It's That Taco Time of the Year!
By Mary James • Photography by Martin Mann
This year is the 150th anniversary of the military victory celebrated in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo and most of San Diego will join in the festivities with a Mexican food fiesta. If you're planning a party, spice up your table with one — or all three — of these variations on traditional tacos.
Casa de Pico
CASA DE PICO CHEF AIDA ELBERS adds the sweet tang of oranges to this traditional dish built around spicy, slow-simmered pork, a favorite at the colorful La Mesa Mexican restaurant. To enhance the flavors, braise the meat a couple of days in advance.
Fabuloso Carnitas Asadas Tacos
3 to 4 pounds pork shoulder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 cans Coca-Cola
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 whole bay leaf
3 fresh oranges
2 fresh serrano chilies, seeded and sliced lengthwise in small strips
1 yellow onion, sliced into small strips
1 dozen corn tortillas
Fresh cilantro and lime wedges, for garnish
1. Cut the pork into four chunks. Don't trim the fat, as you will need it for the braising.
2. Heat 1/2 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan. Add the pork pieces and, cooking on high heat, sear on all sides.
3. Reduce the heat and add the Coca-Cola, salt, pepper, garlic and bay leaf. Cut the fresh oranges in half and squeeze the juice into the pan. Then add the orange halves to the pan.
4. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 1 to 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and comes apart with a fork.
5. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat using two forks.
6. Heat the remaining oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté the serrano chilies and onion until tender.
7. Add the shredded pork and sauté quickly. Keep warm.
8. Warm the tortillas and fill each with some of the pork mixture. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with a wedge of lime.
Romesco Baja Med Bistro
CHEF JAVIER PLASCENCIA'S succulent short ribs braised in red wine provide the savory shredded beef for these soft tacos served at the acclaimed Bonita restaurant. Serve the meat in a large bowl so family and friends can make their own soft tacos. Provide chopped onion and cilantro, a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh salsa for topping if desired.
4-5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
1 fresh sprig of rosemary
1 fresh sprig of thyme
2/3 cup red wine
1/2 white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 cups water (approximate)
Salt and pepper
4 cups red wine
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh sprig of rosemary
1 fresh sprig of thyme
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
8-10 corn tortillas, heated in a hot pan or on a grill
1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
2. Place the short ribs in an oven-safe roasting pan large enough to hold them in one layer. Add the herbs, wine, onion and garlic. Add water to cover meat and fill the roasting pan.
3. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Place in preheated oven and cook for 4 to 5 hours until beef is tender and easy to remove from the bone.
4. Remove the ribs from the pan. Remove the bones and any excess fat. Shred the beef and set aside. (Can be prepared in advance and reheated before serving.)
5. Combine the wine, pepper and herbs in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced in half. Strain and return to the saucepan.
6. Skim excess fat from the short rib cooking liquid and add it to the reduced wine. Bring to a boil. While boiling add the red wine vinegar and sugar. Taste and correct seasoning, adding a dash of Worchester sauce if desired.
7. Prepare a slurry with water and the cornstarch. Add to the gravy and bring to a boil to thicken. Add additional cornstarch until gravy is the desired thickness. Stir in the shredded short rib meat and keep warm.
8. Heat the corn tortillas in a hot pan or on a grill.
9. To serve, fill the warm tortillas with the meat-gravy mixture.
WHEN THE BRIGANTINE FAMILY of restaurants decided to change one of its tuna appetizers, corporate chef Steve Floyd devised this modern mini-taco with Asian accents. Easily shared, these spicy bites are a healthy, simple-to-make alternative to traditional tacos.
Ahi Poke Wonton Tacos
Oil for frying
18-24 round pot-sticker wonton wrappers (fried like a taco shell)
1 pound sashimi grade Ahi tuna, finely diced
1/4 pound of tomatoes, cored and finely diced
4 tablespoons yellow onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon Sriracha or other hot sauce
1/4 cup soy ginger dressing (recipe follows)
1 teaspoon Asian slaw (recipe follows)
Wasabi Crema (recipe follows) and black sesame seeds for garnish
1. Heat oil in a small frying pan. Fry the pot sticker wonton wrappers folding them like a taco shell. When crisp, set on paper towels to drain.
2. Combine the tuna, tomatoes, onion and hot sauce in a bowl. Add ? cup of the soy-ginger dressing and mix well.
3. To assemble the tacos, place a scant teaspoon of the Asian slaw in each wanton shell. Top with some of the tuna mixture.
4. Garnish with Wasabi Crema and a sprinkle of black sesame seeds and serve.
Makes 2 cups
4 tablespoons fresh ginger,
peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dried mustard
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/4 cup salad oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce (available in supermarket Asian food sections)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and blend until thick and creamy. Strain through a fine strainer. Set aside. (Can be made in advance and chilled until used.)
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and sliced very thin
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and minced
1 small carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup soy-ginger dressing (recipe above)
Combine first four ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Toss with 1/4 cup soy-ginger dressing. Set aside.
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon prepared wasabi
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Chill until assembling the tacos.
Leftover Easter ham inspired this truffle-perfumed quiche by award-winning pastry chef Jack Fisher of La Jolla's popular Nine-Ten restaurant and bar. He serves it at home for spring Sunday brunch along with a light spring salad or fresh fruit and, of course, mimosas.
Truffled Ham and Parmesan Cheese Quiche
1 9-inch pre-made pie shell
1 1/2 cups country ham or other high-quality ham, diced
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon, or to taste, white truffle oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Place a sauté pan over high heat until hot. Add canola oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the ham and cook until the ham is slightly golden on the edges, about 3-4 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towels until cool.
2. In a blender, combine eggs, half-and-half, pepper, salt and white truffle oil. Blend on medium-high speed for 20 seconds.
4. Place ham and both cheeses in the pie shell and cover with egg mixture until just under the top of the pie shell.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until set in middle. Use the tip of a small knife to test the center. The top of the quiche should brown slightly.
6. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. (Can be made up to two days ahead and reheated as needed.)
Recipes: By Mary James • Photography by John Schulz Photography
Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings
Onion rings and beer — pub food perfection! That's why these spicy oversize rings, a fixture at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens anniversary parties, are featured in the San Diego brewer's first cookbook, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner with Randy Clemens (Ten Speed Press, $25). Reprinted with the publisher's permission
Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings
4 very large yellow onions
Vegetable oil for frying
Arrogant Bastard Ale Batter
2 cups (16 fluid ounces) cold Arrogant Bastard Ale
Heaping 3/4 teaspoon Cajun spice blend
Heaping ½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried ground chipotle chilies
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
1 cup all-purpose flour (approximate, see step 4)
1 teaspoon baking powder
Other ingredient needed
Stone Smoked Porter BBQ Sauce (note: see step 9)
1.Cut off the ends of each onion, cut in half crosswise, and remove the papery skin and thin outer membrane. Soak in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes.
2.Drain the onions, separate the concentric rings, and spread them on a kitchen towel to dry.
3.Make the batter: Pour the Arrogant Bastard Ale into a high-sided narrow container. Stir in the Cajun spice blend, salt, chipotle, smoked paprika and garlic.
4.Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add them to the beer mixture slowly, whisking well until they're evenly and thoroughly incorporated. You may need a bit more or less flour to reach the ideal consistency for a tempura-style batter. It should be just thick enough to coat the onion rings.
5.Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
6.Prepare a deep fryer, filling it with oil to the manufacturer's suggested fill level. Alternately, use a wide cast-iron or other heavy-duty pan at least 4 inches deep, pouring in oil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches, and no more than halfway up the side of the pan. Heat the oil to 360 degrees F.
7.Dunk the onion rings in the batter and fry in batches until crispy and deep reddish brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan, as this will result in soggy onion rings.
8.Transfer cooked onion rings to a wire rack set over a baking sheet (or directly on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet). Season with salt and keep them in the oven until the entire batch has been fried.
9.Serve hot, with a side of Stone Smoked Porter BBQ Sauce for dipping. (NO ketchup!) It's avail-able for $7 at the Stone Company Store as well as online at stonecompanystore.com.
Recipes: By Mary James • Photography by Martin Mann
All Souped Up For Spring
It seems like everything is lighter in spring, including the dishes we crave after months of winter's hearty fare. This month's warmer days are ideal for these zesty soups by three top chefs who created them to satisfy their fans.
USING SEASONAL VEGETABLES from his nearby farm, executive chef Eugenio Martignago created this fresh updated minestrone for the spring menu at Bistro West and West Steak and Seafood in Carlsbad. For the richest flavor, shop farmers' markets for the vegetables if you don't grow your own.
Spring Vegetable Minestra
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
6 ribs celery, sliced thin on the bias
6 baby carrots, peeled and sliced thin on bias
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped fine
2 cups fresh English peas, shelled
1 cup sugar snap peas, cut in half
2 bunches Rainbow chard, stemmed and rough chopped
2 cups fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled and rough chopped
1 bunch asparagus, peeled and sliced medium thick on bias
1 cup fresh fava beans, shelled
1 gallon chicken stock or vegetable stock
¼ pound slab or thick-cut pancetta
2 cups cooked macaroni or similar pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large soup pot, on medium/low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic and cook slowly until completely soft, about 20 minutes.
2. Add rest of ingredients, except for the pasta, along with salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
3. Add the pasta and cook for another 5 minutes to heat through. Remove the pancetta and discard.
4. Ladle into warm soup bowls. Garnish with fresh pesto and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if desired.
Pacifica Del Mar
AS SPRING NEARS AND WINTER WANES, chef-partner Chris Idso adds this savory, earthy soup to the menu at Pacific Del Mar in Del Mar. No need, he says, to remove the rind from the brie before stirring its creamy goodness into the soup.
Portobello Mushroom-Brie Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds crimini (brown) mushrooms, halved
4 large portobello mushrooms, quartered
½ cup yellow onions, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
½ cup leeks, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
¼ cup sherry wine
1 ounce brandy
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
½ cup cream
¾ pound brie cheese, cut into small cubes
1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Sauté crimini and portobello mushrooms, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, salt and pepper for 3-4 minutes until the onions are translucent.
2. Add the sherry, brandy and vinegar. Cook until they are reduced by half.
3. Add enough water to cover the vegetables. Add the potatoes and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are soft.
4. Add the cream and return the soup to a boil. Add the brie cubes and stir until they are melted.
5. Remove soup from heat and puree with an immersion blender until very smooth. (Soup also can be pureed in batches in a blender.) Adjust seasonings and serve in warm soup bowls.
Waters Fine Foods
MARY KAY WATERS, owner of Waters Fine Foods and Catering in San Diego and So-ana Beach, invented this "not too beany soup" for a customer. Richly flavored and scented, it's now a menu favorite. If bisque is preferred, stir a cup of warm cream into the soup.
Tomato Soup With Orange-Basil Crème Fraîche
2 yellow onions, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
1 quart vegetable stock or water
¼ cup fresh basil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups freshly cooked cannellini beans (optional)
1. Sauté onions and celery in olive oil over low heat until wilted, approximately 15 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
3. Remove from heat. Puree in blender in batches until smooth. Strain and keep warm while preparing the Orange-Basil Crème Fraîche. (Soup can be prepared in advance and reheated before serving.)
Orange-Basil Crème Fraîche
1 cup crème fraîche
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Combine the crème fraîche, orange zest and chopped basil. (Can be prepared in advance and kept chilled in the refrigerator.)
Put 1/4 cup of the cooked cannellini beans in each soup bowl, if desired. Then ladle the soup into bowls. Add a dollop of the crème fraîche mixture to each and serve.