Friday, August 17, 2012

Mexican Street-Style Tacos à la The Gringa Girl

Mexican Street-Style Steak Tacos |
When I left Kansas City this past March and moved to Dallas, I mourned losing access to a wide array of quality food joints. Oklahoma Joe's BBQ, McCoy's Public House, Blue Koi, and Blanc Burger+Bottles were a few of my favorites out of the slew of restaurants that were within a 15 minutes (or less) drive. Yet, for all its diverse offerings, Kansas City lacks one thing—good Mexican food.

I was oblivious to this fact until my boyfriend moved to Texas nearly four years ago. Every few months I'd fly down to visit him and because his kitchen was only equipped with bachelor necessities, we ate almost every meal out. Inevitably, he took me to his favorite lunch spot: Chiloso Mexican Bistro.

While we stood in a line that wrapped around the dining area for 5-10 minutes, I immediately compared it to Chipotle. Yes, it had burritos and tacos, but it also had a more expansive lunch/dinner menu, not to mention they served Austin-style breakfast tacos.

Like a timid newb, I ordered a burrito with lots of meat, cheese and veggie toppings smothered in queso, plus a side of chips & salsa.

I almost had a gut explosion trying to polish off 3/4 of that infant-sized wrap, but in the process I had a taste bud epiphany
The food tasted like it was home cooked. The tomatoes were chunky, large & uneven. The grilled chicken & roasted pork were juicy—I've received overcooked chicken many times at Chipotle—with subtle seasoning and the salsa was spicy and fresh. The ingredients hadn't gone through a factory line of precise prepping and mass recipe unification. Needless to say, I went back to KC and dreamt of my next Chiloso excursion. That is, until a few years later when I ate at my first taqueria.

Fast forward to now.

Dallas is full of taquerias. I've only lived here 4 1/2 months and from what I've read in the Dallas Observer and physically seen driving around, the taquerias are plentiful and the competition is fierce. I've only eaten at a few of them, which might seem like blasphemy, but I tend to stick with my favorites like a loyal friend until someone points out another food gem and then I hop on over to patron the new place.

Right now, my taqueria of choice is El Atoron. Like every decent taqueria, it's in a tiny, hole-in-the-wall building, but the food is authentic. I always order the same thing: 3 chorizo tacos & 2 roasted pork tacos + a large Horchata.

In case you've never sampled one, horchatas are refreshing cinnamon & sugar 
flavored beverages, comparable to Cinnamon Toast Crunch in drink form. An horchata tastes creamy, like it contains milk, but it's actually non-dairy, made instead with rice & almonds. If you don't have access to a taqueria or a more authentic mexican restaurants that serves it, here's a great horchata recipe.

Moving on, each taco is comprised of two soft corn tortillas, grilled meat, diced white onion and chopped cilantro. The whole order is accompanied by several lime wedges and a green & red sauce.

That's it.

Sound too simple? Bland? You'd be wrong! These four fresh ingredients + lime & sauce, unite to create a powerful flavor combination. Not to mention that those secret, difficult-to-replicate green & red sauces are worth waging wars over. IF ONLY I could figure how to make them at home. ::sigh::

Hence, the reason for this post. I duplicated the basic street-style tacos formula and they were every bit at good as they could be (without the special green & red sauces, of course). So far I've made them with chorizo, pork shoulder (pulled pork) and steak. Chorizo is my favorite, but really, any cooked meat (or beans & grain if you're a vegetarian/vegan) that you have on hand would work inside these tacos.

Mexican Street-Style Steak Tacos
Soft corn tortillas are filled with warm steak, diced onion, chopped cilantro, a sprinkle of salt, then doused with fresh squeezed lime. Here, the leaner & cheaper eye of round cut is used instead of the typical marinated flank steak. This saves both time, money and calories. You can easily swap out the steak for chicken, pork, ground beef, chorizo, beans or grains, but keep the other ingredients intact as they create the base for this simple meal. 
Servings: 2 (can easily be doubled or tripled)

2 small grass-fed steaks (top sirloin, strip, ribeye, eye of round--whatever cut you prefer)
1 tbsp cooking oil (one that has a high smoke point is best)
1 tsp of meat seasoning and/or a combo of sea salt, fresh pepper & garlic powder
1/2 white or sweet onion, diced
1/2 bunch of organic cilantro, leaves roughly chopped & stems removed
1-2 teaspoons of organic, virgin coconut oil
6-12 homemade corn tortillas or organic corn tortillas (use 12 if double layering tortillas tiny tortillas)
1-2 limes, cut into wedges for squeezing
Sea salt (optional)
Salsa, pepper sauce or chile sauce (optional)

Recommended Equipment
cast-iron skillet
stainless steel tongs

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  1. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Remove steaks from fridge and season both sides with a few dashes of the  following: sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and garlic powder. Just eyeball the spices. If you have a favorite meat seasoning blend, you may also use that. Let the steaks rest 30-60 minutes prior to cooking so the meat comes closer to room temperature. 
  3. Meanwhile, dice half an onion; set aside for taco garnish.
  4. Take 1/2 a bunch of cilantro (in other words, 1/2 of the bundle it's sold as at the store/market), chop off the visible bottom stems then remove leaves from remaining stems. Pile leaves together and rough chop a few times; set aside for taco garnish.
  5. Quarter 1-2 limes into wedges; set aside for taco garnish.
  6. Heat a cast iron skillet (or any oven safe pan) to high and add the 1 tbsp cooking oil. The pan should be VERY HOT in order to create a proper sear on both sides of the steak. You might want to remove the batteries from your smoke alarm temporarily, turn on a fan and/or open a few windows. 
  7. Place steaks into the hot pan (it should sizzle). Make sure not to crowd the pan. Use two pans if necessary. Let them cook for 2 minutes. Flip the steaks over, then let them cook another two minutes. I recommend using a timer here
  8. Using an oven mitt, transfer the pan into the oven and let it cook for 2-6 more minutes. This will create a medium, pink center. IMPORTANT: For smaller, leaner steaks like the one I used in this recipe (eye of round), you'll want to keep it in the oven no longer than 2 minutes, even less if you want to achieve medium rare. For a larger, fattier cut such as top sirloin, strip or ribeye, 4-6 minutes will achieve a pink center. And if you're uncertain, you can always do the finger test to check for doneness. 
  9. Remove pan from oven. Using tongs, place steak on cutting board or plate, cover loosely with aluminum foil or a dish towel and let rest for 7-10 minutes without cutting into it.
  10. While the steak rests, heat a skillet to medium and melt 1-2 teaspoons of organic, virgin coconut oil. Warm all tortillas for a minute on each side in the skillet. Alternately, you can stack and wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for minute. 
  11. Thinly slice the steaks. Place a few pieces onto each tortilla (authentic street-style tacos use two tortillas, but I am doing P90X & watching carbs so I opted for only one per taco). Garnish with plenty of onion and cilantro. Squeeze the juice of 1-2 lime wedges over each taco. Optionally, you may sprinkle the tacos with sea salt and drizzle on your favorite salsa, green or red sauce if you're a badass, or a pepper sauce like Tabasco. 
Now would be a perfect time to crack open a cerveza or two. Or, if you're like me, you've been sipping on a beer or wine since you started cooking. ; ] 

Either way, rejoice and stuff your facehole. And while you're doing that, think about an answer to this question:

I'd like to hear from YOU!

What are your favorite fillings for tacos?

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