Steak Ranchero Tacos with Fried Potatoes

Tacos de Carne Ranchero con Papas Fritas… Steak Ranchero Tacos with Fried Potatoes.

Well, here I go again with another Tex-Mex recipe.  I never knew just how often I go to Tex-Mex until I started a food blog.  Mexican cuisine is just so versatile that it’s hard to resist. 

Growing up in Texas meant that I was surrounded by Tex-Mex.  It was only natural that I gravitated to Tex-Mex when I started cooking.  Now that I live in Mississippi, I suppose I could refer to my Mexican dishes as Miss-Mex, but it just doesn’t sound as cool as Tex-Mex.

When I cook Mexican food I don’t aim to achieve “authenticity” in a recipe.  I have to laugh when I see Mexican restaurants that claim to serve “authentic Mexican food”.  I’m sure that those restaurants mean well but, if you want authentic Mexican cuisine, go to Mexico.

Consider everything that goes into a meal…the vegetables, the fruit, the meats, the spices.  They are a product of the sunlight, rain and soil of the region that they come from.  Anyone who has moved from one place to another usually recognizes a difference in the taste of the local water.  Every aspect of our natural world is unique to specific regions and even though those differences may seem subtle, they play a major part in authenticity. 

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you call it.  It just needs to be good.  Learn cooking methods from other cultures and apply them to what you want to make.  

This recipe was intended for two to four people. 

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs top round beef roast

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs red chili powder

2 tsp cumin powder

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp chili piquin powder (or cayenne)

3 green onions, separate white from green parts

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 ripe tomatoes

¼ cup prepared picante sauce

1 medium yellow onion (chop half and slice the other half)

12 corn tortillas

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 cup shredded lettuce

1/2 cup cotija cheese

12 corn tortillas

2 russet potatoes (or 1 very large potato)

1 cup prepared guacamole

1 lime

Directions:

On a clean cutting board, cut the beef into ½” steaks. 

Remove the tough connective tissue.  Look at the white strips and feel them with your fingers.  If they feel tough, cut them out. 

Combine the garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and chili piquin in a small bowl. 

Sprinkle the spices over each side of the steaks.  Set aside.

Wash and scrub the potatoes.  Dice potatoes into ½” pieces. 

Heat a skillet to medium/low and add about ¼ cup of vegetable oil.  Add the potatoes and fry until golden brown and crispy. 

Strain the potatoes and keep them warm until ready to serve.  I usually keep them in a bowl on top of the stove, with the oven set to 250°.

Chop the other vegetables and slice the lime into quarters.  Set aside.

Prepare the ranchero sauce:

Heat a skillet to medium and add 1 tsp cooking oil.  Add garlic and chopped white parts of the green onions and sauté for about 30 seconds.  Add about half of the chopped tomatoes, half of the chopped yellow onion and the picante sauce.  Simmer for several minutes until the vegetables are fully cooked and soft.  Remove the sauce and keep warm.

Prepare the tortillas

Heat a skillet to medium.  Add ¼ cup of cooking oil.  When oil is hot, prepare the tortillas by cooking on each side until the tortillas are firm, but not crisp. 

Store the tortillas in a warm place.  The stove top works for me.

Heat a skillet to high heat.  Add 1 Tbs cooking oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the steaks to the skillet.  Leave the steaks alone…don’t mess with them.  Once you see a char developing on the bottom of the steaks, turn them over and cook for another minute, or so.  Total cook time should be about 2 or 2 ½ minutes.  Don’t overcook them!

Remove the steaks to a clean cutting board. 

Slice into ½” strips. 

Heat a skillet to low/medium heat and add the steak and ranchero sauce.  Cook for a minute, just to warm everything. 

Prepare the tacos

I like to use two tortillas per taco. 

Add strips of steak to each taco.

Add chopped lettuce, cilantro, diced tomato, sliced yellow onion and chopped green onion.  Squirt some lime juice onto the tacos.

Top with guacamole and cotija cheese.

Serve with fried potatoes.

Barbacoa de Res

Before we get down to business let me just say that barbacoa is a very special thing.  Barbacoa is more than just slow cooked meat.  Much more.  Preparing barbacoa is a time-honored tradition in Mexico.  The tradition spread to Texas years ago, along with the Mexican immigrants who introduced the cuisine.  Anywhere you find a sizeable Mexican population you are bound to find barbacoa. 

The origins of barbacoa are steeped in history and culture.  Ancient cultures, and not-so-ancient cultures, adhere to the notion that the animals we eat should be respected and treated with reverence.  When an animal is slaughtered it should be treated with dignity and it should be thanked for the sustenance that it provides to us.  Using all parts of the animal pays respect to the animal.  This ritual is a sacred rite and one that is increasingly disappearing in our modern culture.

Barbacoa is typically served on weekends.  It is presented to family and friends as a celebration of life.

Cooking methods vary from place to place.  Traditionally, barbacoa is made from young goat (cabrito), lamb (borrega), beef (res) or pork (cochina).  The entire animal is often used, including entrails and stomach.  If you want to make barbacoa the traditional way you will need to dig a pit, line it with fire resistant bricks, slaughter and butcher an animal, obtain some agave leaves (hojas de maguey), prepare an intensely hot fire and layer all of the ingredients in the pit, cover the pit with sheet metal and wait for several hours. 

I don’t have an underground brick oven…but don’t think for a minute that I haven’t considered making one!  I have had authentic barbacoa on a few occasions and words can’t sufficiently describe how rich and wonderful  the experience was. 

Since I don’t have an underground pit, I buy beef shoulder roasts (chuck roast) and braise the meat in a Dutch oven, or a covered casserole dish.  Sounds simple, when you compare this to the effort involved with the traditional method, right?   

The chuck roast is a tough, muscular cut of beef, which means it contains a good amount of collagen.  When you cook it at a low temperature for a long period of time, the collagen dissolves and becomes gelatinous, and that is what makes the meat moist and succulent.  

If you have the luxury of living in a place where you can get fresh beef from a butcher, ask the butcher for a “blade roast”.  A blade roast is a shoulder roast that contains part of the shoulder blade.  As the roast cooks, the bone imparts rich flavor and the meat that is next to the bone becomes very tender. 

In Mexico, barbacoa is served with soft, warm corn tortillas.  Here in the states, we tend to use warm flour tortillas.  Both kinds of tortillas are equally good in my mind, when it comes to barbacoa tacos.  If you want to make this meal even more special, find freshly made corn tortillas or homemade flour tortillas.  See my recipe here for homemade tortillas

Okay, let’s make some barbacoa!

Ingredients:

Beef shoulder roast (chuck roast) 3 to 5 lbs.

2 Tbs cooking oil

2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

3 or 4 dried guajillo chilis, stemmed and seeded

3 or 4 bay leaves

2 Tbs dried onion flakes

2 Tbs paprika

2 Tbs cumin powder

2 Tbs garlic powder

2 Tbs oregano (Mexican oregano is preferred)

Directions:

Heat an oven to 225°.

Apply salt and pepper to the raw meat. 

Sear the meat in a hot skillet, with a little oil.

Add the stock, bay leaves and most of the spice mix to a Dutch oven or casserole dish. 

Spread the rest of the spices on top of the meat and cover.

Braise in the oven for 5 hours.

Pull the meat from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Shred the meat with two forks and transfer to a serving bowl.  (Make sure to remove any stray bay leaves and chilis before shredding.)

Serve with warm tortillas, guacamole, fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lime wedges. 

To complete the meal, include side dishes like refried beans, borracho beans, fried potatoes or Spanish rice.

Above all, as you sit down to eat, consider the ranchers and farmers that made the meal possible.  Consider the sacrifices that we all make for each other as we try to make each other happy, safe and healthy. 

Mexican Flag Chimichangas

Chimichangas have been a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine for longer than I can remember.  They’re really just glorified, fried burritos, but ‘chimichanga’ sounds mysterious and exotic!

For me, chimichangas are a kitschy comfort food and they can be made with all sorts of fillings and toppings.  This recipe showcases the colors of the Mexican flag, red, green and white and it will make 6 large chicken chimichangas.

Ingredients for braising the chicken:

4 large chicken breasts

2 cups chicken stock

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 bay leaf

1 Tbs butter

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

Ingredients for chimichangas:

6 large burrito sized tortillas

Shredded chicken

About 2 cups of cooking oil

1 cup green sauce: (see the recipe here…)

1 cup red sauce: see the recipe here… (see the recipe here…)

1 ½ cup white cheese sauce (see the recipe below)

The 4 chicken breasts that I used were enormous.  I’ve seen turkey breasts that were smaller than these monsters!  I forgot to check the weight on the package but I am sure that it was at least 5 lbs.  I sliced them down the middle, separating the tenderloin from the breast.

Directions for preparing the chicken:

Add all ingredients, except the chicken to a 4 quart pot.  Cook at medium heat and stir to combine.  Add the chicken and braise for 5 minutes, turning chicken over occasionally.  Reduce heat to low, cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove the chicken and allow it to cool.  Strain the stock from the pot and reserve for later.  The stock is perfect for making Mexican rice, or anything else that calls for chicken stock.

After the chicken has cooled a little, shred with forks and seal in a plastic bag until needed.

Fill a skillet (I used cast iron) with about 2 inches of cooking oil and set the heat to medium. 

Lay a large tortilla on a clean work surface.  Put about 1 cup of the shredded chicken on the bottom third of the tortilla.  Fold the sides over and roll the tortilla from the bottom to the top.  Secure with a toothpick.  – Yes, my stalwart kitchen friend, the toothpick.

Once the oil is hot, carefully lay a chimichanga in the pan.  After about a minute, turn the chimichanga over with tongs.  Keep turning the chimichanga until it is golden brown.  Remove chimichangas to a warm area while the other ones cook.  You should be able to cook two chimichangas at a time without crowding in the skillet.

Remove toothpicks from the chimichanga.  Please don’t forget this VERY important step.  Your guests will thank you.  Actually, they may never know you used a toothpick but they will surely know you used one when they swallow it!

And now…the white cheese sauce, or as I like to call it, my weekly confession

I was a fool to think that I could whip up a white cheese sauce without a roux.  What was I thinking?!  Well, I’ll tell you what I was thinking.  The meal was nearly ready to eat and all that remained was a simple cheese sauce.  I didn’t want to make a big production out of it and I knew that I could just heat some milk and slowly introduce cubes of white cheddar and stir until everything became creamy.  But, I over heated the milk and once that happened, there was no going back.  The sauce separated.  In an act of desperation, I continued stirring the sauce.  The result was a big wad of string cheese sitting in milky water.

I pulled the pan off the stove and stared at the disaster.  Starting over was out of the question.  I didn’t have more cheese and I would have rather admitted defeat than go back to the store to get more cheese so, I decided to attempt to revive the existing mess.  I laid the ball of cheese on a cutting board and cut it into small cubes.  Then, I prepared a roux.  I added a healthy splash of chicken stock and slowly added some of the milky liquid and little bits of the cheese, alternately, all the while keeping the heat very low.  I mixed for about 10 minutes and turned the heat off.  The resulting sauce turned out pretty good.  It had some clumps of cheese in it but it tasted good.  I was lucky.

Beloved, Broken Sauce – Rejuvenated!

Think of a roux as a safety net.  Sauces are  tricky business and peril awaits at every turn.  Too much heat or adding components too quickly can lead to a broken sauce.  If you’re a thrill seeker and like to live your life on the edge, go ahead, skip the roux, but don’t say I didn’t warn you as you’re crying over your beloved, broken sauce!  I won’t go into the science behind sauces and roux because whenever I hear about emulsifiers and viscosity I grow weary and all I hear is, “blah, blah, blah, emulsifier…”

Just remember that good sauces start with a roux and good cooks aren’t thrill-seeking trapeze artists.  A safety net, such as a roux, is not the same thing as training wheels on a bicycle.

Smother the chimichanga with cheese sauce.  Cover one end of the chimichanga with red sauce and the other end with the green sauce.  Add a big dollop of sour cream in the center. 

Serve with Mexican rice and refried beans.

Salsa Roja

This red sauce works well with lots of Mexican dishes. It’s rich, smooth and mild. It should provide a nice counterbalance to the chunky,spicy green sauce.

Since the grill is still hot, I am going to put a char on the tomatoes. This can be done in the oven at 400° but, like I said, my grill is ready and waiting and, since it’s summertime, I don’t want to heat the house up if I can avoid it.

This recipe calls for chiles en adobo, which are smoked, dried jalapeños (chipotles) that are packed in a sort of barbecue sauce, called adobo.  I prefer to buy chiles in adobo in little 8 oz cans.  One can carry me through several recipes and they last a long time, in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

6 dried guajillo chiles

6 small to medium tomatoes

1 Tbs olive oil

½ onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup water

1 chipotle jalapeño in adobo sauce

1 tsp adobo sauce

½ teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon salt

A pinch of freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

Cut the ends off of the chiles and slice them lengthwise.  Remove and discard the seeds and fibers.  Chop the chiles a little and set them aside. 

Roast the tomatoes on a hot grill.  When the tomatoes start to char, remove them. 

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil on very low heat.  Once the onions have softened, add the water, chipotle jalapeño, adobo sauce, guajillo chiles, oregano, salt and black pepper.  Cover and simmer for a few minutes.  Chop the tomatoes roughly and add to the pan.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then turn the heat off.  Leave the sauce alone for 10 more minutes, which should be long enough for the chiles to soften. 

Pour the contents into a blender and puree.  Strain the solids and discard.  You may need to scrape the strainer with a flexible spatula.  Pour the sauce into a jar and allow it to cool.  Refrigerate until needed.