It’s weird; I've never had decent Mexican food. In fact, the only Mexican food I've eaten outside of my own kitchen are those monstrous Californian style Burritos from fast food stores. Don’t get me wrong they’re tasty, but you just know they aren't Mexican. This is exactly what Anthony Bourdain would call “fake ass Mexican food” one of the two things that annoy him most about food, along with fucking up a good steak. It is by proxy and mostly thanks to Mr. Bourdain and his various television programmes that I even have an awareness of what Mexican food truly is.
It was the Mexico episode of his amazing and addictive “No Reservations” series which really opened my eyes to just how wonderful the cuisine could be. The economy of Mexican food and particularly the taco speaks to me. Simplicity beyond even Italian cuisine. The episode begins in Mexico City where Anthony gorges himself with tacos before travelling to Puebla with his former Sous Chef at Brasserie Les Halles, in Manhattan, Chef Carlos. It’s a remarkably intimate and personal episode where Chef Carlos gives us an insight into his family back in Mexico and how hard it was to leave them behind. Moreover, it is an exploration of why it is that America’s best chefs hail from this small city in Mexico, and how it is a travesty that they are overlooked and disregarded.
My reason for writing this other than my love of tacos is a tribute to Chef Carlos, whom I was genuinely devastated to learn, passed away at the beginning of this year, another life lost to cancer. As I have said, the revelation of the cuisine is thanks largely to the relationship he and Anthony Bourdain shared and I feel like I owe them. So accompanying this article will be my recipe for Traditional Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas Tacos, Grilled Chicken Tacos and also my quick “Whatever I have in my Fridge Taco” along with recipes for homemade Tortillas, Guacamole and Pico de Gallo. Delicious.
But what is a taco? Why bother getting worked up about them? Well put in its simplest terms a taco is a corn tortilla used to hold some sort of meat, although you may also find fish or vegetarian variations. However as Mr. Bourdain says, “one does not last long in Mexico on verduras (vegetables) alone”. Utilising cheap cuts is an essential in the relatively impoverished Mexcio City with lengua (tongue) and tripa (tripe) being extremely popular. These, alongside tacos al pastor (slices of donner kebab type mystery meat inspired supposedly by the Arabic shawarma) form the backbone of Mexican street food. As an homage to making the most of what you’ve got I bring you my taco alternative, the “Whatever I Have in my Fridge Taco”, which works for me because I ALWAYS have Chorizo (granted Spanish rather than Mexican) in my fridge and you should too!!! In any case these fillings will always be accompanied by salsas and possible some guacamole. Whilst some salsas can be quite complicated (smoked and dried chillies are often used, such as the Chile de Arbol and Guajillo to name a couple of popular ones) I often choose to keep it simple with a classic Pico de Gallo (Tomato, Onion, Coriander & some Jalapeno). There is no science to it really.
However, it is with the tortilla that I am now fastidious. Harking back to my Gluten Free article (which you can read here), all of the tortillas sold in all supermarkets are wheat tortillas, which for my Coeliac brother is no good. If one does stumble across corn tortillas in the UK they will still contain some wheat flour as it is cheaper for the producer and they aren’t concerned about making their products Gluten Free. You probably shouldn’t be concerned about your products being Gluten Free either, but you should care about how they taste. Do yourselves a favour, make your own tortillas they taste great and you only need 3 ingredients. Masa Harina (a type of corn flour made in a process called nixtamalisation, whereby corn is soaked in lime and then ground to form flour), water or stock and salt. The difference between bready shop bought tortillas and what results from mixing these three things in the right quantity is the difference between night and day.
Truth be told it is extremely difficult to find honest Mexican food in the UK and even harder to find the raw ingredients required, so some dedication is necessary. Research on the interwebs told me that there was a good Mexican grocer only a bus journey from my house in the East End. Great I thought that’s the advantage of living in London; everything is on your doorstep. Unfortunately upon arriving there I discovered it was closed. Fortunately, there are still some good options for anyone in or outside of the Capital:
The Cool Chile Company (www.coolchile.co.uk): provide Mexican produce at a couple of London locations – Borough Market Thurs-Sat 9am-5:30pm and at the AMAZING Wholefoods Store in High Street Kensington (the also have several other stores in the UK) which I may feature in its own article because it is a freaking Mecca of Food in London. As well as this Cool Chile Co. do free delivery on orders over £50 so buy a shit ton of Masa, Dried Chillies and Tomatillos have them rock up at your door for free. (I should probably note here that I am not sponsored by Cool Chile Co. I just love their products)
Casa Mexico relocated to Suffolk and still have a small, lovely looking shop there. But they also do deliveries nationwide and have an excellent range of produce and other Mexican items including furniture and home nick nacks. Check them out here
But guys, get cooking some Mexican food, do some research and fall in love. Starting with my recipes here