cucina bene; mangia bene (get your taco on)
Tacos are really popular right now. I subscribe to several cooking magazines and they have been featured on the cover or were the topic of an article in almost all of them. I love tacos, and growing up in Southern California exposed me to all kinds of them. When I was a teenager and lived in North County San Diego, there were taco stands (Taqueria) dotted along Highway 101. One of my first jobs was driving a parts delivery truck for my dad’s auto parts business. I was also on task to get lunch and bring it back to the shop. I would love to go to one of the Taquerias and bring some back to eat. Fish tacos were popular back then as they are trendy now. The tacos would be filled with local fish and stuffed with a spicy cabbage slaw. There were carnitas tacos with spicy shredded pork, ground beef tacos, and my all time favorite: potato tacos or tacos de papa. These tacos were filled with cumin-spiced mashed potatoes and then fried. Cabbage, tomatoes, and Mexican cheese was added after they came out of the fryer. I hadn’t eaten a potato taco in about 35 years until recently when our local Mexican fast food establishment started offering them. Then they were on the cover of May’s edition of Saveur magazine. I haven’t made them yet, but will be doing so very soon.
What makes a taco so special? It’s a very simple food yet it is so satisfying. I think one of the secrets is the tortilla. Most tacos are made with corn tortillas and good ones are really hard to find. Bruce & I went to Astoria a few years ago for a weekend getaway and while we were there we visited the farmer’s market. There were several vendors there selling Mexican food AND homemade tortillas. We bought 2 dozen and brought them back to our vacation rental along with some fixin’s for tacos. Well, those tortillas were so delicious that we ate several just with butter!!! Who needed to fill it up with anything??? They were so good that we ate most of them over the next two days…..if I remember correctly, we only brought home about 4 or 5 and they were quickly devoured over the next few days. I like to make avocado tacos which are little more than a warmed corn tortilla (I have a gas stove, so I just plop them on a burner for a few minutes to heat them up) with mashed avocado, cilantro and a little hot sauce.
We’ve made tacos from chile stewed meat, roasted chicken, shrimp, halibut, and tuna and we always serve it in a ‘build-your-own-taco’ fashion as it’s just so much more fun to pick and choose what to put on your taco.
Since it’s albacore tuna season again, I’ll leave you with a tuna taco recipe. I like tuna with mole sauce and green or yellow mole is best since the flavor of the tomatillos and chiles really compliment the flavor of the tuna. Be sure to use fresh tuna and not canned, and if you can’t get fresh albacore, use whatever kind of fresh tuna you can buy. Also, be careful not to buy previously frozen ahi tuna that has been injected with carbon monoxide to make it an unnatural color of pink. You’ll know what it is when you see it; ahi tuna (or any tuna for that matter) is not that color naturally.
Anyway, I like to marinate the tuna loins in a little peanut oil, spices, and chile for a few hours. I don’t use any acids like vinegar or citrus juice because I don’t want ceviche. When it’s time to cook, I grill the tuna for a few minutes on each side (I like my tuna rare), and then slice it for the tacos. The mole is then added when it’s time to build the taco. Here is a delicious yellow mole recipe that is not as well known as it’s darker cousins; it is one of the famous 7 moles from Oaxaca and it’s adapted from Chile Pepper Magazine…enjoy!
5 dried guajillo chiles
1/2 bulb garlic, peeled into individual cloves
1/2 onion, peeled and cut into wedges
4 tomatillos, husked and washed
1 ripe yellow tomato
2 Anaheim chile peppers
1/4 tsp. anise seeds
1/4-inch cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
1/2 tsp. peppercorns
1/2 tsp. dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 small corn tortilla
1/4 cup lard or peanut oil
3 cups fish stock or clam juice
1 1/2 lbs. fresh tuna
Soak dried chiles in boiling water and steep for 20 minutes or until soft. Toast or grill garlic, onion, tomatillos tomato, and Anaheim chile peppers until browned and softened. Remove any skins and seeds and puree in a food processor or blender; set aside. Toast spices and oregano in a small pan until darkened in color and fragrant. Grind in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle and add to vegetable puree. Tear tortilla into pieces and add to puree. Add a little stock to puree to thin the mixture and process to a smooth puree. Heat the lard or oil in a heavy saucepan and add puree. Fry, over medium heat stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken about 5 minutes. Stir in more stock to achieve desired consistency and season with salt and a little sugar to balance the acidity if necessary. Simmer on low heat for an additional 10-15 minutes or until flavors have married and sauce is thoroughly cooked; adjust seasoning. Serve with tuna and fixin’s: sliced limes (I like lots of limes), shredded lettuce or arugula, olives, chopped sweet or green onion, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, or whatever else you may have available or like on your tacos. Buon Appetitio!