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Tacos Al Pastor

Al pastor is one of our favorite styles of meat when dining at a Mexican restaurant.  The actual making of the special pork marinade and the tacos themselves is not all that difficult.  What’s difficult is waiting for hours for delicious food while the meat marinates for up to a day in the fridge!

tacos al pastor

tacos al pastor

Makes 12 tacos

2 lbs. of 1/4″-thick sliced pork sholder

12 corn tortillas

1 1/2 cup of chopped fresh pineapple

1 roughly chopped white onion

3 dried ancho chili peppers

3 dried guajillo chili peppers

3 chipotle chili peppers (from a can of adobo sauce)

2 tbs. of adobo sauce

2 tbs. of apple cider vinegar

2 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbs.

2 tsp. of kosher salt

1 tbs. of butter

1 tsp. of ground cumin

1 tsp. of Mexican oregano

1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon

Salt to taste

saucy

saucy

Boil about 5-6 cups of water in a small saucepan to rehydrate the dried peppers.  Once the water is boiling, remove it from heat, then add the ancho and guajillo peppers and let sit for 10 minutes.  Drain from the water, remove the stems, split in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds.  Put all ingredients except the meat, tortillas, onion, 1 tbs. of olive oil, butter, and salt in a food processor, and pulse until smooth.

getting ready to sit in the fridge

getting ready to sit in the fridge

Coat the meat with the sauce on all sides.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours in a glass or ceramic dish covered with plastic wrap – do not let marinate on metal, because the pineapple would soak up a metallic taste.  The longer you marinate, the deeper the flavor.  However, if you happen to use canned pineapple even when the recipe calls for fresh, you will need to marinate the meat for at least 24 hours.

mostly grilled

mostly grilled

After marinating, you can either grill the meat on a propane grill over high heat for roughly 3 minutes on each side, or pan fry in a nonstick skillet, also over high heat and for about 3 minutes on each side.  Remove the heat from the heat source – at this point they are nearly 2/3 cooked – and transfer to a cutting board.

Trim away any excess fat and take the meat off the bones.  Cut the meat into 1/4″ pieces.  Heat the remaining 1 tbs. of olive oil and butter to a frying pan over medium-low heat, and cook the chopped onion for about 10 minutes until roughly caramelized.  At this time, turn the heat up to high and add the chopped meat.  Cook for another 5-6 minutes until the meat gets nicely brown and caramelized.

Warm the tortillas on an ungreased nonstick frying pan or griddle.  Load up the tortillas and add some optional garnishes: lime wedges, chopped cilantro, sour cream or crema mexicana, salsa verde, cotija cheese, Oaxacan cheese, guacamole, and pico de gallo.

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Los Potros, Tracy CA

Nearly hidden by surrounding buildings but still in broad view on a busy street, Los Potros Restaurante Mexicano at 508 E 11 St. attracts a big crowd.  After we ordered at the counter we learned that we also could have sat down at one of the (few remaining) tables to review menus with more details than a bulletin board.  Had we not been at the counter, though, we wouldn’t have seen the horchata and jamaica beverage fountains.  Zach’s younger brother Willie joined us for dinner and we shared a glass of each agua fresca among the three of us while we waited for our plates to be brought to our table.  Since Willie hadn’t tried jamaica before and he enjoyed it, we took that as a good sign that our coming meal would be deliciosa.

torta de bistec

torta de bistec

Willie got the classic Mexican sandwich with steak.  He reported that the tender beef didn’t pull out and was easy to bite through.  The fresh quality bread was soft inside and crisp outside, from just the right amount of grilling.  Creamy, fresh avocado and rich, light, and tangy crema balanced the jalapeños resulting in a fair amount of heat without being overwhelming.  None of us knew from the bulletin board that this would come with fries, and even though they were prepared from a frozen state, Willie said they were “golden to perfection.”

chimichangas de pollo

chimichangas de pollo

We’re accustomed to seeing chimichangas as a side or appetizer.  There are many theories to the origin of the stuffed and deep fried flour tortilla, but it is commonly agreed that it is a truly American dish, in the sense of embracing the Americas as a continental culture from Arizona to Sinaloa.  With a nice amount of rice and beans, this pair as an entree was very filling.  Crispy and fried yet absent of grease, the tender chicken inside was moist and savory.  It was stewed with “tons of spices” like Mexican oregano and chile.  Los Potros sends this from the kitchen usually with crema, cotija cheese, and guacamole, but Zach requested no guacamole; otherwise the picture would have been prettier.

cóctel de camarón, pulpo, almeja, y abulón

cóctel de camarón, pulpo, almeja, y abulón

Nearly a quarter of the menu is dedicated to mariscos (shellfish), so it would be a disservice not to try something from that section.  August was not disappointed with her choice of shrimp cocktail; she initially asked for the one with shrimp and octopus, but then the camarero at the counter asked if she’d like the one that also had clams and abalone.  Well now, who would say no to that?  The peeled shrimp, massive octopus hunks, bed of clams, and abalone pieces were remarkably fresh and meaty, swimming in a chalice of tomato and lime juice with abundant vegetables.  Onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cilantro were “fresh, fresh, fresh,” providing crunch and acidity to contrast the sinking bite of the seafood and the creamy avocado pieces.

We made it here just in time for dinner, as Los Potros opens at 8 am but closes at 8 pm.  If we find ourselves in the area during the mañana, we might have to stop in to try breakfast.  The happy patrons around us validated our opinion that this is a great place for made-to-order comida mexicana.

Tacos de Carne Asada

The word taco comes from Nahuatl, a language indigenous to Central America that was used by the Aztec and is still spoken by about 1.5 million people today.  The tlacopan, aka taco, is now a staple across Mexico and its neighbors, and no wonder – one is just enough to tide you over until the next meal, or multiple tacos can be filling and fulfilling, so they please as a snack or an entree.  Simple but scrumptious, make your own instead of visiting that infamous chain and you might not care to return there.

Makes 10 stuffed tacos

1 1/2 lb. flank steak

10 small corn tortillas

2 cups of shredded iceberg lettuce

2 tomatoes, diced

1 large avocado, halved and sliced

1 cup of canola oil (for frying)

1 cup of sour cream

3/4 cup of mild or medium cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 cup of soy sauce

3 tbs. of milk

1 tbs. of dried cumin

2 tsp. of dried oregano

2 tsp. of garlic powder

2 tsp. of onion powder

1 tsp. of cayenne pepper

Your favorite salsa to taste

marinade

marinade

Make a marinade with the soy sauce, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne.  Mix together in a bowl.  Put the flank steak in a large food storage bag, add the marinade mix, zip closed, and let sit in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

fry 'em up

fry ’em up

Fill a deep-sided saute pan with the oil.  Heat over medium heat.  One or two at a time, place the tortillas in the oil; fry each side for roughly 1 minute, turning only once.  The edges of the tortillas will be harder while the centers stay somewhat softer.

Using tongs and a long knife, as soon as you take a tortilla out of the oil, bend it over the knife.

draining

draining

Use brown paper bags to soak up oil and let the tortilla shells drain and harden.  Mix the sour cream with milk and transfer to a squirt bottle for fancier looking presentation, but keep in the refrigerator for now.

grill it up

grill it up

Clean and then preheat the grill on medium-high heat.  Grill the flank steak to your desired temperature, flipping once.

medium rare

medium rare

Roughly 10 minutes on each side would be medium-rare.

sliced

sliced

Remove the meat from the grill and transfer to a clean cutting board.  Let rest for 5-6 minutes.  Slice lengthwise, then each strip slice into thin pieces – the thinner the meat, the easier to eat.

Load up the shells with: steak, salsa of your choice, lettuce, cheese, avocado, sour cream, and tomato.

tacos con carne asada

tacos de carne asada