Whenever I visit my parents in California, one of the first things I do is head for a taqueria. My mother knows me well; she once picked me up from the airport at 9.30am and asked me on the way home if I wanted tacos. By 10am, we were eating Ensenada fish tacos.
The tacos available in Hong Kong are usually complicated, with too much gloop. I like them simple – tortilla (corn, please) with meat or fish, raw vegetables for crunch and colour (depending on the filling, it can be shredded cabbage or lettuce, sliced radishes or just chopped white onion) and a little salsa.
Carne asada tacos with avocado and tomato salsa
The skirt steak used in this recipe isn’t easy to find: it’s a thin, long cut of meat with a strong, beefy flavour. It’s not very tender so for tacos it needs to be sliced against the grain and roughly chopped into small pieces. If you can’t find skirt steak, substitute flank steak, but cut it horizontally into two thin pieces before marinating the meat.
800 grams skirt steak
125ml soy sauce
60ml fresh orange juice
25ml fresh lime juice
20ml olive oil
40 grams garlic, roughly chopped
½ tsp oregano
Oil, for the skillet
For the salsa and to serve:
300 grams cherry tomatoes (use the small sweet oval or pear-shaped tomatoes sold by fruit vendors)
1 small garlic clove
1 red bird’s-eye chilli, or to taste
15ml fresh lime juice, or to taste
A few sprigs of fresh coriander
Fine sea salt
About a dozen corn tortillas, about 15cm in diameter
Cut the skirt steak into pieces that will fit into your pan. Put the meat into a large bowl. Mix the soy sauce with the orange and lime juices, olive oil, garlic and oregano. Pour the marinade over the meat and mix, then transfer the ingredients into a large ziplock bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag then seal the top. Leave at room temperature for about two hours, occasionally shaking, turning and massaging the bag so the meat is evenly seasoned.
Make the salsa. Dice the tomatoes and mince the garlic and shallot. Cut the chilli in half lengthwise then use a small spoon to scrape out the seeds. Finely mince the chilli and roughly chop the fresh coriander. Put the tomatoes, garlic, shallot and chilli in a bowl, add the lime juice and season to taste with salt. Mix in the chopped coriander. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. With the avocado still in the skin, use a small knife to cut the flesh into 6mm cubes. Use a spoon to scoop the avocado from the skin. Put the avocado cubes into the bowl with the tomatoes and other ingredients and mix it gently.
Lightly oil a cast-iron pan (or griddle) and place it over a high flame until it’s almost smoking. Drain the meat and remove and discard the garlic. Briefly blot the meat with paper towels. Place the meat in one layer in the pan and sear over a high flame for about three minutes on each side, or until the exterior is dark and crusty. Put the meat on a plate and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
While the meat is resting, warm the corn tortillas by placing them on the open flame of a gas burner. Heat them for about 30 seconds, turning them over several times, and as they’re ready, stack them in a folded up dry kitchen cloth, making sure they’re covered, to keep them warm.
Once again, place the pan used to cook the meat over a high flame. Roughly chop the meat into small pieces then put them into the pan. Stir for about a minute, until the meat is hot, then transfer to a bowl. Place a tortilla on a plate, add some of the meat and top with the salsa, then fold over before eating.
Chicharrón tacos with charred tomato salsa
I grew up eating chicharrón tacos, so I love them, but I admit that they won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Chicharrón – fried pork cracklings – are simmered in a lightly spiced tomato salsa, turning the crunchy skin soft and spongy. Don’t buy flavoured pork cracklings; get them from Thai shops, which sell them in small bags at reasonable prices. They often have a variety: pure skin, skin with a layer of fat and skin with a little meat. I prefer the type with fat or meat attached.
This is a simple version of chicharrón tacos; Mexican cooks often use dried chillies, which give the dish a more complex flavour.
250 grams pork cracklings, divided
400 grams cherry tomatoes (use the small sweet oval or pear-shaped varieties)
¼ white onion, sliced into thick rings
2-3 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 jalapeno chilli (or part of one, according to your spice tolerance)
Fine sea salt
15ml cooking oil
6-8 corn tortillas
¼ white onion, chopped
A few fresh coriander stalks, roughly chopped
Set aside about 50 grams of the pork cracklings, to use as a garnish. Put the tomatoes, onion, garlic and jalapeno on a baking tray and slide it under the oven grill set at the highest setting. Cook, turning the ingredients as needed, until they are lightly charred, removing them from the tray as they’re ready. Take care, because the tomatoes sometimes burst in the heat. Purée the ingredients with about 60ml of water (or more, if needed) in a blender (preferably) or food processor.
Heat the cooking oil in a skillet and, when it’s hot, add the puréed ingredients. Heat until simmering then add 200 grams of pork cracklings. Season to taste with salt then simmer until the cracklings are very soft (about 10 minutes). If the sauce becomes too thick, stir in a little water. The sauce should lightly coat the cracklings.
Heat the tortillas as in the first recipe. Roughly chop the remaining cracklings.
Spoon the ingredients into the warm tortillas, then top with the chopped pork cracklings, white onion and coriander. Serve immediately.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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