón (charcoal grilled meats), tacos a vapor (steamed beef head meat), tacos de canasta (tacos in a basket), tacos dorados (crisply fried), tacos de harina (soft flour, burrito-like).

As with pizzas, pastas and paninis, please do not overburden your tortilla with a spate of insipid fillings. And as a warning to those who fear the wrath of the taco gods, avoid those crisp bent tacos brimming with bland ground beef, iceberg lettuce and cheddar cheese. You know who you are.

To warm tortillas, tightly wrap 6-8 in aluminum foil and place in an oven at 375 F for 8-10 minutes.

TACOS DE CAMARONES (SHRIMP TACOS)

1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (16-20 count)
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 T brandy
Sea salt
2 T fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1/2 red onion, peeled and diced
1 tomato, cored, seeded and diced
6 radishes, trimmed and diced
1/2 C cabbage, finely shredded
2 T cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes
3 T canola oil
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Corn tortillas, warmed

In a heavy sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Do not burn. Remove and discard garlic, but retain oil.

Add the shrimp, serrano chiles, and black pepper. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly until the shrimp turn pink and curl, about 3 to 4 minutes total, turning once. Pour in the brandy and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add a pinch or two of salt, sprinkle lightly with cilantro and tossed. Slice shrimp into 1/2″ pieces and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the onion, tomato, radishes, cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, canola and olive oils, and sea salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat well. Serve in corn tortillas.

TACOS DE LENGUA (TONGUE TACOS)

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves

Warm corn tortillas
Cabbage, finely shredded
Yellow onion, peeled and diced
Cilantro leaves, chopped
Quartered lime wedges
Salsa verde*

Corn tortillas, warmed

Rinse tongue well. Cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water) in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off the froth on the surface after a few minutes. Simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove tongue, and very briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain and dry well, then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle.

To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut slices thinly on the diagonal.

Serve in warmed corn tortillas with cabbage, onion, radishes, cilantro, lime juice. Drizzle with salsa verde.

TACOS DE PATO (DUCK TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C water
2 pinches sea salt

1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″ chunks

Assembly
1/2 C soy sauce
1/4 C water
1/4 C mirin
3 T honey

2 T canola oil
2 C coarsely shredded roast duck, coarsely shredded

Warmed flour tortillas

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chile and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée. Pour into a medium bowl and stir in the avocado.

In a small saucepan, combine the soy, water, mirin and honey. Simmer over medium heat until it just begins to thicken, 15 to 20 minutes.

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the duck until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add 1⁄4 cup of the soy-mirin sauce and sauté a bit longer, until the duck meat glistens. Serve duck in warm flour tortillas with the tomatillo salsa and the remaining sweetened soy-mirin sauce.

*Salsa Verde

12 medium fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
3 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, not seeded
8 sprigs cilantro, stems discared and leaves roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T canola oil
2 C chicken broth
Sea salt

Boil the tomatillos and chilies in salted water for 15 minutes; drain. Place the cooked tomatillos and chiles, cilantro, onion, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until roughly smooth, slightly textural.

Heat the oil in medium heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Pour the tomatillo mixture into the pan and stir for 5 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it reduces and thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Salt to your preference.

Salsa Verde

March 30, 2009

The fond for tacos and enchiladas, salsa verde is premised upon the native Mexican fruit called the tomatillo, a berry which has both earthy and tart qualities. Referred to as the green tomato (tomate verde, among other descriptors), tomatillos are a staple in Mexico…a sophisticated, yet much underestimated, culinary world.

Tacos will soon follow.

SALSA VERDE

12 medium fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
3 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, not seeded
8 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T canola oil
2 C chicken broth
Sea salt

Boil the tomatillos and chilies in salted water for 15 minutes; drain. Place the cooked tomatillos and chilies, cilantro, onion, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until roughly smooth, slightly textural.

Heat the oil in medium heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Pour the tomatillo mixture into the pan and stir for 5 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it reduces and thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Salt to your preference.

Refrigerated, it keeps 3-4 days.

Pourboire: if in a time pinch, you can omit the cooking step for the tomatillos or used canned tomatillos, drained.