I mentioned last week that I hadn't decided what I was going to cook for the opening week post. In an email, Josh recommended that I do something evocative of Southern California since we are playing the Trojans. He suggested fish tacos. That fits the bill. It's healthy and Latin inspired. Why not? That's LA in a nutshell, right?
Now before any of you lurkers from Conquest Chronicles roll your eyes and start mocking Southerners for envisioning a cartoon stereotype that paints all Los Angelinos as eating probiotic locally sourced organic tacos while you wait for hours in traffic, I've been there. That's what people do there. You sit in traffic and stop for tacos; every single one of you from the retail assistant/actor to the paralegal/actor to the publicist/actor and even the occasional actor who is "just doing this in between gigs."
I don't blame you for loving tacos. We all do. And I don't blame you for wanting to believe in the benefits of the latest in an endless series of health food crazes either. If I made the Faustian bargain of trading away swaths of my waking life sitting in my car not moving in order to live in one of the greatest cultural centers in the world, (if anyone laughs at or doubts the idea that LA is a great cultural center, spend an afternoon at the Getty Museum) I'd do everything in my power to extend my life and hope to get some of that "driving" time back too.
A couple of days after Josh requested fish tacos, in the comment section of the last RBR Tailgating post, Indomitabl3 (which is somehow not getting underlined in red by spellcheck) requested steak tacos for "one gameday" this season but I am going to pretend he really meant "this week" to make this post look more like the answer to a taco craving movement than two completely unrelated suggestions.
As I told both Josh and Indomitabl3, the problem with doing tacos was Ole Miss.
Two years ago I featured some slow cooked citrus pork tacos here before the Ole Miss game for no other reason than that it tickled me to write "Olé Miss." We all know how that turned out. I remember making some definitive statement here swearing off, and here's where it gets iffy, either my pork taco recipe or tacos completely. The truth is I wasn't very sure at all what I had said. I mouth off a lot.
It took me a while to find what I wrote and it turns out I wasn't that restrictive. Rather than disown the recipe completely, in my post before the Ole Miss game last year (Chicken Cacciatore) I rued that I was spiritually unable to muster the strength to make pork tacos in the wake of Ole Miss's stupid little win.
Specifically I said: "For whatever reason, this concoction that I thought was not only satisfactory but superlative did not help the cause. I haven't had real tacos since."
That doesn't sound like the kind of language one uses when excommunicating a food-stuff.
Further, if you Google "RBR Tailgating Chicken Cacciatore" the first link is not to this site, but rather to a site that seems to have auto-translated into English a copy of my original post that had been auto-translated into another language and either they, or the original faux polyglot, removed my name from the piece, leaving me uncredited, which seems to be catching around here.
According to the translation of the translation I wrote: "For whatever reason, this mixture that we suspicion was not usually acceptable though greatest did not assistance a cause. We haven't had genuine tacos since." That's pretty definitive.
So let's make some tacos.
But first, I need to point out that there is nothing authentic about these recipes. If you are the type that demands that a dish with origins in some region or another be made according to the recipe set by someone's grandmother who is actually from the originating region, sorry. I look for what I think will taste the best within expected parameters. After reading recipes here and there I borrowed from here and rejected from there. Basically, I made these up. Besides, everybody's grandmother has a different recipe anyway (Ben 1 - Strawmen 0).
For the steak I like to use either a flank or a London broil. Both are relatively cheap as they have a reputation for being tough, but if you cut them ribbon thin, so thin that you can easily pull a piece apart with you fingers, you have the perfect taco meat. For the fish, I want a firm white fish that won't fall apart on the grill. I chose Cobia, but play to your tastes.
With both fish and beef I planned on three to four ounces per taco and two to three tacos per person. You know your crowd. Plan accordingly. As to sauces, I make enough assuming at least six or seven people and still wanting lots of leftovers that I have enough to play around with other recipe ideas. Unless you are catering Bryant-Denny (DM me) there should be plenty for most modest gatherings.
Again, with both I seasoned with salt and pepper only. There are so many flavors that we'll be throwing their way that any marinade or rub would get lost. Grill them both to your liking.
Salsa for Fish Tacos
4 Roma Tomatoes
½ Yellow Onion, Chopped
2-3 Cloves Garlic, Smashed
2 Jalapeno Peppers or others and more to taste, Chopped with Seeds Reserved
1 Handful Fresh Cilantro
The "chopped" and "smashed" are more guidelines that strictures. You want some surface area exposed to let them sweat over a med heat but they'll be pureed later, so don't worry about uniformity or anything like that.
Take the Tomatoes and Tomatillos and toss in a bowl with olive oil and salt. Roast them over a charcoal grill until they are mushy, for lack of a better word. If you don't have a charcoal grill a gas grill with a wood chip compartment would be fine. The point is to get some smoke into the vegetables.
If you don't have either, go ahead and cook them in an oven or on a regular gas grill but buy some canned chipotles. You can add them to the puree later.
When they get mushy, put them back in the bowl and let rest.
Next, heat a few glugs of olive oil in a sauce pan and lightly sauté the onion and peppers with a pinch of salt until the onions are translucent. Then add the garlic and as much of the reserved pepper seeds as you dare. Cook another minute or so and remove from heat.
A quick note for parents of very small children: If you don't cut up hot peppers and make skin contact with their flesh and seeds very often you might not realize how the oils of very hot peppers more or less fuse to your fingertips and set vicious little wildfires at every cross-contaminantory point you allow.
Rub your eyes? Meet burning death.
Wipe sweat from your brow? Suffer in forehead hellfire.
Go to the bath... DO NOT GO TO THE BATHROOM!
The choice of peppers for this recipe is pretty much up to your tastes. You like hot? Go nuts. Habaneros, anchos, pablanos? Whatever your comfort zone. I picked two jalapenos and a seemly innocuous European red chili from my neighbors garden. This time of year she always gives us a bag of mixed peppers and they are generally mild to medium spicy. The red chili was not what I expected. It was brutal. I have a blister, seriously, on my left "Go to UT!" finger just from handling the seeds.
It hurt, but hear this parents of very young children. Because my hands were weaponized I was out of diaper duty for six hours so only my wife could change our child. Think about that before you brush off my recipe in favor of a store bought simulacrum. Diaper free for six hours.
Combine the tomatoes and tomatillos with the sauted ingredients in a food processor. If you didn't have a smoke source, now is the time for a chipotle or two. Add the juice of one lime and a couple of pinches of salt and puree. Taste for salt and add lime if needed and then add a handful of cilantro and puree again. Put in a fridge and chill.
To serve the taco, take three or four ounces of fish and place into a warm tortilla. It needs a bit of cruch so with a potato peeler slice off a few ribbons of cucumber. It needs a bit of creaminess and depth so add some avocado as well. Both will temper the heat from the salsa without taking away from its flavor. Finally spoon the smoky salsa over the top and wrap.
It's tempting to keep adding things but there's a lot going on in the salsa. Just sit back and enjoy .
Moving on to steak, this is the most self referencing post I've ever done, but last year I put up a recipe for a hot dog sauce. We've been playing with it at home. The original pairs well not only with hot dogs but with burgers, eggs, and all manner of other things. We call it Awesome Sauce because we are fonts of original thought.
A few months ago we were having Old EL Paso meat, cheese, and lettuce tacos - so far removed from the pork tacos of Rebear induced sadness that they needed no justification - and smothering them with some store bought taco sauce. It struck me that with a few tweeks we could take Awesome Sauce international (or at least Tex-International) and make pretty good taco sauce. It worked.
El Awesome Sauce
¼ Medium Yellow Onion
3-4 Cloves Garlic, Smashed
2 Cups Water, with more as needed
1 Jalapeno, Chopped with it's seeds
2 tbsp. Tomato Paste
2 tsp. Corn Syrup
1tsp. Corn Starch
1 tbsp. Chili Powder
1 tsp. Cumin
2 tbsp. Distilled White Vinegar
Ground Cayenne to taste
Put a few glugs of olive oil in a sauce pan with the onion, peppers, and as many seeds as you are comfortable with. Saute until the onion is translucent and then add the garlic. After a minute add the water followed by every other ingredient except salt and distilled white vinegar.
Whisk until relatively smooth. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let it slowly cook at a very low temperature for forty-five minutes. Stir every five or so minutes while drinking a beer or three to keep from sticking to the pan. Add water if it gets too thin.
After forty five-minutes, add the vinegar, stir or whisk thoroughly, and let simmer for another thirty minutes adding water if needed to keep from getting gummy.
Next, strain the solids from the liquid. While it's the liquids we are after, don't be a fool and throw away the solids. They are going to amaze you tomorrow morning on top of scrambled eggs.
Salt to taste and correct for heat with ground cayenne if needed.
Steak Taco Relish
Red Onion, Minced
Cucumber, Minced - equal amount to Red Onion
Jalapenos, Minced - ¼ to ½ amount of Red Onion and Cucumber, to taste
Again, I have no idea how many people you are planning on serving but relative proportions should suffice. Mix the vegetables, add small amounts of salt, cilantro, and lime juice. Taste, repeat until you are happy. I like a citrusy relish, but that's just me.
To make the taco put a three or four ounces of steak ribbons on a warm taco with relish to taste and El Awesome Sauce it up.
I assume that some of you are looking to make either fish or steak tacos. Heck, I assume some of you are going to say "Tacos. Hell yeah!" and then go to Taco Bell. Most of you will order pizza. But I loved having both on the same plate. If you have the time, try it. Ours is the late game. If you have a TV (television) in your kitchen there is a whole day's slate with opportunities to sneer at Harbaugh, cheer on LSU (because I like them - they play real football - whatever - I have a second favorite team - not really your business), and see how the Kirby Smart project is shaping up before we take the field. Why not make loads of awesome food while you watch.
Have both. It's opening weekend.
I'm hoping I've untethered tacos from the Ole Miss loss, if it was ever tethered outside of my whiny brand of culinary ennui.
I have a superstitious side. It's the reason I can't watch TV (television) and sit down while Bama is playing unless they are up by two scores. I pace for stupid silly reasons. I accept that because I have a Catholic side that knows that superstition is bunk and that the only things that actually affect these games are the preparation and determination of the players and coaches, some crowd noise, and the occasional bagman.
If we don't win this game it won't be because we had a taco or two pre-game instead of a roast beef sandwich or some such. It will be because we are asking a new quarterback-center-running back combo to face a stout defense with one of the best pair of cornerback/actors in the nation. I love playing a worthy opponent right out of the box.
We should win this game. We have the talent. We have the coaching. Just in case, we have the hoodoo. Not that I believe in that. But you should hoodoo. It can't hurt.
My non-rooting best to USC because this is such a fun match-up. I hope we beat the hell out of them, but for both: No Injuries, Roll Tide, and enjoy some tacos.