By Bill Turner
One afternoon, I was walking through the park in Fontana and I saw a group of Latinos enjoying themselves around their grill. I shouted across the way, “How about a double cheeseburger?” They shook their heads and wagged fingers in the air, but motioned me to come over. I lived in Chile for three years and love to speak Spanish, so I went over.
They were cooking very thin slices of beef and warming their tortillas on the grill. They took a few pieces of meat off the grill, chopped them into bite-size pieces, put them into a warm double corn tortilla. They then added some onion, cilantro, and salsa verde (a somewhat spicy green sauce made with tomatillos and jalapeños) and passed it to me. Wow, it was really good.
The following day, I was still thinking about those great tacos. This was truly authentic food and nothing like you find in any of the Mexican fast-food places. I decided that I had to figure out how to make them myself. So, I went to a Mexican market in Lake Geneva and started asking questions. The first thing that I realized is that there are many types of traditional tacos — carnitas, tacos al pastor, tacos de pescado and a hundred more in addition to tacos de carne. I decided to concentrate on tacos de carne asada since that is what I had just experienced. Some also call it the king of tacos.
IT ALL STARTS WITH MEAT & MARINADE
Talking to the butcher/shopkeeper, I found that the traditional meat used in tacos de carne is skirt steak, which is sliced very thin. I bought three pounds — about $7.50 a pound. He was excited to hear about the project and talked me through the whole process; it became clear that he knew what he was talking about.
Skirt steak can be tough and my Mexican guru suggested that I marinate the meat overnight in salt, garlic, turmeric, orange juice and lemon juice. He showed me two Goya products called adobo (a garlic salt seasoning with some added spices) and mojo criollo (orange and lemon juice with added spices), which I purchased. I looked at the labels and realized that these products had all of the ingredients he had mentioned. So, if you need a shortcut, these are good products, but I’ll tell you how to do everything on the following pages.
SPICE IT UP WITH TOPPINGS
We talked about the toppings. Traditionally, in Mexico, tacos de carne are served with onion, cilantro and salsa verde. Salsa verde is not as spicy as you might think and easy to make at home. Your local supermarket will also have it, but the homemade version is much better and most supermarkets will have tomatillos and jalapeños, the key ingredients.
So, here’s how you make this fantastic and authentic Mexican dish. It is very easy to do. The only complication is that you have to marinate the beef overnight or at least four hours:
First: The Gear
- Charcoal or gas grill
- Cutting board
- Small aluminum pan to put on the grill Blender or food processor (for the salsa verde)
Second: The Ingredients (8 servings)
- 32 soft corn tortillas (Remember that we always double up the tortilla)
- 3 lbs. skirt steak (If you go to a Mexican market, it will be very thinly sliced. In a regular supermarket, request the butcher to prepare something really thin.)
- 3 oranges
- 3 lemons
- Garlic salt
SALSA VERDE RECIPE
- 6 tomatillos (A Mexican market will always have them and most supermarkets now carry them.)
- 3 jalapeño peppers
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 2 bunches of cilantro, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic
- ½ tsp. salt and pepper
- The toppings: 1 cup cilantro and 1 onion, diced
Third: The Directions
PREPARING THE MEAT
Heavily season the meat with garlic salt on both sides.
Put meat into a gallon Ziploc® plastic bag and add the turmeric, orange and lemon juice. Seal tightly and marinate in refrigerator overnight or at least four hours.
PREPARING THE SALSA VERDE
Seed and take interior ribs out of the jalapeños or leave some in if you like it spicy. Coarsely chop and set aside. (Wash your hands thoroughly immediately. Be careful not to touch your eyes.)
Bring about one quart of water to boil. Remove the husk from the tomatillos and simmer in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and cool.
When the tomatillos are cool, quarter and put into a blender or food processor.
Add the peppers, onion, turmeric, garlic, salt and pepper, and one-half cup of chopped cilantro. Blend until smooth. You might have to add a little water to get it thick but flowing consistency.
PREPARE THE TACOS
Fire up the grill and cook the meat over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes on each side.
Remove to the cutting board and chop the meat into small pieces and put in aluminum pan on the grill.
Warm the tortillas on the grill.
Stack two tortillas, add a big spoonful of meat and top with onion, cilantro and salsa verde.
Wrap it up and enjoy.
After you have tried this at home, your ideas about tacos will change and you will begin to experiment with other types of tacos. Another great option is a taco salad. Throw some greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, guacamole and some tortilla chips in a salad bowl and add the grilled meat.