Thursday, June 17, 2010

Resources: Fish Taco Recipes

Hey folks, we've been doing a lot of Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking at the house lately. Last night we did a little bit of fusion with a fish taco recipe that used broiled mahi-mahi flavored with Indian tandoori spices served in blue corn tortillas with a pineapple salsa. It was great stuff and that recipe will eventually make its way to Chop Onions, Boil Water.

Recently, a few friends asked me for a fish taco recipe and while I make all manner of fish tacos at home, they are always just improvised affairs. They're great, but they're just not formal enough to necessarily turn into a recipe. So, I started thinking about the fish tacos I've had and some recipes I've run into so I could offer a good recipe to anyone who'd like to try their hand at preparing great fish tacos at home.

A good baseline to start with fish tacos are those created by Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill. Rubio's, (if you're not aware) is a regional chain that operates in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona and their fish tacos are historic. Type in "fish tacos" in Google and you don't get far before you run into people extolling the virtues and superiority of Rubio's fish tacos. The real secret to the popularity of Rubio's Fish Tacos seems to be in the white sauce that they are served with. Which is a little surprising when you finally see how simply it is made!

Fortunately, for those of us that do not live in the states where Rubio's operates, the recipe for their excellent tacos can be found many places online. Click here to get a Rubio's Fish Taco recipe from Rubio's Fish Tacos have lots of fans of which I am one. Are they the best fish tacos in the world? Hmmmmm, I don't know, I make a lot of great fish tacos and there is this little fish taco truck on Kauai that visits Anini Beach everyday that is... ah, that's a story for another day that will have one of my own fish taco recipes attached.

So, start with the Rubio's recipe and get experimental and adventurous from there! Here's a little hint once you get rolling: If you season and broil the fish, you've got delicious fish tacos ready in only 5 minutes! That's FAST!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Recipe: Porco com Ameijoas a Alentejana (Pork and Clams Alentejana-style)

Pork is the meat used in this recipe and a lot of other Portuguese cuisine. The pig is very important in Portuguese culture, and pork is the culinary center point of most of the feasts on the Portuguese mainland, her islands and many of the places where the Portuguese have settled. The slaughter of the pig is an important ritual in the local community. Also, in a fashion very reminiscent of the Native Americans and their relationship to the buffalo, the Portuguese make use of virtually every part of the animal.

They have mastered its preparation and dishes abound with pork as the main ingredient including many that appear here on Chop Onions, Boil Water. Among those I have included is this recipe for Porco com Ameijoas a Alentejana or "AH-lehn-jah-nah" as we call it on the South Coast of New England.

Along with Portuguese style steak, Alentejana is probably one of most popular dishes to be had in the local Azorean-Portuguese restaurants where I live. It is named for the region in Portugal where it was first created; there, it consists mainly of pork, spices and the hard-shelled clams known locally as "little necks". Here in the USA, I notice they add potatoes to it which doesn't harm it at all. I was first introduced to this dish as a teenager in the early 1980s. It is certainly one of my favorite Portuguese dishes and I have enjoyed it at many of the local restaurants. I've found that there is a little variation in the basic recipe and people seem to favor one establishment over another based on their personal preferences regarding the flavor and amount of sauce or the tenderness of the pork.

The real secret to good Alentejana is in the marinade and in the preparation of the pork and potatoes. If one pays attention to detail, it's not a difficult dish to master and prepared correctly it'll garner you nothing but smiles, oohs, ahs and respect in my neck of the woods. The local restaurants have even begun introducing a chicken version for people with restrictive diets which is equally delicious.

Locally, we use a special copper, two-sided, hinged pan called a "cataplana" that opens similarly to a clam to prepare this dish in. Being able to flip the pan over completely makes stirring unnecessary and aids in the perfect cooking of this dish. It's a nice addition to your kitchen but expensive and not necessary.

Porco com Ameijoas a Alentejana

2-1/2 lbs. of boneless pork loin (trimmed of most fat and cut into 1" cubes)
4 Tbs massa de pimentao   (can be purchased in Portuguese markets or use the recipe below)
2 cups of dry white wine
2 bay leaves (well crushed)
2 lbs. white potatoes (peeled and cut into 1" cubes)
2 Tbs Portuguese olive oil
2 Tbs lard
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
2 Tbs tomato paste
2-5 tsp hot crushed pepper
20 littleneck clams or manilla clams (well scrubbed)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Pickled garden vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, pepper, etc.)

Day one:

Take the masa de pimento and rub it all over the pork cubes. Coat them well. Place them in a large bowl, add the wine and the crushed bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Place the cubed potatoes in a large bowl, cover with cold water and refrigerate overnight.

Day two:

Separate the pork from the marinade being sure to save the marinade.

Drain the water from the potatoes.

Place a large deep pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and lard. When the oil is hot and just beginning to smoke, brown the pork cubes in several batches. As they finish transfer them to a bowl until needed.

When you are finished browning the pork, lower the heat and add the onions. Sauté until translucent being sure not to brown them.

Add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes. DO NOT BURN THE GARLIC it will get bitter.

Set the burner to low, cover the pan and continue sweating the onions and garlic for 15 to 20 minutes. This is a common Portuguese cooking technique and it really makes a difference. Again, be careful not to burn them.

Add the tomato sauce, the reserved pork marinade, hot crushed pepper (if desired) and reintroduce the pork. Adjust the heat so that the mix barely bubbles. Cover and continue cooking for one hour being sure the mixture never breaks even a low simmer. It must just barely bubble.

While the pork and sauce cook you have two options in preparing the potatoes (be sure to prepare the potatoes so they finish at around the same time as the pork and clams are ready to serve):

1. Deep fry the potatoes until cooked through and crispy on the outside. Strain, season with salt and pepper and set them aside.


2. Roast the potatoes in your oven until lightly browned and done. Season with salt and pepper and set them aside.

When the pork and sauce reach the hour mark, add the salt and pepper and stir well. Test for seasoning, adjust as necessary.

Raise the heat until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Lay the clams evenly on the top of the pork mixture and cover for an additional 30 minutes until the clams open.

Discard any clams that do not open, add the parsley, then stir the mix to blend the ingredients.

To serve, place some potatoes in a shallow bowl and generously ladle the pork, clams and sauce mixture over the potatoes.

Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley and a decent amount of pickled vegetables. Serve with a good crusty bread.

Massa de Pimentao (Portuguese Red Pepper Paste)

Prepare a good quantity of pimenta salgada several days before you need it. You are going to need about 3 cups of them for this recipe.
2 large garlic cloves (minced fine)
1/3 cup of olive oil

Rinse the pimenta salgada several times in cold water to remove some the excess salt. Blot dry.

Place the pimenta salgada, minced garlic and half the olive oil in a food processor and blend well for 30 seconds.

Scrape down the sides of the food processor and blend for another 30 seconds.

Now with the food processor running, slowly add the rest of the oil in a slow trickle until the mix is really smooth (about 60 seconds).

Keep refrigerated in an appropriately-sized glass jar, removing only what you need and allowing it to reach room temperature before use.