Quesadillas & Secret Laws

October 19, 2016

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
~Benjamin Franklin

Unfortunately, this is posted just beyond the cusp of National Hispanic Month this year (September 15 – October 15, 2016). Yet, quesadillas are welcome at our table at whatever the day or hour.

Now, imagine that your second language is English.  Better yet, that your cradle language is English. Either way.

Still, there are “secret laws” that are unsettlingly passed without public consent or approval to anyone and all. We have been taught endlessly that Congress publicly enacts statutes candidly, but when the secretive panel known as the Foreign Intelligence Survey Court (FISA) permits the surreptitious collection of phone records, interrogation or torture procedures it somehow becomes the law of the land. Intelligence agencies issue rules and regulations on national security issues are very often not published and not made known to the public and remain “classified.” These include, inter alia, intelligence gathering and the detention, interrogation and torture of suspected terrorists.

Secret laws deny each individual the ability to comprehend constraints imposed by official conduct. In short, perilous secret laws disallow constituents to challenge accountability or to demand any form of legal or legislative transparency. Law and fact soon become an addictive blur in a what is otherwise known as a democratic society with supposedly open courts, judges, prosecutors and legislators. Now, each may act with impunity and without the thoughts, acumen, judgment or oversight of citizens — individually or collectively, before, during, or afterwards.

The last time I looked, the preamble to the United States Constitution began with “We the People” — one of our Constitution’s guiding principles, to make no mention of the due process and confrontation clauses explicitly stated in the Bill of Rights.

While quesadillas may sometimes have directed ingredients, truthfully they are an amalgam of fine leftovers here — so, whatever is recently in the fridge or pantry are fair game (so long as you do not overload), e.g., brussels sprouts, asparagus, tongue, tripe, shredded pork butt, chicken or lamb, gizzards, livers, whatever greens, leeks, green onions, thinly sliced radishes, cheeses of any and all types, fresh or dried oregano, coriander, herbes de provence, thyme, fennel seeds, chipotle peppers, chiles of any species, garbanzo beans, hominy, new potatoes, fennel bulbs, edamame, chinese peas, snow peas, peas, salmon, mackerel, sardines, shrimp, squid, mussels, et al.

QUESADILLAS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 T unsalted butter

1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 T brandy or cognac
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ozs spinach or arugula, stems removed
2-4 ozs or so, cilantro, stems removed

1-2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced

Spoonful of salsa verde

Goat cheese or chèvre, grated or broken into small pieces
Gruyère cheese, grated

8 or so flour tortillas

1-2 T extra virgin olive or canola oil
2 T unsalted butter

4 local, farm fresh eggs (1 per quesadilla), fried

Place a heavy, medium to large sauté pan over medium high heat and add 2 T extra virgin olive or canola oil and 1-2 T unsalted butter. When oil and butter shimmer, add mushrooms and as well as salt and pepper. Sauté, adding brandy or cognac until mushrooms release liquid and begin to evaporate and mushrooms begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

Combine mushrooms, greens, chilessalsa verde, and cheese in a bowl. Place a large nonstick, heavy skillet over medium to medium high heat, and add extra virgin olive or canola oil and unsalted butter until it begins to shimmer. Do not allow to burn. While pan heats, place a large spoonful of mushroom, greens, chiles, salsa verde, and cheese mixture into each tortilla and place other tortilla over the filled one so as to make a sandwich. Place tortillas in preheated heavy skillet and cook, turning once, until tortillas are nicely browned on both sides and cheeses are melted.

Top with a large, fried egg.

Serve promptly.

The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.
~Mark Twain

Just seems there should be little demand to visit venues in Santa Barbara or even Southern Cal, as a whole, where the in crowds frequent. You know, where people say “like” repetitively and thoughtlessly as if the word is a linguistic filler.

So many glorious campsites with scenery that is flat breathtaking, serenely overlooking the Big Blue where the plethora of marine mammals exist — pastoral stuff. There is a campus of radiantly hued tents, and above that are the parked RV’s usually hooked to electricity inlets/outlets (none of which can be seen from the cloth huts).

Almost each foggy or overcast morning, before she departed to the “glamping” joint across the way, we crawled out of our tent and after morning ablutions, promptly began the fire and heating the tortillas so the meal completo could be packed inside. Donned in aprons (I likely looked absurd) we grilled each tortilla feast on state-provided, round, grated, dug-in, barbeque pits after just barely scrambling the eggs and cooking the meat aside ever so assiduously on a pan. Rosemary sprigs from nearby plants were plucked and dropped into the fire when ready. Then, there were exquisite avocados plucked by friends from close sprawling ranches and, of course, tomatillo sauce, salsa verde, salsa rojo, queso fresco, crema, cilantro, radishes and rekindling the goods...with several cups of joe. Our grub for the day.

The skies cleared, it warmed as the sun shone through in mid-morning just slightly toasting the eucalypti leaves so their scents diffused, then she disappeared for work, and I tried to heal thyself (often by watching dolphins graze).

This post may prove trivial to some, but it was the boon of our existence every morning.

EGGS, BACON & AVOCADO TORTILLAS

3-4 T unsalted butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, local, free range eggs
1 T whipping cream or creme fraiche
1/8 T sea salt
1/4 T freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper
Small amount of herbes de provence and/or thyme

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy nonstick skillet or a iron cast pan. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and/or thyme and a dollop of cream or creme fraiche in a glass bowl and whisk briskly.

Pour egg mixture into the skillet, with the heat on medium low. With a flat, wooden spatula, gently stir the eggs, lifting it up and over from the bottom as they thicken. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture — the eggs will continue to cook after being removed from the heat.

(As an alternative, try fried eggs covered in the skillet top cooked in a smearing of olive oil with salt and pepper only).

Gently cooked guanciale, pancetta, bacon, serrano or proscuitto

Avocado slices, alluringly fresh

Salsa verde and/or salsa rojo
Queso fresco and/or fine goat cheese
Crema

Radishes, sliced
Cilantro leaves, chopped

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.

Butt Ssäm-wich

March 28, 2012

There is no such thing as an ugly woman.
~Vincent Van Gogh

Ssäm (쌈) simply translates as “wrapped,” and refers to a Korean dish in which larger leafy greens — lettuce, cabbage, seaweed, sesame or bean and pumpkin leaves — are often used to cloak meat such as slow and low roasted or braised pork (belly or butt). But tongue, fish, kalbi, bulgogi, roe, and clams have also lined these luscious roll ups over time. Have to suggest and although this is by no means a directive or ethnically correct, ssäm would be divine with braised sweetbreads. Just a little whimsy.

Some say that ssäm was first savored by certain young women of the Goryeo dynasty, called Kisaeng (euphemistically pronounced kis-sang) or “art persons.” These comfort women emerged in the 10th century and were meticulously trained in music and poetry, but were also conscripted and subjugated as courtesans. Closely regulated as government slaves over time, they were obliged to entertain and offer their sensual wares with local royalty, military officers and dignitaries from China, Japan and other reaches. Sadly, other than rather vague anecdotal references, an unnerving and undeserved, even shameful, cold silence has enveloped the centuries old Kisaeng — likely resulting from repeated sexual abuses, horrid exploitation and degradation, and harsh postcolonial memories in Korea. Japan was particularly complicit in war crimes involving sexual violence with “comfort women” in territories occupied by the imperial military during World War II yet the country continues to ignore and abstain. The atrocious horrors of human servitude and trafficking usually meet with baseless denials and have ever been worse than intolerable. Is there true remorse?

(With a few alterations, this recipe is more than loosely adapted from the phenom chef/owner David Chang from New York’s momofuku restaurants — noodle bar, ssäm bar, ko, má pêche, seiōbo, and the bakery milk bar.) I might add this dish is flat sublime and will no doubt enrapture all around your table.

PORK BUTT SSAM

7-8 lb bone-in pork butt
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C raw sugar
1 C coarse sea salt

1 T coarse sea salt
1/2 C light brown sugar

1/4 C honey

Thoroughly mix both sugars and salt in a bowl. Rub pork with a few smashed garlics then rub the dry sugars/salt mixture all over the pork butt and cover thoroughly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 6 hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 F

Remove pork from refrigerator, discard any juices and allow to reach room temperature. Place the pork in a large, heavy roasting pan, place in the oven and cook, basting every hour after the first two hours, until meat is tender and easily shredded with a fork, about 7 hours or so. The internal temperature should read about 195 F.  At that temp, the connective tissues have melted, and the pork will be fork-tender and juicy.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together remaining tablespoon of coarse sea salt and brown sugar and then set aside.

Increase oven temperature to 500 F

Sprinkle and rub in the salt and brown sugar mixture over the top and sides of the pork, then drizzle with honey. Return pork to oven until nicely crusted, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the oven and allow to rest some. Carefully extract the single bone in the butt and discard, then shred the butt with forks and fingers.

White rice, cooked (bap)
Kimchi

Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
Chinese steamed buns (mantou)
Flour tortillas, warmed

Serve shredded pork enveloped in lettuce wraps bedded in rice or noodles or in chinese steamed buns or in small flour tortillas. Bed in some rice or noodles, lightly mount with kimchi and lather with ginger-scallion, ssäm, gochu garu and sichuan pepper, Korean soy sauce, and/or red curry peanut sauces. Try to avoid the urge to overload.

Ginger-Scallion Sauce
2 1/2 C thinly sliced scallions
1/2 C fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 C grapeseed or canola oil
1 T light soy sauce
1 t sherry vinegar
Pinch of sea salt

In a medium bowl whisk all ingredients together.

Ssäm Sauce
1/3 C fermented bean & chili paste (ssamjang)
2 T chili paste (kochujang)
1 t sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed or canola oil

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together.

Gochu Garu and Sichuan Pepper
3 T Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu)
1 t Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
1 t white sesame seeds, toasted
Pinch of sea salt
2 T canola oil
Pinch of sugar

In a small bowl, combine the Korean red pepper powder, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame seeds and salt. In a small saucepan, warm the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking.

Pour half of the hot oil over the chile powder mixture. Whisk the mixture and add the remaining oil. Stir again to moisten all of the dry ingredients and add the sugar.

Allow the mixture to cool, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and/or sugar.

“Korean” Soy Sauce
2 T shoyu
1 T water
1-2 t sesame oil
1 t white sugar
1 t raw sugar
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 t Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu)
2 T green onion, white and green parts finely chopped
3 t sesame seeds, toasted then crushed with a mortar and pestle

In a small bowl, stir together the shoyu, water, sesame oil and sugars, until the sugars have fully dissolved. Add the garlic, red pepper powder, green onion and sesame seeds. Refrigerate while the pork cooks to allow the flavors to meld.

Red Curry Peanut Sauce
1/4 C roasted salted peanuts
1 T brown sugar

2-3 t Thai red curry paste
8-10 T water
2 t peanut oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 fresh Thai or serrano chilies, including seeds, thinly sliced crosswise

Finely grind 3 tablespoons peanuts in a food processor along with brown sugar. Finely chop remaining tablespoon peanuts by hand and set aside.

Stir together curry paste (to taste) and 6 tablespoons water until paste is dissolved.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic, shallot, and chiles, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add ground peanut mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in curry mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped peanuts.

Allow to reach room temperature, then dilute with water to reach desired consistency.

Tacos à Paris? Enfin

June 1, 2011

Paris is always a good idea.
~Audrey Hepburn

A dimunitive spot in the Marais—not really a resto yet almost a caféCandelaria is now the self-annointed first bona fide taqueria in Paris. No doubt that claim will provoke debate on both rives and beyond. With minimal décor, a small counter, one communal table and a bouncer to boot, this venue offers tacos and tostadas to locals and tourists alike. About damn time, but never too late.

I have often been baffled why this eclectic culinary capital or even its overseas territories had not earlier embraced this humble and sumptuous street food. Tacos, un pur délice.

So, given colonial France’s nexus to southeast Asian fare…

SOUTHEAST ASIAN FISH TACOS

1/2 C shoyu
1/4 C coconut milk
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T red chile paste
1 T honey
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 Thai bird chiles, stemmed and minced
2 lbs skinless halibut or mahi mahi filets

1/2 C coconut milk
1/2 C peanut butter
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 t sesame oil
1 t red chile paste
Honey
Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 C red cabbage, very thinly sliced
1 C Napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 C pickled carrots and daikon radishes*

Fresh avocado slices
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Fresh mint, roughly chopped

Heated flour tortillas or steamed bao buns

Whisk together shoyu, coconut milk, lime juice, chile paste, honey, garlic and 1/4 cup water to make a marinade. Place fish in a ziploc bag, pour marinade over the top and gently toss to coat. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, stir together coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, and chile paste into a small saucepan over medium low heat. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add a drizzle or so of honey and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir dressing and set aside.

Put cabbage, onions, pickled carrots/daikon into a large bowl with half of the dressing or so and toss to coat. Set slaw aside. Reserve any remaining dressing.

Prepare grill to medium heat. Drain fish, discarding marinade, and cook on well cleaned and oiled grill until it flakes easily with a fork and is opaque, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer fish to a cutting board, allow to rest for a few minutes and then roughly chop. Serve fish in warm tortillas or steamed bao buns, topped with slaw, avocado slices, dressing, cilantro and mint.

*Pickled Carrots & Daikon
1 C carrots, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)
1 C daikon radish, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)

1/4 C warm water
3/4 C rice wine vinegar
5 T sugar
1 T sea salt

Mix warm water, vinegars, sugar and salt until all is dissolved. Mix carrots and daikon radishes in a tightly lidded glass jar. Pour vinegar mixture into carrots and daikon, stir, cover, and allow to marinade for 3 days or so. Drain off liquid when ready to use.

Pourboire: of course, there are many ways to skin this quasi cat, but consider adding some red curry paste in lieu of or in addition to the red chile pastes in both the fish marinade and the slaw; or drizzle with a mix of sriracha and/or red curry paste and crema.

The right time to eat: for a rich man when he is hungry, for a poor man when he has something to eat.
~Mexican proverb

A thinner version of cousin crème fraîche, rich and delicately sour crema Mexicana is simply unpasteurized cream which is slightly thickened naturally by bacteria. Crema is often drizzled atop tamales, enchiladas, soups, eggs or even slathered on tortillas as a base for tacos. That is just a brief take south of the border.

Spread this velvety condiment with impunity hither, thither and yon and simply self-indulge. Adulterate most all with it. Once hooked, you’ll never savor a taco again without a spatter or squeeze of silky crema—a sauce undeniably deserving of those bourdainesque food porn tags and prurient innuendos.

Crema is more heat stable than sour cream and is less likely to break or separate while cooking. Covered and refrigerated, it will keep for about a week or so. In a pinch, you may also purchase crema at the local grocery or Latin market.

CHIPOTLE CREMA

2 t buttermilk
1 C heavy whipping cream
1 T chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Juice of 1/2 fresh lime
Pinch of cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1/4 t sea salt

Pour cream into a small saucepan over low heat and stir just until the chill is off the cream. Lukewarm it—do not scald or boil. Stir in the buttermilk and pour into a glass jar.

Place a lid over the jar but do not tighten or batten down the hatches. Set in a warm location and allow to rest for at least one full day until it is noticeably thicker, much like yogurt. Once thickened, stir gently and refrigerate at least 4 hours to complete the thickening process.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the crema with the chipotles in adobo sauce, lime juice, cumin and salt. Process on high speed until smooth.

AVOCADO CREMA

1 C+ crema
3 T fresh cilantro leaves, freshly chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

2 large avocados–halved, pitted, scooped and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of sea salt

Make the crema as above or purchase at the store.

Add the cilantro and jalapeño to a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade, and purée until smooth. Add the crema, avocados, lime juice and salt and purée until combined. Taste and adjust the flavor by adding more salt if needed.

Pourboire: in a pinch, crema can be purchased at the local grocery or Latin market. Also, please draw on your imagination and consider versions where mashed, chunky avocado, chopped cilantro, minced garlic, minced roasted chiles, oregano, etc. are added to blend/process with the crema base. For instance, in the last batch of crema, I finished by adding a teaspoon or so of the unused dry rub for the low and slow roasted pork butt (salt, pepper, roasted & ground cumin seeds, dried oregano, dried sage, and dried ancho chile powder).

For years, I have consistently held that fear will be the bane of the 21st century. Well financed, unfettered fearmongering is America’s true threat. Fear and ignorance—those two tawdry bedmates ever entwined on that grimy mattress askew on the floor in that lurid, dimly lit room—are always breeding racism and bigotry. Fear and ignorance of things large and small will prove to be our downfall.

This evening, I watched the Phoenix Suns (led by immigrant Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash) in the Western conference semifinals game proudly wearing their jerseys emblazoned with Los Suns. The players were honoring the Latino community and the diversity of the league. The gesture also was protesting an anti-immigrant bill enacted by the Arizona legislature which they found intolerant and incompatible with basic fairness and equal protection under the law. Kudos to their sensitivity and willingness to step beyond the arc to deliver a timely shot on Cinco de Mayo.

Fittingly, the Suns’ game was preceded by a documentary called Inside the Reich.

Last month, Arizona’s El Gobernador Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, sophistically entitled “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” A deceivingly kind and gentle name for such a loathsome law. This measure obligates police to ascertain a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal alien. If you look like an illegal alien, and have no papers on your person, then you are simply taken into custody. Even inducing illegal immigration, giving shelter to illegal immigrants, or transporting an illegal alien, either knowingly or while recklessly disregarding the individual’s immigration status subjects you to arrrest. So, not only are police required to profile, but regular citizens are as well. It seems should you heedlessly fail to determine the “immigration status” of anyone in your car or truck, you have committed a crime.

Please do not be duped by radical idealogues or the culturally inane. This bill invites racial profiling and is imbued with prejudice based upon skin color and linguistic variety. This bill is a feeble attempt at legally enforcing homogeneity. In the land of the eternal tan, brown skin has become a basis for interrogation?

Sadly, other state legislatures are eyeing copycat legislation. Legal challenges over the bill’s constitutionality, fevered protests, and economic boycotts are already underway.

(Just a brief reminder. True Arizonans were and are the native American tribes who were summarily displaced by white conquerors. The state was formerly Mexican territory until the Mexican-American War otherwise called The U.S. Invasion by most latinos. This conflict was driven by the imperialist notion of Manifest Destiny. The belief that America had a divine right to expand the country’s borders from sea to shining sea, and his purported concerns over “national security” were the pretenses behind President Polk seeking out military conflict. Sounds eerily familiar. Based on forked-tongue rhetoric, the U.S. government invaded Mexico and unjustly seized large tracts of land, including Arizona…a region which attained statehood merely 98 years ago.)

Arizona’s knee jerk reactionary bill must be replaced by a reasoned policy of understanding — one that makes economic, legal, social, historical, and moral sense.

Ironically and thankfully, Mexican food is supremely genuine and devoid of such duplicity. Tacos al Carbón, meaning tacos cooked over charcoal, are such honest fare. They are quintessential backyard-balcony-picnic-tailgate eats.

TACOS AL CARBÓN

1 medium white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
5 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice
1 t cumin seeds, toasted and freshly ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 poblano chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
4 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
2 medium white onions, peeled and sliced into thick rounds
1 1/2 lb beef skirt, flank or sirloin steak, trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cilantro, chopped
Lime wedges
12 corn or flour tortillas, heated

In a food processor or blender combine the chopped white onion, garlic, lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper. Process to a smooth puree and smear the over both sides of the skirt steak in a baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Prepare the charcoal fire to medium high. Leave a lower area of the coals for less intense, indirect cooking.

Arrange the chiles on the grill, and cook, turning occasionally until the skin is blistered and uniformly blackened all over, about 5 minutes. Remove the chiles from the grill and cover well. After they reach room temperature, remove the charred skin and slice.

Meanwhile, brush the onion slices with olive oil and lay the whole rounds of onions on the grill. Grill until they soften and are lightly browned, about 10 minutes per side. Gently separate the grilled rings.

Remove the steak from the marinade and place it on the grill. Grill, turning once, until medium rare, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Before filling the tacos, heat over the grill until they just become pliable. Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.

Carve the grilled steak on a bias across the grain into thin strips. Loosely mix with the chiles and onions, season to taste and serve with the lime wedges, cilantro and tortillas.

Deep Blue Tacos

January 4, 2010

In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.
~Albert Camus

Gazing out the window at shivering naked trees, grey skies, white blanketed roofs and frigid readings, I cannot help but pine for warmer climes, gentle ocean breezes, radiant sun, scimpier attire and sand between my toes. Food is my ferry…and who needs clothes with central heating?

Many gastronomes posit that the fish taco emerged when Asians introduced Baja natives to the practice of deep frying fish. When this battered fried fish was combined with tortillas and traditional Mexican toppings, the fish taco was born. Damn brilliant. Rumor has it that modern fish tacos emerged in the 1950s in one of two Bajan fishing villages, Ensenada (on the Pacific) or San Felipe (on the Sea of Cortez). An ongoing rivalry has ensued, with both cities claiming to be the true “home” of the fish taco…sold from quaint stands by street vendors who produce simple, venerated comida rápida.

The hottest chile grown in central America or the Caribbean (10 on a scale of 10), the habanero is named after Havana, where it is believed to have originated. Later introduced to the Yucatan peninsula, the habanero is the most intensely spicy chile of the Capsicum genus. Unripe habaneros are green, but the color at maturity varies varies from orange to red—with white, brown, and pink ones occasionally seen.

Most habaneros rate 200,000 to 300,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units), which is some 30 to 50 times hotter than its cousin, the jalapeño. In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacologist, developed the first systematic laboratory approach used to measure a chile’s pungency. Named the Scoville Organoleptic Test, human subjects taste a chile sample and evaluate how many parts of sugar water it takes to neutralize the heat of the chile so that its pungency is no longer noticeable.

Flat with a shiny green color, the jalapeño is a small to medium sized chile that is prized for the hot, burning sensation that it produces on the back end. It is a sweet, medium heat (5 on a scale of 10), so the chile is used in sweet dishes such as well as savory ones. Jalapeños can be found fresh, roasted, pickled or smoked (when it is called a chipotle). The heat level varies from mild to somewhat hot depending on the methods of growth and preparation. It is named after Jalapa, the capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Please use a sustainable fish species to help restore our oceans.

FISH TACOS

Juice from two freshly squeezed limes
1/2 C yogurt
1/2 C crema (Mexican sour cream)
1 habanero chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Alaskan Pacific cod or halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2″ strips
Canola oil, for frying

1 C all purpose flour
2 t salt
1 lager beer

10-12 flour tortillas

Red cabbage, thinly sliced
Radishes, thinly sliced

Cilantro leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped, for garnish
Salsa verde (see Red, White & Green Flautas, November 14, 2009)

Make a white sauce by mixing the first nine ingredients, aiming for a slightly runny consistency. Set aside.

Make a batter by combining flour and salt, and then whisking in beer.

Heat canola oil in a heavy high edged skillet or Dutch oven 2″ deep over medium high. Using a thermometer, heat oil to 375 F. Dip fish pieces in the beer batter and carefully slip into hot oil. Fry unto fish turns golden, turning once so it browns evenly. Then remove to paper towels to drain.

Before filling the tacos, heat the griddle or large, heavy skillet to medium low heat and cook for about a minute until bubbles start to form and they become pliable. Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.

Place the freshly fried fish, cabbage and radishes inside the tortillas and drizzle with white sauce. Top with a light drizzling of salsa verde and chopped cilantro. Fold and devour.

The flute is not an instrument that has a good moral effect; it is too exciting.
~Aristotle

Flautas (derived from Spanish for “flute”) are simply made by tightly wrapping a tortilla around a savory filling and then deep frying the tightly formed cylinder. Now, a soft debate exists about differentiating a classic flauta from a taquito…with some asserting that flautas are made with larger (hence longer) flour tortillas while standard taquitos are made with smaller (hence shorter) corn tortillas. Others believe the flauta v. taquito nomenclature itself is blurred and has little to do with the finished product. For example, flautas are often cooked using corn and flour tortillas. With all due respect to the food gods and as often holds true in life, names seem to end in a distinction without a difference.

With a touch of shame, I do admit to some diversion. Customarily, flautas (or taquitos) are made with shredded chicken, so this recipe veers some. But, should you wish to go traditional—simply use chicken from succulent roasted, braised or chicken-rescued-from-broth pulled into shreds and shards for the filling.

FLAUTAS WITH SALSA VERDE & SALSA ROJA

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried oregano

Zest of 1 lime
1/2 C fresh lime juice
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, halved and crushed
2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced or finely minced
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 cinnamon stick, halved
Cilantro, roughly chopped

Corn torillas
Canola oil, for cooking

Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and oregano. Combine 8 remaining marinade ingredients in a bowl and then toss well with chicken in a heavy plastic bag. Seal well and place in refrigerator overnight.

Salsa Verde (Green Salsa)

1 pound tomatillos (10-12 medium), husked and rinsed
8 large garlic cloves, peels left on
1-2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 C cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt

Preheat broiler

Spread tomatillos, garlic, onions and chiles on a baking sheet and put under the broiler. Broil for about 5 minutes, until you see blackened, charred spots on the vegetables. Flip them over and roast until they become darkened, juicy, and soft.
Transfer these roasted ingredients and some of the cilantro into a food processor, and blend into a coarse purée. Add a little bit of water if necessary to attain your desired consistency. Add salt to taste, and the rest of the cilantro leaves.

Salsa Roja (Red Salsa)

4 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 pound (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Sea salt
Sugar or honey, about 1/2 teaspoon (optional)

Preheat broiler

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring for 1 minute, until they are very aromatic. Take care not to overcook as they can become bitter. Transfer to a bowl, cover with hot water and rehydrate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast the tomatillos and garlic on a baking sheet under a hot broiler until the tomatillos are soft, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes per side, and the garlics are soft. Cool, remove skins from garlics.

Drain the chiles well and add to the tomatillos and garlic, then transfer the ingredients to a blender or food processor. Blend into a coarse purée, then scrape into a serving dish. If necessary, during the blending process stir in enough water to attain desired consistency. Season with salt to your liking.

Flautas

Bring chicken in marinade to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and pound with a mallet until thin. In a heavy skillet, saute the chicken thighs for only a couple of minutes per side until just medium rare, then thinly slice.

Heat heavy, deep skillet with canola oil 2″ deep. Once hot (about 375 F) add corn tortilla for a few seconds to soften and then drain on paper towels. Lay in thinly sliced chicken, roll and secure with with a toothpick. Gently place back into the hot oil and cook until light golden brown; turn and finish cooking. Let cool some and remove toothpicks. Serve with salsa verde, salsa roja and crema or sour cream–all in separate bowls—or spread artfully on an open plate topped with the flautas that are sprinkled with crumbled queso fresco.

(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.