Depending on how well you know me, you may or may not know what it means when I tell you that I grilled yesterday. For most people, the opportunity to grill is an opportunity to dial down the complexity of the dishes and reduce everything to salt and pepper and maybe a little olive oil or marinade. Nice, clean, simple flavors with minimal effort.
I am not one of those people.
For me, the grill is where I first fell in love with cooking. The immediacy of it, the incredible number of variations on dishes, and how sometimes the whole thing goes catastrophically wrong, but hey, if the coals are still hot and you still have some ingredients laying around, all is not lost, make something else, change it up, take a risk and set that risk on fire! I love grilling and when I am planning on having people over to eat grilled things that means that the days before are filled with the serious business of preparing to execute an elaborate meal in about an hour of intense cooking time.
Those who have been in the kitchen with me to witness the prep work are often perplexed by the amount of it. But there is a reason for a lot of prep work. You are getting everything ready to come off an assembly line and be just the right temperature at the same time. And, you know, I fail at that goal most of the time, something is gonna be lukewarm, but I try and when I succeed, oh man, it is a joyous thing.
For Memorial Day this year, my dear friend Kate requested tacos. When I am making tacos, I go straight to Rick Bayless. He has a massive trove of recipes online and he creates really clean flavors. Rather than write out the recipes for all the dishes that I made, I am going to link to the recipes on his site and then let you know these turned out, and explain which things need to go into your repertory. (Especially the guacamole, which I will get into in detail.)
Here was my menu for Monday’s grill fest:
Pork al Pastor tacos
Potatoes with Green Chiles
Mushrooms with Onions and Garlic
Rustic Jicama Salad
Mexican Rice with Plantains
Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
I also did a couple of random things. Some zucchini and bell peppers brushed with garlic oil and thrown on the grill. Some shredded chicken mixed with a store bought mild chile sauce.
For the various Bayless dishes:
The Pork Al Pastor is a solid recipe. This is the second time I have made it and it always turns out great. I marinate the pork in the sauce overnight. For this outing, my butcher was perplexed by my request for 1/4 inch sliced pork shoulder, insisting that it was not possible and questioning the logic of my request. He gave me 1/2 inch bone-in pork shoulder steaks and they worked fine. (Side note: It is hard not to interpret condescending butcher behavior as sexist, but I used to have a great female butcher near my old apartment and I swear that I never had to put up with this kind of crap there, and I get it all the damn time at the old school, all-male butchery that I go to on occasion. Luckily, farmers market season is starting so I can start getting my meat straight from the farmers.)
Duck Carnitas. Oh my goodness. Hard to know where to begin with this one. First of all, I had no idea carnitas were THIS bad for you. (And for those who don’t know, just don’t click on the link. Don’t ruin them for yourself.) I should have suspected because of the deliciousness, but I truly did not realize. (I had a similar reaction the first time I made frosting. “Wait, HOW MUCH sugar is in this?”) If I make this again (and oh I think I just might, arteries be damned), I will make sure to pat dry the duck skin before frying it to really crisp it up. I mean, it was amazing even though it did not crisp up much. But I always think about next time.
Potatoes with Green Chiles is another one I have made a few times now and it is just so delicious. I don’t roast the poblanos. I stick them under the broiler for about 8-10 minutes and then flip them and repeat until both sides are blackened and bubbly. Then I stick them in a ziplock bag to cool a bit and let the steam help work the skins loose. This is one of those deceptively simple dishes that packs a lot of flavor.
Mushrooms with Onions and Garlic is one that I just butchered the execution of. I was rushing. I put too much stock in and it never evaporated and got to the point that the mushrooms start frying in the lard. (I did use some of the leftover lard from the Duck Carnitas and that imparted more flavor than my execution of this dish deserved.) Nobody really ate these. But you know, as you can see, there was a lot of food.
Rustic Jicama Salad also got butchered in the execution as my rush to get it to the table completely omitted the chile powder and pickled onions, which are still sitting in my fridge looking for something to mix with. But still, one major change that I made that I highly recommend was substituting mango for the orange and then swapping out half the lime juice with orange juice. That was a great call, if I do say so myself.
Mexican Rice with Plantains was good but far from perfect. Again, I blame the execution. I started the stock simmering before I fried the plantains. The frying of the plantains took so long that I probably lost a cup of stock, which I failed to measure again before adding it to the rice. So, the texture of the rice never quite got where I wanted it to get, but it sat around for awhile and was still very edible. And I mean, come on, put fried plantains in something and you aren’t going to get many complaints. This makes a HUGE amount of rice though. I highly recommend cutting this in half. I had a large dutch oven filled to the very top with rice at the end.
Tomatillo Avocado Salsa also got a bit rushed and so the whole tomatillo and avocado pieces got blended in rather than left as chunks. Still, wow, these flavors are vivid and delicious.
All of the above pales in comparison to my two favorite discoveries of the day: Garlic Mojo and my new favorite guacamole.
Garlic Mojo is crushed garlic that is roasted in olive oil low and slow. Then you add lime juice for the last part of the roasting and mash it all up and holy sweetness. This is going to become a staple in my kitchen.
As will this guacamole. This is a pretty sweet guacamole, but I don’t mind that. I like my salsa to be hot but I have never been a fan of spicy guacamole. (I like to take alternating bites. The salsa first and then the cool of the guac.) This recipe has a lot of depth and I really enjoyed that the crunch came from little bits of jicama instead of onion, which is more common. Also, as I note below, this is an easy recipe to divide up and make a smaller portion of. Bonus!
(recipe by Rick Bayless)
3 ripe avocados (about 1 1/4 lbs)
1 1/2 tablespoons roasted garlic from the garlic mojo, strain away the oil
1 to 2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup soft sun-dried tomatoes, chopped into small pieces, plus a little extra for garnish
1/4 cup jicama, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus a little extra for garnish
Salt (preferably smoked sea salt)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Cut around each avocado, from top to bottom and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Scoop out the pit and discard. Scoop the flesh from the skin and add to a bowl. Add the roasted garlic, chipotles, and sun-dried tomatoes. Using a fork, mash the avocados into a coarse puree. Fold in the jicama, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lime juice.
Scoop the guacamole into a serving dish, sprinkle with a little chopped cilantro and sun-dried tomatoes.
NOTE: I made this for a party and it was all gone by party’s end, which made me sad. Then I looked at the proportions and realized that you could make a single serving of this guacamole by cutting everything by 1/3. One avocado, 1/2 tablespoon of mojo, 1/2 canned chile, about 2 sun-dried tomatoes, 1 heaping tablespoon of jicama (should be 1 1/3 tablespoons but my measuring spoons are not that elaborate and I was done doing math), 1 heaping tablespoon of cilantro, large pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon lime juice. A perfect snack size portion. (Pictured above.)
(recipe by Rick Bayless)
4 large heads of garlic (or 10 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups) peeled garlic cloves)
2 cups fruity olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Mash the garlic. For garlic cloves, use the flat edge of a knife to smash out of their skins and mash all at once. For unpeeled cloves, place in a plastic bag, seal and mash using the tool of your choosing. (A rolling pin was recommended, but I found using a large cookbook and giving it a couple of good pounds with my fist to work great.)
Stir together garlic, salt and oil in an 8×8 pyrex dish. Slide into the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until garlic is soft and starting to brown. Remove from the oven and stir in the lime juice. Put the pan back in the oven for another 20 minutes until garlic is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let the oil cool slightly. (Just enough so that you don’t scald yourself if any splashes up.) Then, using a potato masher or a fork, thoroughly mash up all the garlic.
Fill a jar with the garlic and adding enough oil to submerge the garlic. (You will have extra oil. Put it to good use. I brushed vegetables with it and grilled them.) Garlic mojo will keep up to three months in the fridge as long as the oil continues to cover the garlic.