Sometimes I find myself missing the taco shops in San Diego so freaking much. Texas has it’s own version–but everything usually comes doused in enchilada sauce and covered in cheese. While there’s nothing wrong with that, sometimes I just miss the classic southern California style of taco shop. Let me be clear, a taco shop is not the same thing as a Mexican restaurant and is generally not a sit down spot. More of a hole in the wall with fast service and everything comes wrapped in paper. Lots of grilled meats, ceviches, fish tacos, and the best burritos. I just really miss being able to get carne asada tacos at 2 am any day of the week. Carne asada is generally a marinated, grilled steak that is the bread and butter of most southern California taco shops–giving way to carne asada burritos, quesadillas, tacos, tortas and the famed California burrito.
There’s a lot of debate about what goes into a carne asada marinade. But the general consensus is that there is usually some kind of dried chile or chile powder and citrus, usually orange, which helps tenderize the meat. My marinade is almost a paste. And incredibly flavorful, intense paste which gets rubbed into your choice of steak (I am partial to skirt steak, flat iron or flank steak) before getting grilled over high heat to create a nice char on the outside–this is tantamount to getting real, meaty, smokey flavor. If you go to a taco shop in San Diego, your taco will undoubtedly be served on corn tortillas, with chopped onion and cilantro and generally each shop will have some salsas to choose from. There is no highfalutin’ attitude in these places. Everything is simple, balanced and makes the meat the true star of the show. When I make these tacos at home, I keep it simple–sometimes I make my own tortillas, sometimes not–and just stick to the way it’s classically served in my hometown. I prefer a bright, acidic salsa verde for this taco to help cut through the fat. Not roasting my tomatillos for the salsa, keeps the sauce bright green and maintains the flavor I’m trying to achieve.
Bring your meat to room temperature before grilling.
Let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
Always slice meat AGAINST the grain. This will keep your meat tender and prevent it from feeling stringy as you eat it.
Otherwise, this is a straight forward, fun recipe for grill outs in the back yard. Eat all the meat!
CARNE ASADA TACOS RECIPE:
2 lbs. skirt steak, flat iron steak or flank steak
1/2 white onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves
3 ancho chilies, stems and seeds removed
3 guajillo chilies, stems and seeds removed
2 chile de arbol, stems removed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup oil
2 teaspoons salt
diced white onion, for serving
chopped cilantro, for serving
warmed corn tortillas, for serving
lime wedges, for serving
salsa verde, for serving (recipe below)
1. Toast chilies in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant. Fill a container with hot water from the tap and soak the chilies in the water for 15 minutes, or until soft. Add chilies, onions, garlic, cumin, orange juice, vinegar, oil and salt to a blender. Blend until a paste forms, using the soaking liquid from the chilies as needed to loosen the mixture. Place meat in a ziplock bag or shallow pan and cover with marinade. Spend a few minutes massaging the marinade in, seal bag or cover pan, place in fridge and allow to marinate for 4 hours or overnight (overnight is better).
2. Preheat a grill over medium heat. Grill meat to desired doneness. Rest on a tray tented with aluminum foil for 10 minutes before slicing. Slice and serve on corn tortillas with onion, cilantro, and salsa verde. Serve with lime wedges.
SALSA VERDE RECIPE:
makes 1 cup
3 tomatillos, husk removed and rinsed (try to select bright green, firm tomatillos)
1 serrano pepper, seeds and stem removed
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 garlic clove, peeled
juice of 2 limes
¼ cup minced cilantro
2 Tablespoons neutral oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Can be held in the fridge for up to 3 days.