Friday, February 26, 2010

What we talk about when we talk about tacos..........

Let's talk about tacos, shall we?

The word conjures up so many distinct meanings and flavor memories that by now we really ought to have broken it up into several different words for the sake of understanding, but let's work with what we've got. For some, a taco is roadside stand food, a greasy, classic staple of my particular corner of the western states and all points further south. For some, it's a homecooked meal, fragrant, slow-cooked juicy meat folded gently into a fresh tortilla by a mother or grandmother's loving hands. For Jeffrey Steingarten, it was an almost Proustian memory of perfectly grilled Tacos el Yaqui that kept him returning to the same Baja taco stand year after year (see his book, It Must Have Been Something I Ate, for this and other hilarious essays). For me it's a warm memory of American suburban childhood memory and Taco Night, the closest one could come to real live 'junk food' at home, of ground beef browned with spices and ladled into a crunchy, bright yellow corn shell, garnished with orange cheddar cheese and shredded lettuce. For still others, it's a limp stack of 3-for-a-dollar convenience food, most likely eaten in advance of an impending hangover late one night or early the next morning (the drive-thru of Shame). Even my husband, raised in Kansas City, has horrified me in the past with remembered descriptions of something called 'In-A-Tub Tacos' (from, most fittingly, an establishment known to KCMO as 'In-A-Tub'), which apparently consisted of boiled, reconstituted meat and powdered cheese deep-fried in a tortilla.

The horror.

But I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about Asian style tacos, apparently invented by a certain chain of hip LA food trucks and shamelessly appropriated by yours truly (living in Kogi-less Phoenix, after all). I've eaten a lot of things folded into tortillas over the years. I remain ever shameless about what I will consider a 'taco'.......this morning's breakfast? A single egg scrambled in olive oil with green onion bits and a dollop of hot sauce, tucked away inside a leftover corn tortilla and eaten standing up in the kitchen. The verdict? Taco. I'm willing to overlook purism. So when I glanced at an article last week about LA's currently trending Korean-Mexican fusion on wheels bonanza, I wanted in. Six hours on I-10 is a long way to drive for a taco, however spectacular, so I opted to make my own.

The verdict? Taco. ;)

The process is as follows: First, obtain and marinate a pork tenderloin in a bath of soy sauce, garlic and ginger for at least 45 minutes. I cut mine in two to accomodate my stovetop grill pan, since it had been raining steadily all day and any hopes I had had of grilling this properly outdoors were looking mighty soggy.

After marinating, remove the meat and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels, reserving the marinade. Heat grill pan (or, if it's not raining that day, your actual grill), brush lightly with oil, and grill your pork until both sides bear beautiful, stripey grill marks. While grilling, reduce marinade by half on the stovetop, then remove from heat and stir in a hearty spoonful of honey. Brush this sticky glaze onto the meat, then finish in a warm oven, about 375 or so, until pork is just cooked thoroughly (how long will depend upon the size/thickness of your cut of meat, so use your best method for judging 'doneness'...I used a meat thermometer). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, chop the following into more or less evenly-sized ribbons: Napa cabbage, red cabbage, cucumber, scallion and carrot. Toss in a bowl with dressing made of rice wine vinegar, red chili flakes, a few healthy squirts of sriracha, and a pinch of sugar to make a sort of fiery 'instant kimchi' salad as garnish.

Sliced grilled pork, ready to be accompanied by spicy 'kimchi' and a drizzle of avocado-cilantro-lime cream. To make the sauce, peel, pit and roughly chop one perfectly ripe avocado. Pulse in food processor, then add sour cream, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice to taste. Blend until smooth (I added a touch of water at the very end to thin it out into 'drizzle-able' consistency).

Warm corn tortillas briefly in a very lightly oiled skillet. Assemble tacos as shown above, and reconsider moving to LA, at least for the time being. Waits in line at the famed Kogi trucks are reported to be as long as 2 to 3 hours, ridiculous when you consider that you could be enjoying your very own fusion taco taste explosion at home in less than half that time. And no waiting in line, either.

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