Sunday, September 27, 2015

16. Grapefruit-Marinated Carne Asada Tacos with Roasted Four-Pepper Salsa and Fresh Avocado


Steve is responsible for this recipe.  I have to explain . . .

We've had a running joke between us this week.  It's been really busy around here.  I've had musical rehearsals (Footloose) every weeknight, and it has not even crossed my mind to make tacos on those nights!  One late afternoon while I was sitting on the couch in a brief stupor before returning to work, we had this conversation:

Him:  What do you want to do for dinner?
Me:  I don't know; what do you want to do?
Him:  It never seems to matter what I want for dinner.
Me:  Well, if it did matter, what would you want?

For the record, we ended up getting pizza - it was just one of those nights!  Anyway, I was up in Phoenix today for a meeting and I knew I would have a chance to swing by Whole Foods (my favorite store) on the way home, so the possibilities were wide open.  We had pretty much the same conversation:

Me:  What kind of tacos do you want me to make tonight?
Him:  Carne asada sounds good . . .
Me:  But . . .
Him:  See???

Ha ha.  He has a point.  I decided to do my own version of carne asada tacos.  I've never made them before, but I looked around online for a while and got an idea of the basic ingredients and process.  I've eaten them before (of course), but it's so easy around here to get carne asada tacos that are good and cheap (Nico's), that I've never bothered to make them myself.

Flank or skirt steak.  Check.  Citrus and garlic.  Check.  Beer.  Check.  Yes, I can make these!

Of course, since this is a creative project, I had to add a twist.  I remembered a text message conversation from this week with my middle sister (who lives in Seattle and, coincidentally, works at a very cool taco joint).  We were talking about using grapefruit as an acidic flavor in pesto.  I think she ended up deciding against it, but I realized that I could use grapefruit in my marinade.  Then, I immediately thought of one of my favorite beers:  Ballast Point's Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.  !!!  Since many of the carne asada recipes I checked out included beer in the marinade, I thought that would be a good addition, too.  If you can't find Grapefruit Sculpin, I'm sure any tasty beer of your choice would do the job!  :)

Here's the recipe:

Grapefruit-Marinated Carne Asada Tacos with Roasted Four-Pepper Salsa and Fresh Avocado

Serves 4 (about 12-16 small tacos, or more depending on how large your flank steak is) with extra salsa


For the marinated meat:

A 1.5 to 2 lb. flank steak, trimmed of excess fat
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of one grapefruit
juice of one small orange
juice of one lime
1 cup Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA (or another beer of your choice)
4 medium cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1 serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the roasted four-pepper salsa :

1 red bell pepper
1 poblano chile pepper
1 Anaheim or Hatch chile pepper
1 Fresno chile pepper
1/2 large red onion
1 lb. small cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

12 to 16 small (street-taco size) corn tortillas

One or two ripe avocados, sliced

A few ounces of cotija cheese, crumbled

Microgreens for garnish, if desired

Lime wedges for garnish, if desired

1.  Prepare the meat:  Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a shallow baking dish and add the flank steak.  Cover tightly and refrigerate for about 1 1/2 to 3 hours.  If the steak isn't submerged, you may want to turn it every now and then.

2.  Make the salsa:  Cut the onion into 1-inch chunks.  Place it and all four peppers on a baking sheet or sheet of foil.  Place under the broiler and roast all, turning the peppers as needed until the skin is blackened on all sides.  If the onion begins to brown too much, you can remove it before the peppers are done.  The idea is just to brown the onion and cook it a bit so that it's not completely raw.  You will probably have to take some of the smaller peppers out before the larger ones are done.  This part of the recipe is not an exact science.  You just have to watch everything and take it out as it's ready.  Here is a picture of mine before I put everything in and after I took it out.

Peel and seed the peppers.  Place half of each pepper and half of the roasted onion in a blender.  Finely chop the rest and add to a medium bowl.

3.  After you finish the onion and peppers, toss the tomatoes in the olive oil, spread them out on a baking sheet or sheet of foil, and broil until soft and blackened, about 10 minutes.

Place half of the tomatoes in the medium bowl with the onions and peppers.  Add the rest, along with the juices, to the blender containing the other half of the onion and peppers.  Blend until smooth.   Add the blended vegetables to the medium bowl and combine.  Add the cilantro, salt and pepper.  If the vegetables are still hot, allow the mixture to cool a bit before adding the cilantro.  Set the sauce aside.  Here's how mine looked (before I added cilantro).

4.  Cook the steak:  Remove the steak from the marinade, allow the excess marinade to drip off, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Using an oiled grill on medium-high heat, cook the flank steak to medium rare or desired doneness, 5 to 7 minutes on each side.  Remove the steak, wrap in aluminum foil, and allow to rest for several minutes.

5.  Prepare the tortillas:  While the steak is resting, heat the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, one by one, until browned but still soft, about 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.  

As they are done, stack them on a sheet of foil.  When you have as many as you want, wrap in the foil and set aside.  You can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven if you wish.  

6. Slice the steak into thin strips, cutting across the grain.  If desired, you can gently microwave the strips to heat them a bit more.  (Ours had cooled down.)

7.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  Place a few strips of the steak down the center of each tortilla.  Top with some of the salsa.  Add a slice of avocado.  Finish with a sprinkle of the cheese.  If desired, you can also add a pinch of microgreens and/or a squeeze of lime.  Serve with Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA on the side and enjoy!

All right.  Time for the verdict.  I've had a couple of days to think about these, because I was so tired on Friday night that I couldn't finish my post!  It's now Sunday.

Overall, they were great!  I would not have been disappointed if I had gotten them in a restaurant.  The marinade flavored the steak nicely.  I don't know if it screamed "GRAPEFRUIT!!", but that's not really what I was going for.  I wanted it to be subtle.

What's not to like about avocado and cotija cheese?  They were nice additions, as I knew they would be.

Steve and I didn't quite see eye-to-eye on the salsa.  I purposely blackened the vegetables a bit (as you can tell from the photo), and the sauce did taste like roasted vegetables, not the fresh pico de gallo that you usually get around here on a carne asada taco.  It significantly changed the flavor profile.  I liked it.  Actually, I'm kind of proud of the sauce on its own.  It's pretty tasty.  Steve didn't think it quite meshed with the steak.  Hmm.  OK.  Fair enough.  If you like roasted vegetables, I think you'll enjoy it.  If the idea sounds a little weird, you could just replace the sauce with some kind of fresh salsa and it would also be delicious.

Another issue that came up was the method for cooking the steak.  Every carne asada taco recipe that I looked at for reference described cooking the steak in one piece and THEN cutting it.  I don't think a lot of restaurants do that around here.  I think a lot of them might quickly cook the steak after it's been cut into small strips, which results in browned, more medium-well steak strips.  (Or maybe they re-fry it after it's been precooked in one piece?  I'm not sure.)  Steve compared the tacos to Nico's (his epitome of cheap carne asada taco Nirvana) and noted that the meat was very different - good, but not similar to meat that one might expect in a carne asada taco.

I'm OK with that.  I have never wanted to write "textbook" recipes for anything.  This project is just supposed to be creative and fun.  I would say this recipe is inspired by carne asada tacos, but if you're in the mood for a traditional taqueria version, this will be a bit different.  I would recommend them, though.  If the ingredients sound good to you, you should definitely give them a shot.  If nothing else, it'll give you a great excuse to seek out and buy some Grapefruit Sculpin IPA!

So, these non-traditional-steak-roasted-vegetable-grapefruit-IPA tacos are my husband's fault.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!  :)

Feel free to comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Are there any carne asada taco experts out there that want to comment on the steak-cooking technique?

Thanks for reading!

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