Tacos- the most important meal of the day

A sign hangs on the wall in the corner of Rusty’s Tacos delaring that tacos are the most important meal of the day.

Thats a big claim in Texas where barbeque could also make the claim. As could steak but in Dallas tacos are a staple. From street tacos at gas stations through to fusion creations the taco is a culinary masterpiece with combinations of flavours and textures such that you can have tacos as every meal of the day and not get bored.

Rustys tacos in Greenville is easily spotted by the huge sign almost the size of the place.

Rusty’s Tacos in Greenville Dallas.

The story of Rustys is that Rusty Fenton wanted to open an authentic mexican style street taco stand in the neighbourhood. He did this in 2010 on the site of a gas station hence the large patio and huge sign.

The menu is totally authentic street tacos.

Thirteen Tacos are on menu with straight up simple meat combinations such as spicy ground beef and potatoes with onion and cilantro, a rosated pork with cotija cheese and pickled red onions or as its texas a slow roasted brisket with BBQ sauce and slaw.

Vegetarian options are just as tasty with a the Rajas taco having grilled poblanos, mushrooms, onions and red peppers topped with queso fresco and cilantro. The black bean taco has chipotle beans pico de gallo, cotija cheese, cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds scattered on top.

Fish and chicken are also available but my personal favotire is the eponymous Rusty taco which has achiote pork with pineapple, onion and cilantro.

Rustys tacos: Brisket (bottom left), Roasted Pork and the Rusty with pineapple and achiote pork
The Margaritas at Rustys are proudly made with fresh lime juice and cheap tequila.

Close by Rustys in Knox Henderson is another great Taco joint Velvet Taco.

Next door to the fantastic boot store Tecovas where you can get a polish and a beer sits Velvet taco. The ethos of velvet is in t,he other direction to Rustys. Rather than the authentic route Velvet prides itself on the creative. Velvet taco runs on the principle that “anything goes meets the art of the possible” and claims to be a “temple to the liberated taco”.

The menu clearly reflects this with most tacos unrecognisable as the standards. Shrimp and grits for example with creole mayo, blackened shrimp, crispy pepper jack cheese grits, charred tomato salsa, micro cilantro on a corn tortilla.

The menu features WTF weekly specials, this week being a Reuben taco with corned beef, swiss cheese, velvet sauce, sauerkraut, pickles on a flour tortilla.

Velvet Taco – funky and fresh

The fish taco is served with a curry mayo sauce

Fish and chips taco: curry mayo, malted french fries, house shred, beer battered Atlantic cod, pea tendrils, flour tortilla

The combinations of flavours are fantastic and sound like a fine meal. The grilled salmon, Taco is served on a vibrant pink hibiscus corn tortilla with avocado crema, house shred, lime crema, roasted corn pico, pickled fresnos, and micro cilantro.

One of the most intereting and best tasting is the chicken Tikka taco. Its a spicy combo of crisp chicken tenders with a tikka sauce, buttered cilantro basmati rice, raita crema and Thai basil.

The tacos here are interesting and exciting. the falvours vibrant and zingy. Truly a temple to the libertated taco!

Shrimp and Grits Taco

Catfish

In the southern USA catfish is as ubiquitous as fish and chips in Britain. In a similar way the best is a matter of great debate and opinions will vary but very little is written which says how to make the best out of catfish.

At this point most of my friends would say “where can you get catfish in Britain?”

It’s a good question.

There isn’t a slab on ice at the supermarket. There isn’t a section in the freezers of catfish fillets.

Or is there?

Look closer. Often labelled as Basa or Pangasius the white muscular fish fillets, boneless and often frozen are exactly that. They may not be noodled out of a local creek but these fish are catfish.

The Pangasius is a distant Asian cousin of the American catfish.

There is a lot of controversy about this fish. Heavily farmed in Vietnam – antibiotic resistance and heavy metals – much of the controversy is applicable to other fish farms, seafood and much of the food we consume globally.

We can reduce all risks and maybe we should only eat rod caught wild pollock. Unfortunately, the seas have been exploited and fish farms are required. But just as most live edible protein rearing in the world involves an element of the distasteful. Fish is a tough one. Do you really know where your prawns come from? Your tins of tuna. Your salmon “steaks”. Perhaps we should ask more questions.

I may be wrong but I think I remember the late Anthony Bourdain famously said “one in 12 oysters has campylobacter… eat 11 and order another dozen…”

If yu want the facts go here

This page isn’t about that though. This is about catfish. And in particular how to cook it.

Catfish whether out of the creek or a panga fillet from the supermarket is a meaty whitefish. Its freshwater and isn’t very fishy. It has a subtle almost scampi like scent about it. It isn’t earthy either, unlike a lot of freshwater fish. It’s got a dense texture which holds the fillets together.

Ways to cook catfish vary. Blackened, deep fried, battered and breaded. My personal favourite is to dredge it in flavoured cornflour. Kind of like classic al meunier but with coarse grain cornflour (or polenta).

The flavouring is up to you. I like to add Louisiana fish fry products Cajun blackening seasoning, Slapyamama or my go to the wonderful smallbatch rarity from Dallas, Texas, Andy Ludwigs goodtime Andy’s seasoning.

A teaspoon of this in a half cup of coarse cornmeal and just dredge the filets through it. This is not about a thick batter. No eggs or buttermilk. Just a very thin coating to allow the fish to shine through.

Shallow frying pan (or skillet) and a thin hot oil. Probably 2-3 minutes each side and then drain on kitchen paper.

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Pangasius Catfish in cornmeal

Serve it with salad, potato salad, chips or on a soft bun with lettuce and tartare sauce. A bottle of Louisiana hot sauce is a must – I like crystal but tabasco is perfect.

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Basa Catfish in cornmeal

Sopa de Guia

Soup isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when Mexican food is mentioned.

Most countries cuisines when the obvious dishes are ignored have great dishes that often follow a similar theme. Soups are a classic example.

Which cuisine doesn’t have a simple soup of local seasonal vegetables cooked with a meat stock?

The Mexican or more correctly the Oaxacan version of this is Sopa de Guia a fresh, clean and light soup based around courgette (zucchini).

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This recipe is less rustic as “real” sopa de guia. Rather than having large bits of vegetable floating in a thin broth this version partly blends the soup to create a more silky yet still light soup.

It’s a great soup if you grow your own, even on a small scale. Courgettes will be really productive in a medium pot on the patio. This is what inspired me. I looked out onto my deck and saw some flowering courgettes, a swiss chard plant and a spinach plant. My herb trough had a thyme and an oregano plant.

 

For 2 servings you’ll need:

1 courgette in small dice

1 handful of swiss chard leaves

1 handful of spinach

1 white onion in small dice

1-2 crushed garlic cloves

1 stick celery diced small

Pinch of fresh thyme and fresh oregano

Scanty pinch of tarragon

1 Cup of sweetcorn

1 pint of good stock (chicken or pork – I used trotter gear- see link)

4-5 courgette flowers

Chopped spring onions

 

Fry off the courgette, garlic, celery until softened. Add the chard, herbs, corn, spring onions, courgette flowers (stamen removed).

Then add the stock and boil for a few minutes.

This can be the end point if you want a traditional sopa. To make this special I recommend half blending with a stick blender, only so much to make the broth cloudy and more soup like.

Serve with chopped spring onions, a chilli oil and coriander.

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[A great added garnish is some home made micro-chicharron. Using the skin from some BBQ pulled pork chop into very thin strips. Drop into hot oil and after 30 seconds remove and pat down with kitchen paper. Serve on the side or scattered on top.]

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Antigua Guatemala

Nestled between a ring of volcanos the location of Guatemala’s capital may seem to have been misplaced. Indeed it was. Hence the capital is now Guatemala city.

This is to the advantage of travellers and adventurers passing through this exciting Latin American country.

An- tig- u-ah not to be confused with the caribbean island with the same spelling is the ancient (antique) capital of Guatemala. Located in the central highlands and only an hours drive from the traffic congested Guatemala city the two cities couldnt be different. Antigua is based on a block system of narrow cobbled streets lined with traditional low level buildings which in many cases are painted in contrasting bright colours.

The city, known as Santiago de los Caballeros was originally was founded by conquistadores in the 1540s following the previous two capitals being overrun or flooded. The Guatemalan kingdom included El salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rico and part of Mexico. As such the city was a major centre and had a population of 60 000 in the 1770s.

As the city was situated was in a siesmic area resulting earthquakes caused significant damage particularly in 1717, 1751 and 1773. this resulted in moving the capital to the present Guatemala city. The city was declared abandoned and the majority of people moved away. Despite this the city  remained and inhabitants grew.

The city now is a UNESCO world heritage site and is now an excellent palce to visit.

Starting at the large central square with shaded collonades and fountains a walk towards the Merced Church will take you under the famous Santa Catalina arch.

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Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua Guatemala

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Designed to allow nuns to cross the street unseen it provides an iconic image of Spanish style architecture. On passing through if you look back down the street it frames the Volcano de Agua.

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Volcano de Agua, Guatemala

Continue down the street and you will come to the square in front of the Merced Church, an impressive baroque fondant fancy structure. In lemon yellow with white adornments is stands above a bustling square where street stands serve small dishes and the ubiquitous corn.

Head East a few blocks (easy as the streets are all N-S-E-W.) then South.

Ramble through the small streets and you will come across derelict churches and past small bars with patios and restaurants serving a variety of styles.

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Head back towards the main square and you will come upon the cathedral. This was built in 1545 and rebuilt in 1680 and has suffered a number of earthquakes.  The front is still intact but much of the site is a ruin which you can wander around following a donation. If refreshment is required a bar called Tartines has a roof terrace which overlooks the cathedral ruins.

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Cathedral Antigua Guatemala

For some more culture head to the hotel, Casa Santo Domingo that is at the site of a convent but whilst alos being a 5 star hotel spa and restaurant houses a number of museums.

From there wander back to the main square and enjoy a helado or a gallo.

 

Antigua has many sights and attractions but the main one is the atmosphere and the unexpected.

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Frito Mallorquin/Mallorcan Fry

Many years ago in a bustling old restaurant on the north coast of Mallorca I ordered a dish which i remember well. Mallorcan Fry was the name on the menu. The description was meat an vegetables mallorcan style. it was excellent. Rich and full of savoury flavour. The meat was tender and well… not quite meat like.

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Mallorcan Fry with peppers, potatoes and lamb kidneys and liver

Of course in retrospect I should have known that this dish shows of the best that offal can deliver. Lambs kidneys, liver and heart gently fried up with  potatoes, peppers, fennel, onions and garlic. The offal doesnt have any of the features that generally put people off. The texture is soft and tender. As the meat is generally chopped into small pieces and cooked gently its a far cfy from the slabs of grey grainy liver that are the nightmares from school dinners. The texture of kidney is equally soft.

The off tastes of metallic liver and urine-y kidney is absent if the meats are washed after chopping.

I added a few tweaks to the classic. This is s rustic dish of many variations. A teaspoon of whole grain mustard and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. It steals from recipes for devilled kidneys but that isnt a bad thing.

Recipe:

1 white onion

1 head of fennel

1 red bell pepper

2-3 cloves garlic

parboiled potatoes cut into 1cm pieces

3 lambs kidneys chopped (and pelvis removed)

2 slices of lambs liver (chopped)

glass of red wine or madeira/sherry

salt and pepper

balsamic vinegar

whole grain mustard

Coursely chop the onion, fennel and pepper and garlic.  Soften and fry them in a generous amount of olive oil. Remove from heat. Fry the potatoes in the remaining oil. when taking on colour remove and add to the vegetables.  In same pan fry the liver and kidney. Do not overcook. The kidneys will get pink and that is about right. Remove and add to the vegetables. Add the wine to deglaze the pan. Add the balsamic and mustard. Add the vegetable, potatoes and offal back in and mix it all up.

Season well and serve. A full bodied Mallorcan biodynamic red wine that I would recommend is the wonderful 12 Volts . Made from the Callet grape it is deep black in coulor and a perfect match.

 

Piccalilli

A pork pie isnt the same without a dollop of crunchy mustardy piccalilli.

Apparently adapted from south indian pickles the original recipes are from the 17th century.

A chunky vegetable mix – classically cauliflower, onion and gherkins – is covered in a thick mustard vinegar sauce and preserved.

Classicists may argue but my view is to use a variety of veg that are good and available. Chopped green beans, runner beans, courgette, onion, spring onion, celery, carrot etc Many of the indian vegetables such as tinda and dohdi also work well.

I like to add red chilli to my piccalilli. Gives it that extra bite especially with a good cheddar cheese.

Recipe:

  • Mixed chopped vegetables – see above.  aim to have as similar size – about 1 cm cubes max (enough for 3-4 jars but can increase)
  • malt vinegar (250ml)
  • cider vinegar (250ml)
  • pickling spices – mustard seed, allspice, peppercorns
  • mustard powder
  • 1 tsp of plain flour
  • turmeric
  • red chilli – fresh or dried

Salt the vegetables liberally and leave in fridge for 2-4 hours.

Heat the malt vinegar with the pickling spices to a boil. Whisk in the flour, mustard, turmeric (strain spices if you wish before this).

Allow to thicken up whilst whisking. Take off the heat and add the cider vinegar.

Wash the veg and drain so they are dry.

Stir into the mustard vinegar mix and mix so all veg thouroughly coated.

Put into sterilised jars and lid.

Store in a cool dark cupboard or pantry for 2-3 months.

Serve with cold meats, pork pies, cheese. Excellent on a sandwich with corned beef.

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Pickles

Preserving food by pickling is an ancient practice. In every cuisine there is some form of pickled food and in many place these provide a very unique character and a key sense of identity.

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Home made mixed vegetable pickles ready to mature in a cool place.

One could wax lyrical about an English summers day with a ploughmans lunch. A pint ofbest bitter a sharp chedder cheese and a crunchy pickled onion. Add a slice of pork pie and a spoon of brilliant mustardy yellow piccalilli. Ask for that elsewhere in the world and not only will it be unavailable it will mean nothing.

This is a global phenomenon. Just thinking about pickled ginger and immediately you are in japan, dill pickles and the US burger, Pickled lemons and the North african tagine. Lime or mango pickle takes you to India. Kimchi to Korea. The Giardiniera to Chicago (or New Orleans Muffeletta), green beans to Louisiana. French Cornichons. German Sauerkraut.   

Its not just vegetables. Soused herrings in Scandanavia, Swedens famous Surstromming (the worlds smelliest food), pickled cockles in a London fish and chip shop. South Africa has Kapsie kerrievis, the Easter speciality of curried pickled fish.

Meats are also pickled. pickled pigs ears and tails are soulfood classics. Pickled sausage is popular in Eastern European and makes a great bar snack. Corned beef  or salt beef has been the making of many great sandwiches and bagels.

The traditional role of pickling to preserve foods has been extended to use pickling for texture and for flavour.

Watermelon rind pickles
Watermelon rind pickles may sound odd if youve never had them but they are fantastic. Fruity sweet and sour.

 

There is a world of pickles out there to try. Here are some links:

  • Japanese Pickles (Tsukemono)
  • Watermelon rind pickles
  • Pickled jalapenos
  • Piccalilli
  • Pickled mushrooms
  • Quick pink pickled onions
  • Quick sauerkraut
  • Green bean pickle
  • Pickled okra

 

 

 

Sherry – an overlooked gem

Its difficult to understand. One of the worlds greatest and interesting wine styles. Enigmatic and individual. Often rare and made with painstaking attention to detail, only possible in a tiny part of the world. Well known but rarely talked about.

The mention of it to some produces the same response as mentioning oysters.

To others a casual “I’m not really keen on it“.

I wonder why?

Certainly the styles differ so much that if someone who doesn’t like dry wines has a fino or a manzanilla they might be put off. Likewise a PX to a desert wine phobe will not strike a chord.

Then there is fortification and oxydation. Both are a far cry from modern “clean” yet bland flavours in commercial wine manufacture.

Interestingly the cult of natural wines has caught the imagination of the hipster foodie crowd yet sherry is still labelled old fashioned.

Perhaps this is a good thing and not have a fleeting trend of sherry bars open and then close although it would be great to be able to order a copita of this fantastic wine served perfectly in more places.

if you want to know more here asre the borad Sherry styles. I will cover more in following pages:

  • Manzanilla
  • Fino
  • PaloCortado
  • Amontillado
  • Oloroso
  • Pedro Ximenez (PX)

 

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Tequila and Mezcal

A recent experience in a bar in Antigua Guatemala restored my interest in the unknown world of these agave based spirits. [see my travelogue links here]

I am going to profess expertise but more share my learning experiences here. I am definately not an expert but I am keen to learn more.

What do I know already ?

  1. Lots of tequila is slammed with salt and lemon
  2. Most people say they don’t like it and pull a face
  3.  A good margarita is a great cocktail
  4. there must be more to this than cheap bar slammers

So I found myself in a respite from the mid afternoon sun in a bar in Antigua Guatemala. 100 yards from the famous arch.

Nipping into the cool restaurant called Fridas, an homage to Frida Khalo and obviously mexican based, i flopped back into a leather tub chairvin the corner.

Following a few very refeshing Gallo, the local beer I read through the menu and saw a great list of tequila and Mezcal.

The difference between the two I’ve since researched is either very complicated or very simple. A fantastic read is Tom Bullocks guide “The Mezcal Experience” which is highly recommended.

The simple difference is that for mezcal the agave heart (pina) is smoked then fermented and distilled whereas for tequila the pina is pressed and must be blue agave only. This is important for the resulting product. Tequila is a refined and more pure alcohol spirit whereas mezcal is complex, smoky and more varied. [I am happy to be corrected if this is too simplified!]

The next variable is age and oak. Silver (unaged), Reposado and Anejo all add dimensions that alter the drinking experience.

What did i drink that afternoon? I went to the best on the list. Danzantes. I must confess i have had this once before at loki wines and it was a revelation. The complexities of fine bourbon, rum, armangac, with the subtle smoke of scotch whisky.

I was not disapointed. nor with the acompanying fried cricket.

This inspired me to delve deeper into these interesting spirits and in following posts I will compare some of the mezcals and tequilas that are available to me.

see:

Duck Confit

The process of creating confit is an ancient technique used to preserve meat in the days before refridgeration.

The meat is very slowly cooked bathed in its own fat. As thetempearture of the fat melts within the meat but isn’t rendered out the resulting meat is fall apart tender and full of flavour.

Confit meat should be looked upon as an ingredient and not an end point.

Duck confit can be used as a dish on its own of course, crisped up in a hot oven. Equally it can be shredded into a perigord salad with walnuts and bitter leaves or added to a cassoulet.

Duck confit usually uses the legs as the breasts (magret) are reserved for other uses.

Other bits can be confit most notably the gizzards – an extremely lean and dense meat which again is the traditional addition to a perigord salad.

Here is a simple recipe for confit de canard using duck legs. Many store bought ducks have less fat than the traditional farmyard duck that this was intended for. Even so they still produce excellent confit. you may have to get a tin or jar of extra fat though. Chinese supermarkets may breeder ducks available. Not only are these older birds inexpensive they carry thick fat and are perfect for this use.

The carcass can be slow roasted and the breasts shredded. The rendered fat can be used to complete the confit.

Recipe:

  • 2-4 duck legs
  • maldon/ kosher salt
  •  dried thyme (pinch)

Liberally cover the duck legs witha good quality crystal salt and thyme

Leave in fridge for 24 hours. Wash off and dry the legs with kitchen paper.

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Preparing Duck leg confit. the salted legs are washed and patted dry. This is a mature domestic duck (Pekin) with a good thick fat layer and dark rich meat.

Put in a slow cooker fully covered in duck fat.  Set it on low and leave for 4-8 hours.

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Confit duck straight out of the slow cooker. these have been lifed very carefully as the meat is fall apart. they will be covered in the fat they have cooked in for the last 8 hours and then be covered and stored in the fridge for a week. 

Swich off  and allow to cool. can store under the layer of fat for 1-2 weeks in the fridge. if frozen in the fat will keep well.

(This can be done sous vide – put v cold solid duck  fat and the legs in vac packed bags – cook at 75 degrees C for 12+ hours). *I dont think its any better than in slow cooker.)

Use as you wish but here are a few suggestions:

  • Salad perigordine
  • duck and tomatillo tacos 
  • crisped up and served with duck sarladaise
  • duck cottage pie
  • as a version of chinese crispy duck with the trimmings
  • with garlicky cannellini or flagelot beans
  • cassoulet
  • duck on lentils
  • duck rillettes
  • or more at the fantastic d’Artagnan site

(I will add more links to recipes…)