Sunday, January 11, 2009

Much Ado about Carne Asada

Chopping blended carne for tacos in Tijuana

Sonoran cabreria from aged Angus beef.

A recent discussion on chowhound really got me to thinking about carne asada.Why don't we have great versions in LA? What is carne asada?What are its forms and traditions? I've had a great number opportunities over the years to experience the best carne asada and parrillada in Mexico, in Sonora, and in the best region, northen Mexico.I was blown away though, when the group I was traveling with this past weekend in Leon, Guanajuato ordered arrachera from the room service menu at the Holiday Inn, of all places, and how good it was.The Holiday Inn in Leon has better carne asada than the best restaurants in LA?

During a food crawl recently with Kaire Raisu(chowhound) in Tijuana, we checked out some carne asada as I contemplated the common thread that made the best places so good. I tasted too!

Here is my field tested theory: Carne Asada doesn't have the social, traditional or commercial infrastructure in the US to replicate the quality and taste in Mexico.Carne asada the Mexico way would outprice the average carne asada consumer in the US.Due to economics and local US tradition, a cheap, fast food version of carne asada thrives amongst the mexican-american community and entrenched "norteamericanos".

Northern Mexico makes the best beef:Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango,Coahuila,Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas.But, the rest of Mexico fairs quite well, basically, quality beef is available throughout Mexico at a very accessible price for taco stands, taquerias, and restaurants alike.Restaurants advertise their Sonoran beef, and Benito Molina at Manzanilla in Ensenada even tells you the name of the ranch, Rancho El 17.We have cuts that approximate the arrachera here in the US, but not from the same cows nor are they cut the same way.Mexican butchers in the US do American cuts from US beef.Even latino markets in Los Angeles have ranchera, not arrachera.Arrachera can be cut with a fork,tender, juicy, and sublime.The beef matters in Mexico's asada as it does in Argentina's parrillada, Brazil's churrasco, and Japan's kobe steak.

The forms:carne asada tacos, the individual cut, parrilladas(assorted grilled meats),vampiros,perrones(Rosarito), tortas,gringas,sopes, huaraches, mulitas,quesataco(Tijuana) and so many more concoctions.

Even in our neighboring Tijuana, the street taquerias and stands advertise the fine cuts like NY Steak and Arrachera.Many of the best stands and taquerias doing tacos grill with coal, wood or mezquite and use blends of fine cuts and regular cuts to make economically sound tacos of high quality.In Sonora, Tacos Jass uses NY, top siroin(palomilla), and diezmillo.In TJ, a taqueria on the eastside of town has a secret blend of several meats over coal, the style and presentation is uniquely Tijuanense.The meat is grilled and chopped moments before serving.The parrilladas of Mexico and grilled and brought to your table on a brazier or a hot cast iron plate to keep warm, but are cooked on the grill.Sorry Ceviche(chowhound), they can touch the cast iron plate, just shouldn't be cooked on them.They can be served as whole cuts, in pieces, sliced, or chopped roughly for a taco.The cuts:NY steak, arrachera(favorite),cabreria(rib-eye),diezmillo,and palomilla are the most popular.The best versions are the taco, parrilada, and fine cut plate.In general, the more ingredients in the vehicle, the lower the quality of meat used, the American style burrito being the easiest way to serve cheap cuts as the taste comes from the conglomerate fillings.

The accompaniments are also important: flour tortillas(esp. those light Sonoran tortillas),queso fundido,salsas, a mixed salad with roasted chiles, tripas and costillas(ribs),refried beans sonoran or sinaloan style(infused with pork or chorizo and cheese),grilled onions and jalapenos,escabeche(pickled vegetables and chiles),baked potatoes, quesadillas de trigo,etc.This aesthetic exists throughout Mexico, carne asada isn't a fast food to be trivialized.Yeah, and they even got it right at the Holiday Inn in Mexico.

Until a Mexican steak restaurant in the form of Fogo de Chao, Mercado Buenos Aires emerges, or a taqueria/stand with the conviction and sourcing of Moles La Tia comes forth willing to charge $3 for a carne asada taco of imported arrachera or NY steak, we are stuck with the fast food steak combo plate and commercial beef cuts from Costco for street and truck tacos.We could have it here though, but it's goin' to cost you.Maybe some Sonorans here in LA will come forth and make it happen.

If you've survivied this far, here is the fun.A celebration of carne asada and a feast for the eyes.

Two parrilladas in Cd.Obregon, Sonora-Ny steak,arrachera,ribs, and tripas with tortillas Sonorenses
Arrachera, tripa,sonoran refried beans,sonoran tortillas,and a quesadilla(bitten!
A prep at Tacos Jass in Hermosillo blends NY, top sirloin, and diezmillo.
Aged cabreria in Hermosillo,Sonora
Grilled arrachera-Tijuana,BCN
carne asada tacos made from blended cuts-Tijuana
Manning the grill in Tijuana
A NY steak and shrimp quesataco(taco with meats enveloped in a grilled-cheese wrapper)-Tijuana,BCN

No comments: