Monday, February 27, 2006

¡Tacos al Carbon!

I believe I have figured out a solution to making this at home. I haven't had the meal in long enough to know if I have perfected it, but what this makes is a damn good approximation from memory.

  • A flank steak. These are 1.5 - 2 pounds, I think I paid $7.99 a pound. Serves 4 easily.
  • 1 16 oz can of low sodium chicken broth (low sodium because it gets reduced and full on broth makes it too salty- a buillon cube made with twice the water also will work)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • flour (as a thickener, get some Wondra flour in the Pringles-like can which is produced specifically for gravy making purposes. It work beautifully for any gravy or pan sauce.)
  • 2 sticks of butter (let's get nuts!)
  • a few cloves of garlic, 4-6 depending on size. DO NOT buy elephant garlic no matter how big (ha!) the temptation may be. It's bitter and gross.
  • flour tortillas


  • Frying pan, prefereably of the non-non-stick variety. You're going to be making a pan sauce and want that shit to get stuck on there because that shit is the flavor. I did do it in a teflon pan also, and it worked alright too.
  • Some kind of heat proof spatula. Wood is the classic tool, but that's just gross. I use a silicone spatula sold under the Pyrex brand that was about $4 at Target.
  • A smaller pan for butter melting purposes.
  • A microwave safe thing for the broth.

    This can be broken into two steps, pre-prep or mise en place, and then the final cooking. But I'd do it the same day either way.

    Step one, the meat. I found that cutting it into fourths makes it easier (IE, possible) to wield and cook in a normal pan. Cut in half once with the grain, once against. I pounded the meat a bit, since this cut can be a little dense. We're not talking paper thin, just a whack or two until it shows a little give and is a bit more uniform in thickness. If it starts out at 3/4 inch, it ends up at a half. Then mix the salt and sugar, and season both sides of the meat with this mixture. You should have some left over, but not too much. Pepper to taste, not too much as it cooks up bitter if you go too heavy. Cover with plastic wrap (in the fridge if working ahead).

    The butter: Drawn butter is not easy to do, it burns almost instantly. What I did was place the butter into a pyrex dish, and then put that dish into a bath of hot water, along with 3-4 of the garlic gloves sort of smashed up, but still solid enough to grab out at the end. I just let the water boil and slowly melt the botter, letting the garlic infuse itself into it. You can poke and prod the garlic to get the flavor out, but too much and you have tiny bits to deal with. Once it has completely melted and infused for about 15 minutes, remove it from the bath. Place it into a pan for cooking and allow it to begin foaming. As soon as the foaming subsides, reduce heat to almost nothing and begin skimming off the milk solids from the top, and remove the garlic chunks. Work quickly, when the solids at the bottom begin to brown you've got almost no time left. Pour into serving dishes, or a clean container to set aside (in the fridge if you're prepping ahead of time).

    The broth: Not too dificult. Crack it open, put into microwave container with remaining garlic cloves smashed like above. I also added a couple shots of hot sauce for a bit of heat. Remember, this is getting reduced so don't go too heavy. Microwave it to around boiling and set aside (fridge if working ahead).

    I think that does it for the prep work.

    When cooking time comes, remove the stuff from the fridge. The meat should come out so that it's nearing room temperature at cooking time. You should see that the sugar and salt have drawn just a little moisture out. That's good.

    Warm up the broth and remove the garlic chunks.

    Warm up the butter and place into serving dishes.

    Warm the frying pan and put in some corn or olive oil until it just starts smoking. Drop the meat in, making sure to leave some room around the pieces for the steam to escape (or you'll have a gloopy nightmare). Sear for a minute or so and reduce the temperature. Cook it to just under what you'd like the steak flavor to be. Hotter and faster for blood rare, slower and cooler for medium. The goal is to get a nice dark seer on the meat without burning it or over cooking it, and also for some nice good brown stuff in the pan. Flip once halfway through (I think it was about 7 minutes a side for me), and maybe one final flip to even up the sear.

    (Warm up your tortillas when not tending to the meat)

    Remove from heat and let rest on a plate covered in foil. Meanwhile, check the pan. If the gunk is dark brown and on the verge of blackness, good stuff. If not, let it cook for a while until the gook gets nice and dark. Coffee ground colored. Once there, "deglaze" the pan with about 2/3 of the chicken broth and bring this to a boil. Once there, continue boiling and stirring to scrape up and dissolve all the brown bits. Sprinkle maybe 1/4 or 1/2 tsp of the flour into the mix. Keep reducing until it gets to a ketchup consistency. If it starts to burn, add more of the broth. Or if it's not looking dark brown enough, let it cook down to almost nothing and darken a bit, and then reconsitiute it with the remaining broth. It's a finesse thing. Once the sauce is dark and ketchupy again, give it a quick taste for saltiness and salt if necessary.

    Here's where it gets tricky. While you're doing that, after the meat has rested about 5 minutes and expelled juices, dump the juices back into the pan, and then slice the meat against the grain.

    Now dump the meat in, and stir it around to get coated, and cook it a bit more until the sauce pretty much is gone and stuck to the meat. This final step is why you wanted to slightly undercook the meat earlier.

    Place into the tortillas and serve. And enjoy, dammit!


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