Monday, April 11, 2011

Barbacoa (Beef Cheek Tacos)

My first experience of barbacoa was Chipotle which, despite what Steve Ells may claim, isn't exactly authentic Mexican cuisine. But who am I to complain? Hello, one barbacoa burrito, no rice, pinto beans, corn and hot salsa, extra sour cream, cheese, lettuce, hello deliciousness! Hurry into my mouth! At this point I should also admit that, possibly, my only experience of barbacoa is through Chipotle. If I am truly honest with myself I didn't even know it was cow head (or cheek) until I began dating Seth. My first thought was, "Do other Chipotle customers know what barbacoa is?" followed by, "I really want another burrito."

Can you imagine my excitement when I saw beef cheek at HEB (major Texas grocery store)? Maybe not, but I'll tell you it was more to do with the fact that the store carried beef cheek - and beef heart, knuckles, sweetbreads, probably lung if I asked - and that I saw it for the first time after attending the country fair. "That could be one of the winning show cows!", I whispered to myself. And I knew I wanted to eat it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bacon Salsa

Bacon salsa. Not just bacon in salsa, but salsa whose main ingredient (next to tomatoes) is bacon. This makes it awesome, though that should be a given. Mmm, bacon. I owe this recipe to my father-in-law Jim, who made this salsa for a barbecue held in honor of Seth's and my return to the States. Love came instantly and I found myself scooping spoonfuls into my mouth as though it were a chunky, bacon-y soup. The chips provided were nothing more than a vehicle to carry the salsa into my eager belly. Bacon.

I have been meaning to recreate Jimbo's salsa for over a month with nothing stopping me other than a general laziness and unwillingness to consume a half cup's worth of bacon grease (or thereabouts.) Don't stop reading! I adjusted the recipe slightly and left out the majority of the grease - hell, Jimbo might do the same but judging that the dominant flavors are "bacon" and "heartburn" I am pretty sure he leaves everything in. You will notice I use only a spice mix, specifically Lawry's Seasoning Salt, because that's what Jim uses. Perhaps one day I will attempt to break down the amount of paprika, turmeric and whatever else Lawry's provides, but today is not that day. Nor was Friday, when I made this. Hell, it may never happen, but it's always good to hope.


Some notes: unlike your basic salsa recipe, which is ready to go in about 5 minutes, this one takes almost an hour due to the slow cooking of the bacon. Don't try to rush this! You need the bacon to become nice and crisp (not burnt, but crisp) and as much fast as possible to be rendered; this is achieved by cooking the meat slowly. I used two serranos, one seeded and one not, and had almost no heat, but serranos are notoriously fickle in that category. As with so many recipes, you control the level of heat by the number of chilis you add and how you add them (with seeds or no.) Add the seasoning salt gradually because your bacon may be saltier than mine or less salty than others and the last thing you want is a pot of salt lick. Finally, Jimbo uses green onions, which I didn't have, so I substituted half a sweet onion. The bacon is the star, though, so whichever type of onion you use be sure the flavor isn't overpowering. Enjoy!

Bacon Salsa

1lb bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2cup minced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano peppers, minced (seeded or not, whichever your preference
1cup chopped cilantro (loosely packed)
28oz can chopped tomatoes (or crushed, if you don't want chunks of tomato)
1-2tbsp Lawry's Seasoning Salt

1. In a Dutch oven (I used plain cast iron, but enameled will also work) slowly cook bacon pieces over medium-low/ medium heat, stirring occasionally. The cooking will go slow at first but as the fat renders the process will speed up so be aware of the temperature to ensure the bacon doesn't burn. You want the bacon fully cooked and crisp. Once done, remove bacon from pan (drain if desired) and remove all but 2 tablespoons grease from Dutch oven.

2. With heat on medium, add onions, garlic and peppers. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and opaque (about 10 minutes.) Add cilantro, cook for a few minutes to allow leaves to wilt, then add tomatoes and reserved bacon pieces. Bring to a simmer.

3. You can begin adding the seasoning salt at this point. Start with 1 teaspoon; allow to simmer for a few minutes, taste, then add more seasoning if necessary.  Continue this process until the salsa tastes seasoned. If it seems like you are the tipping point of "maybe it needs more, maybe not", don't add anymore! The flavors will become stronger as they cook (and if they sit.)

4. Allow the salsa to simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Serve hot and keep plenty of Tums on hand.