Friday, April 22, 2011

The War of the Roses is Happening In My Mouth, or, Did We Really Just Make All That?

The sizzling of the Taco Salon has nearly subsided, though I found myself with some leftover carnitas and a raw serrano chile last night. If you've never just crunched into a raw chile of moderate to high heat, give it a try sometime. The crisp brightness is followed by the heat and somehow, that just goes hand in hand with taco-style food. I learned this bold move from a guy I used to work with named Onofre; he would walk around the kitchen, carrying at all times a raw jalapeno in the pocket of his chef coat. He would gnaw away at that thing and replace it hourly--the guy ate several jalapenos per day. One day, after realizing the value of this and finding a spot for it in my daily routine--to a much lesser degree, of course--I undertook an ill-advised, though heavily encouraged and cheered-on jalapeno eating contest with him. I lost in rapidly drastic proportion, going down about one crunch into the second chile. He did that weird creepy showdown staredown like that guy in Indiana Jones in the first ten seconds of this clip. I was the quivering, cowering Marion Ravenwood. Only instead of a burning hot stake, Onofre was holding a burning hot jalapeno, right in my face. Lesson learned: don't go toe-to-toe with a guy from Veracruz in a jalapeno eating contest.

Moving right along, a quick synopsis of the F.o.t.D. Taco Salon:
  • Queso fresco, made the night before: two quarts milk, heated to just under boiling, a few tablespoons of vinegar/lime juice/any sort of acid added, stirring as the whey gradually separated from the curds, straining into cheesecloth, adding salt, pressing overnight. As the name implies, this fresh cheese is just that--pure dairy goodness to combat the heat and sharpness of other flavors in the tacos.

  • Carnitas, also started the night before: seared pork butt, braised in pork fat with garlic, orange, ancho and guajillo chiles, leeks ('cause I had 'em around), tamarind and tamarind soda. Also some pork stock I had left from the Pork Salon. The meat was removed when falling apart, and a saloneer completed this task while we reduced the braising liquid to add back in for a lovely dose of moist succulence. The tamarind soda is full of sour sugary-ness, which reduces down to a really luscious sauce.

  • Al Pastor: adapted from Middle-Eastern immigrants to Mexico, the idea is similar to shawarma, in that meat is marinated in chiles and often times pineapple, then piled onto a spit. Rather than the lamb used for shawarma, pork is used, the meat-spit is fire roasted, then sliced off into a tortilla. Since we don't have spit-roasting capabilities (yet) at F.o.t.D., we marinated pork loin in a puree of pineapple, orange, lime, ancho chile powder, onion and garlic, then grilled it lightly. When charred, we removed it, chopped it, then pan fried it with some of the leftover marinade and a touch of the chile salsa we made, described below.
  • Carne Asada: Skirt Steak, a quick marinade (and I do mean quick; don't overcook this in a marinade before you even apply heat to it) in olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Then grilled nice and medium rare, and sliced.

  • Roasted Poblanos: just that--poblano peppers roasted on the grill, peeled, and cut into smoky little strips.
  • Grilled Tomatillo Salsa Verde: tomatillos grilled, then pureed with lime, serrano chiles, garlic cilantro. Tangy and sour, with a bit of heat.
  • Simmered Chile Salsa Roja: tomatoes char-grilled, then simmered to reduce with dried and fried ancho and guajillo chiles, onions and garlic. Pureed, with a nice smokiness and depth of flavor from the chiles. Hot, too.
  • And Guacamole! Diced avocado (well, avocado pressed through my cooling rack, which has wires creating squares about 1/3"x1/3". Just peel your avocado and press it through for the easiest way to get the perfect size and amount of squished-ness. This will allow you to keep some texture in your guacamole), onions, cilantro and a good bolt of the tomatillo salsa.
  • Hand Pressed Tortillas: Masa, lard, hot water, salt. Pressed and griddled. So superior to packaged tortillas, the way fresh pasta is to dried.
  • Refried Beans: Cooked black beans (simmered in just water until tender, no crunch remaining at all, but not falling apart into mush). Onions, jalapenos and garlic fried in lard, beans added to the pan and then mushed up, reserved cooking liquid added as needed.
  • Garnishes including crema (sour cream), chopped white onion, cilantro and chayote, that funny looking member of the squash family that crunches like an under-ripe pear and doesn't have a ton of flavor, but adds a great texture to the softness of tacos.
  • And of course, those Margaritas: equal parts fresh squeezed lime juice, tequila, and triple sec/Cointreau/Grand Marnier, shaken and topped off in chilled glasses with a touch of special and smoky mezcal from Oaxaca.
Is that it? I think that's it. Seemed like, for this Salon, this list format was the best way to fit everything in. Otherwise, I'd fill up page after page with silly descriptions that might not be that necessary. We'll save that for more simple topics. Perhaps the Brunch Salon? If interested, I have a couple of seats left on May 1--the Sunday after Easter, 11:00. $30, byob with a Bloody Mary included. Seats can be reserved here.

A big thank you to the Taco Saloneers who made it out despite the--sigh--still cold and rainy un-Spring-like weather. I think we were able to capture, for however short a time, a touch of summer together. Here's hoping Mother Nature catches up, and soon!