Recipe of The Week
Baja Tacos with grilled pineapple and Pico de Gallo.
By The Well Seasoned Traveler
What better meal on a steamy Florida night than an assortment of tacos with a cold beverage of your choice. This week we go to Baja California. My compulsive mania to go to the “end of the road” while visiting Ensenada, took me to La Bufadora in Bahia Papilote, on the far southern end. There I met Lidia, who runs a busy and noisy taqueria where conversations in German, Swedish, English and half a dozen other languages of patrons from the world over sitting at the white plastic tables mix with the sizzling sounds of the flat grill, a perennial puffing from a pressure cooker and the traditional fish frying Comal from the open kitchen, the staff happily yelling orders above the general ambient noise. It is most definitely Mexico. No two buts about it. The air permeated by the smells of burning charcoal, roasted meat, onions and spices, Lidia’s is, like many things in Mexico, a family affair. The whole family participates in one way or another to serve a volume of patrons that rivals the busiest New York deli. Sitting down for a casual conversation, Lidia confided the secret of her successful tacos with a smile “simplicidad” she told me, “People tend to overthink and complicate recipes” “The best things are simple” simple ingredients treated with respect. In the right proportions, is all you need, that is her take on food. So today I give you, not a recipe, but a way of life. Let go of the stress of the day, get into comfortable clothes, sharpen your favorite knife, and grab the ingredients. We are going to make authentic Baja shrimp tacos. If you do not like shrimp, or do not eat them for whatever reason, substitute them for fish, or beef, or even Maitake mushrooms if you are vegan or vegetarian. The process is the same, fast, simple, and delicious.
INGREDIENTS (feeds four guests or one hungry Mexican) get your ingredients HERE
2 pounds fresh shrimp or 1 pound fish filet or 1 pound skirt steak, or 1-pound Maitake mushrooms.
1 large onion sliced to taste
1 head of coarsely chopped garlic
1 cup of Pico de Gallo
1 cubed pineapple
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 cup Mexican crema or sour cream (they are not the same believe me)
2 cups of shredded cabbage
½ cup apple vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bunch cilantro
Lime or lemon to taste
Taco size tortillas corn or flour
Whatever you are using for your tacos, shrimp or otherwise the basic rule is simple. Use a piping hot surface, be it a griddle, a heavy bottom stainless steel, or a cast iron skillet, it must be able to sear and cook your food in thirty seconds, that, will give you a perfectly seared juicy filling for your tacos. It is not important if you let your fillings rest before you serve them, nobody eats a piping hot taco anyway, however everybody appreciates a crunchy well-seasoned filling, even if it is only warm, especially if you have a cold beer in your hand, and the Pacific Ocean is crashing on the shores of Baja Ensenada.
In the professional kitchen we call it prepping. The French call it “mise en place” All it is, is preparing the ingredients you are going to cook with and arranging them in the order you are going to use them.
The ingredient that will take the longest to prepare, will be the cabbage, as you must shred it and pickle it, so it will have the acidity to counter-balance the taco filling. Yes, you can cheat and buy a bag of Coleslaw at your local market. Make sure it is the “angel hair” version or you will run into problems later.
Shred the cabbage on a fine gauge shredder, mix the apple vinegar with an equal amount of water, a pinch of salt, and the sugar. Let it rest for at least an hour. Drain and pat dry, reserve.
Shrimp: remove head, shell and tails off shrimp. Mix cumin, garlic, salt, and a pinch of sugar (for caramelization) with a minimal amount of water until it forms a paste, mix shrimp with paste, and let rest until ready to fire.
Use the same method with fish, beef, mushrooms, or any filling you are using.
Pico de Gallo: literally “rooster’s beak” (I have no clue why it is called that). All it is, is finely chopped onion and tomato. Texture of a relish. Prepare ahead of time and drain. It will shed a lot of juice you want to discard, or it will make your taco soggy. You are also welcome to use the Salsa Fresca offered with this recipe.
Get your crema or sour cream ready to pour on your tacos, or condition in a serving vessel where people can help themselves. Let’s see… Did we forget anything? Ah yes take a swig of whatever you are having.
Heat your pan until piping hot, in excess of 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sauté your sliced onions. Until translucent. Reserve. If you do not do onions skip this step.
Drop your cubed pineapple in the pan and toss around until it half-caramelizes and there are burnt marks on parts of it. Quickly remove and reserve. Do not let burn.
Drop the filling (shrimp, fish, beef, mushroom) and sear until crispy and fully cooked. Remove immediately. Set aside.
Assemble the tacos by laying a bottom of cabbage, followed by a layer of onions, a layer
of filling, a layer of grilled pineapple, some Pico de Gallo and a bit of chopped cilantro.
Drizzle with crema and enjoy.
Lidia's Tacos in Baja California