Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: More Rick Bayless Mexican Food

An intense craving for Mexican food hit me recently. I realized this most clearly while reading Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," when every time I read about some poor starving person eating beans and tortillas (amidst the blood and gore) I was like "Ooh! Tortillas... Mmmmmm...." Stanley says that makes me a weirdo, but we'll check back with him when he re-reads the book after not having lived near good Mexican food in 4 years... Anyway, when I want to make Mexican food, I tend to turn to Rick Bayless, so I cracked open Mexico One Plate at a Time looking for some new awesome taco recipe and maybe something to do with the beautiful Blood Farm flank steak in my freezer.
For the tacos, I decided on Mexican-style Zucchini Tacos since it seems to finally be summer and zucchini screams "Summer!!!" to me. The only flank steak recipe in the book is Grilled Flank Steak with Tomato-Poblano Salsa, so I decided to go with that... and it turned out to be the first Epic Fail of my cookbook adventure endeavors... Let's start there, shall we? You start off by roasting all of the salsa ingredients (which will also become marinade ingredients). There are poblanos (which I charred on the grill),
tomatoes (charred under the broiler, as instructed, then peeled and cored),
and onions and garlic (oven-roasted without any oil or seasoning, as instructed).
At this point, I was looking forward to the dish. Simple, clean flavors. How can it go wrong... right?
The tomatoes, onions, and garlic are puréed, then added to the diced roasted poblanos. About a half cup of this is added back to the blender to be pureed with balsamic, olive oil, a little sugar, and some salt to become the marinade. The marinade tasted pretty decent, so I added the flank steak...
I hadn't been so sure about the salsa from the get-go, and the more I tasted to try to see what I needed to tweak, the more I realized that nothing could be done to save it. It was absolutely nauseating... as in, I literally thought I was going to throw up if I didn't get that taste out of my mouth. The smell became too much for me, too, and I decided to toss the whole batch. (Such a waste of pretty chiles and tomatoes... Sigh...) I opened the bag where the steak was marinating and (even though I knew the marinade tasted fine) the aroma was reminiscent of the nasty, nasty salsa, so I decided to rinse all of the marinade off and soak the steak in cold water to get any extra ickiness out while I made an emergency grocery run to start over. I have no idea what happened here. I followed the recipe to the letter, and the ingredients were all used elsewhere without problem. I had some garlic issues (I threw away several cloves because they had a "corked wine" aroma when I smashed them), so I wonder if maybe one of the bad garlic cloves snuck in? When I was making pico de gallo later, the warm (it is summer) room-temperature chopped tomatoes had a smell that called back to the salsa to the extent that I started to get a little nauseous again, so it could have just been some crazy reaction to the lightly-roasted tomatoes? I have no clue, but I will not be making this again to find out. If anyone out there tries this recipe (after this ringing endorsement...), let me know if you have better luck. Blech.

On to happier things. Let's talk about Zucchini Tacos. I went off-recipe in two places here. The first was in choosing to grill my corn before cutting off the kernels (because grilled corn is delicious).
I grilled the corn at the same time as I was charring up my poblanos. I guess I technically went off-recipe there, since Bayless says to do it under a broiler. I find that the grill is much more efficient for a large number of chiles (especially when it's already fired up for the corn) and the grill is always a better idea than the broiler on a day where you're running the air conditioner in the kitchen...
The charred skins come off easily, after which stems and seeds are removed.
The next ingredient is zucchini. Zucchini is one of those ingredients that I never give a second thought to most of the year, but find myself seriously craving on hot, sunshiny days...
The zucchini is diced and set aside with sliced roasted poblanos, grilled corn kernels, and cilantro, to be added with some crème fraîche as the dish finishes cooking.
Before we get there, some lovely tomatoes are pulsed in the food processor and set aside.
The second place I officially went of recipe was to substitute pork fat for vegetable oil (because pork fat is more delicious than vegetable oil). I assume "vegetable oil" was just a typo, anyway, where Bayless intended to write "pork fat," so I was more correcting an error in editing than actually changing the recipe... Some onion is sautéed in the pork fat until starting to brown.
Garlic is added and cooked briefly, before the tomatoes are added in and cooked for a few minutes.
This flavor base (as Bayless calls it) can be prepped in advance, with the remaining ingredients added and the cooking completed just before serving. (By the way: This flavor base is the exact same set of ingredients as the part of the salsa that was so disgusting, they're just prepared differently... I have no idea what happened there...) I was working on a back-up plan for the Epic Fail above during this time, so I'll just show you the finished taco filling, which has been sprinkled with a little Mexican queso fresco:
Dished up with homemade corn tortillas, this is totally awesome. I loved the creaminess that the small amount of crème fraîche brought to the sauce, and the zucchini was perfect with the poblanos and corn. I was a happy camper again, almost forgetting about that other dish that I'm not going to talk about any more...
I love having a grocery store 1.5 blocks away so that when a kitchen emergency hits you don't have to go sit in traffic. I always prefer to get produce at Russo's, but my local giant chain store will do in a pinch. I decided to do sort of a carne asada treatment of my flank steak, marinating in lime, garlic and salt,
before grilling to perfection...
I don't think I've ever cooked flank steak before, but this was really good (and way easier than what I was originally attempting). As long as you slice against the grain, it's actually pretty tender, and is definitely a good red meat for tacos.
I also picked up some pico de gallo fixins to have on my steak tacos...
Along with those homemade corn tortillas (which were perhaps what I was craving most of all) and a nice fresh batch of horchata, this is exactly what I was in the mood for.
I will definitely be making the zucchini taco filling again, maybe to serve with grilled shrimp or some other non-steak protein... Overall, I'd actually call the end result of this day of cooking a hard-to-improve-upon success, even if there were some trials and tribulations (and ingredients in the rubbish bin) along the way. This should definitely sate my Mexican food cravings for a while, so I can go back to reading my book without tortilla-longing getting in the way...

No comments: