Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tacos & tequila at the AZ Taco, the World's Best Beef Short Rib Taco Recipe!

Readers, I have learned many things in my twenty-nine years on this planet. More general lessons, like how to ride a bicycle, how to hold my breath underwater, how to appreciate the subtle genius that is Billy Joel. Also, more specific lessons, like not to put sriracha (wonder-sauce though it is) on everything, how to scorch a souffle or burn a roux, and how most effectively to ruin a nonstick pan. But perhaps the most important thing that I have learned is............when one is handed free tickets to a food/drink event of any kind, by golly, one goes.

So readers, despite my crippling dread of crowds, when we were recently handed two tickets (a $20 value!) to the Arizona Taco Festival, the good folks of Orange & Salt decided to take a little taco-tasting field trip.

After waiting in an entrance line that stretched a good quarter-mile through downtown Scottsdale--thus proving one of two points: that Arizonans have an inordinate love for either tacos or standing in long lines, perhaps both--we were admitted, and on this slightly-warmer-than-expected 90-degree October day made a beeline for the shady bar tent, like many other festivalgoers.

This blogger was only able to consume one small margarita, due to the combined effects of low tequila tolerance and the fact that 1 margarita = 3 tickets = $6, and funds were low. Mike and I wisely decided to pool our remaining resources for maximum taco enjoyment.

Waiting anxiously in line at Los Olivos's tent for our first taste of tacos.

We ordered a mixed seafood taco, two carnitas tacos, and a beef taco from our first stop at the Los Olivos tent. I unwisely chose the hotter of the two salsas available on the table, because I like spicy, not realizing that instead of being labeled 'Hot' (actually, they weren't labeled at all, so how was I to know?), it ought to have been labeled 'Insanity.' Silly gringa. My mouth burned, and I gulped my margarita a little faster than was probably advisable. Things began to get a bit blurry in the hot sunshine.

Delicious marinated pork carnitas, in taco form.

Mike is experiencing the painful-yet-pleasurable pangs of Taco Anticipation!

Whereas your girl here is in the throes of the pure pleasure of Taco Enjoyment.

The spread, in all its deliciousness. Truly these were outstanding, if simple, tacos. A paragon of the form. If only I hadn't made mine so damned spicy!

Apparently, one of the vendors was offering grasshoppers (traditionally known as chapulines), which we noticed after glancing across our picnic table at another munching festivalgoer, hunched over a paper tray full of what can only be described as bug taco. Mike spoke up, 'Are those really crickets, man? Grasshoppers? Are they any good?' At which point our slightly inebriated friend--who was posing merrily for photos with individual fried insects perched, quivering, on his tongue--starting waving the remains of a half-eaten bug taco around, saying, 'Here, try some! No, try some! Really!' Mike backed away, more from the 'drunk guy's half-eaten taco' aspect of the offer than the chapulines themselves. The guy seemed a little less than enthused with his taco, to be honest, based on his insistent attempts to give it away. Maybe the grasshoppers weren't fresh that day. Maybe--most likely--he'd lost a bet with friends. No matter, sensing an Andrew Zimmern-style opportunity, Mike and I went searching for the grasshopper tacos up and down the row of food stalls, to no avail. No chapulines for us, we'd have to be content with more succulent pork and beef short rib portions. Life can be so unfair*. ;)

(*It sounds like I'm being kinda flippant here, but really, I was pretty disappointed that we couldn't manage to find the stall serving grasshoppers. I mean, how many opportunities do you get to eat grasshoppers? I suspect it was the Barrio Cafe, which we didn't attempt because of an insanely long line. But I will keep trying, dear blog readers.)

Random happy taco festivalgoers, enjoying their tacos.

There were also luchadores! Here you see one flying through the air with the greatest of ease.............

Maybe it's hard to be menacing when you're also so tiny. Maybe the mask helps here?

I enjoy yet another tasty, corn tortilla-wrapped treat, in the company of my husband & best adventurous eater pal, Mike......

.......who fears no taco ever created by man!

A truly inspirational beef short rib taco, provided by Z-lantro (or Blanco? Sorry guys, didn't take notes). We shared this, somehow, although it was difficult not to nibble one another's fingers off for that last bite, so tasty was this taco.

Mike watches as our final taco is expertly prepared by the good folks at La Hacienda.

What looks like melted cheese on top was actually, I believe, some kind of blended mango salsa. The hint of sweetness blended with the smoky spiciness of the meat perfectly, and was the perfect note on which to leave the AZ Taco Festival. We staggered out, bellies full of meat & cabbage & spice, vowing not to eat another taco again for a long, long time.

Until about two days later, when we decided that we had to make the perfect beef short rib taco, just like that one, sublime, juicy one we'd tasted at the festival. You know how these things go.

And so we purchased an insane four pounds of beef short ribs, fired up Betty*, and proceeded to eat tacos for the next six meals. You know. Everything in moderation.

('Betty' is the name of our slow cooker, named for Betty Draper of the excellent & fantastic television show 'Mad Men.' She cooks all day long while we gallivant around doing other exciting things. Now if only she'd fix us a martini when dinner was ready, she'd be the perfect kitchen appliance.)

Short ribs, briefly browned for maximum flavor and rubbed with spices and garlic, ready to be bathed in beer, onions, and chipotle peppers for the next 6-8 hours. You can start this in the morning and relax all day long, knowing that Betty is taking care of dinner for you. Recipe follows below, feel free to use it to start your very own at-home Taco Festival. Luchadores and margaritas, however, not provided. ;)

World's Best Beef Short Rib Slow Cooker Tacos

(The two of us ate this for the next six meals, at an average of about three small tacos each per meal, this amounts to about 36 servings? Your mileage may vary)

4 lbs beef short ribs
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 can of chipotle peppers (we had these left over from a previous meal, and they add tremendous heat and a smoky flavor that I just love. If you don't have these on hand or want to use them--they are spicy!!--add hot sauce or cayenne pepper to taste, instead)
1 whole white onion, finely chopped
6 oz. beer (about half a bottle.......go with something light in color and flavor. We used our favorite Russian lager, which seemed just right)
juice of 2 limes, or equivalent amount of vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

small corn tortillas
queso fresco (crumbly white Mexican cheese, try hard to find this if you can!)
salsa (Mike makes his own fresh salsa, which is delicious......use your preferred salsa)
ripe avocado slices

Heat skillet to medium-high heat. Season short ribs with seasoned salt only, place in skillet in batches so you don't crowd the pan, brown on all sides and set aside to let cool on a plate. Combine minced garlic with remaining spices to form a paste. Once short ribs are cool enough to handle, rub each generously with spice paste.

Add meat to slow cooker along with onions and chipotle peppers, place slow cooker on 'Low.' In a separate bowl, whisk together beer, lime juice or vinegar, and sugar. Pour over mixture in slow cooker, mix gently to combine.

Place lid on slow cooker and try to forget about it for the next 6-8 hours (this will be difficult once your house starts smelling amazing, trust me).

About an hour before we planned to eat these (after maybe 6 or 7 hours of slow cooking), we removed the meat and gently shredded it with a fork--an easy task at this point. Place it back in the braising liquid to soak up the remaining goodness for the next hour or so. If you're making fresh salsa, this is a good time to do it, to allow it a little time to marinate.

Serve on corn tortillas (best when toasted slightly on either side in a hot skillet and a tiny amount of vegetable oil just before serving), with fresh salsa, ripe avocado slices, and crumbly queso fresco. Congratulations, you have just made the World's Best Beef Short Rib Taco, and are now holding it in your hand. Enjoy!

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