Growing up in southern California within a stone’s throw of the border; stone’s throw only if you happen to be Cam Newton and that stone has a North Korean rocket attached to it, Mexican food became staple food stuff. Now I love pretty much all cuisines, and growing up where I did, got to sample a fair share of what the world has to offer in ways of applying seasonings and imparting heat energy to a piece of meat. The various regional styles of Chinese, Italian, German, Thai, Indian, even American BBQ, they’re all great, but in truth I couldn’t eat one style 3 X per day, every single day for the rest of my life without a serious case of taco lust. To me, there is absolutely nothing better than a crunchy crispy shredded beef taco or a street vendor style carne asada taco. Mexican food is the one cuisine I could happily eat 3 X per day, every single day, for the rest of my life. My foodie philosophy is, if it can be put on a tortilla, on it will go and enjoy it I will. I really try not to knowingly eat the nasty stuff that Andrew Zimmer eats, no placenta, udders, eyeballs, and pancreas and definitely I steer clear of meat that has one large hole in it, but if it was put on a tortilla with salsa we’d have to see. Salsa can cover up holes.
Way back, just after the turn of the century, our family had the privilege of living in Australia for most of a year, courtesy of a sabbatical via the University of California. Needless to say there were no Mexican restaurants, not even a Taco Bell in sight.
Now Australia is a fantastic country with an unbelievable variety of brightly-colored birds, other cool animals like echidnas, platypuses, wombats and kangaroos, along with lots and lots of open space, and we’d all go back there in a heartbeat to live permanently, but after some months of Mexican-food deprivation, I had to teach myself how to make tortillas from scratch and resorted to smashing canned pinto beans with a fork to make refried beans. On the grocery shelves there, I did find jars of something reddish called “salsa”, but when the first ingredient on the label is sugar, you know it ain’t remotely like the stuff made in New York city and it’s certainly nothing like what you might expect. The only chile power available was cayenne; Pasilla, Anaheim, or any other chile variety might as well have been moon rocks, so most of my Mexican cookery while there was a scorcher. Even a pot of American chile became almost too spicy to eat.
On a BBQ note, among the many things we found very surprising about Australia was their Barbecue grills. That commercial about throwing the shrimp on the barbie is completely false. First of all, there are no shrimp in Australia, what they have are prawns or yabbies which are sort of a freshwater crayfish. Also, their BBQ grills are pretty much the equivalent of a charcoal-fired frying pan. The BBQs there all have most or all of the surface over the charcoal covered with sheet metal, not open grills like here. Maybe things have changed over the years, but we found it very puzzling to be sure!
Now that spring has sprung and the peach trees are beginning to flower (way too soon, probably) it is really nice to get back in the BBQ/grilling saddle once again. What better way to reintroduce that Kamado to heat via some lump charcoal than by doing some good ol’ carne asada for tacos!
Richwood, our local meat market, has stuff called “stew meat” and it’s really cheap, under 2 bucks/lb. It’s sold in 10 lb boxes that contain 2 bags each of 5 lbs. Now this stuff is not that tough-as-nails stew meat that you find in grocery stores. Nope! These chunks are trimmings from real steaks, rib, NY, Sirloin, and Porterhouse. They chunks are tender, lean, juicy and flavorful. Richwood trims steaks to make them ideal institutionally shaped and sized steaks and the trimmings go into their “stew meat”. Perfect for carne asada!
Long ago I’d discovered that our Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Rub, along with lemon juice make killer carne asada and it’s great on pork steaks grilled for that purpose. I wanted beef soft TACOS, so I seasoned up about 4 lbs of “stew meat” with Steak and Veggie Rub and squeezed a whole lemon into the meat. Truthfully, it could have used another half a lemon, but the resulting meat still had great flavor.
The meat was grilled over high heat in a grill basket and stirred off and on until it was mostly done, then into a bowl it went so the next batch could be cooked. Once all was done, all the meat was dumped back into the grill basket to reheat and left to cook longer so some pieces became nice and charred to give additional flavor.
My tortilla-making days are pretty much a thing of the past now, so we used run of the mill store-bought corn tortillas, but they were heated on an authentic Mexican cast iron griddle (from China probably), purchased in an authentic Mexican store. The heated soft corn tortillas were as authentic as we could make them!
I did employ a potato masher to smash canned black beans into smithereens and tossed in a spoon or two of bacon grease for authentic Mexican-style refried black beans. Along with real Mexican avocados, some cheese, a variety of salsas, great friends and too much wine, it was a truly great way to welcome the coming spring!