Consider the taco, a basic configuration involving a tortilla, a filling, a topping, and usually accompaniments to the side. Much like the American burger, the simplicity is misleading. Either dish can be made a ton of different ways and while tacos and burgers might define their respective cuisines for some, they’re hardly the last word in either.
Trying to pick five of the very best Mexican dishes can be a challenge considering the endless array of food represented. Assuming that we’re all familiar with some basic ideas such as tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, fajitas, and the faithful burrito the limelight now falls on a few rockstar dishes that might show up in any one of these, or perhaps branch out into new territory.
1. Tacos al pastor
Pork that has been marinated, roasted on a vertical spit called a trompo, and then sliced thin onto corn tortillas, served with onions, coriander leaves, and pineapple. Not just for flavor, enzymes in the pineapple marinade help to break down the meat. The idea came into Mexico with Lebanese and Syrian immigrants. ‘Al pastor’ means ‘in the style of the shepherd’ and the flavors have been a Mexican favorite since the 1920’s. Al pastor meat is used in many dishes.
Think shish kebab meets Philly cheesesteak on a tortilla, Alambre means ‘wire’ indicating cooking on a metal skewer though the meaning has been expanded to include cooking on a flat top or skillet. In any case, alambre is likely to include bacon, peppers, onion, salsa, and avocado topped at some point with cheese and served with a plentiful stack of tortillas.
Traditionally pork is used but now carnitas might also be beef or even chicken. Cooked low and slow in a manner almost like a confit, it’s a recipe that translates well to crock-pot cooking though the texture won’t be the same as in the stovetop and oven method. Once the filling is tender-cooked and spiced to perfection it can become a part of tacos or tostadas or even be wrapped in lettuce leaves if carbs are the enemy.
4. Caldo de Camaron y Pescado
A caldo is a brothy soup, camaron y pescado would be shrimp and fish. This comfort food usually includes potatoes and carrots with the seafood in a savory, flavorful broth. The dried chiles add depth of flavor rather than spiciness. Good eats on a winter day.
Mexican sandwiches made with thick, soft bread dipped in a salsa made from guajillo chiles and then griddled for a crisp signature finish. Usually stuffed with papas con chorizo , a potato and chorizo hash, pambazos can be ‘simple’ or stacked up ‘with everything’. The second option can cover a lot of ground including lettuce, queso fresco, pickled jalapenos, refried beans, and sour cream.
So many Mexican dishes deserve a highlight and a test drive on my plate, but I’m happy to start with these five. Bottom line: Mexican food is easy to get to know, easy to love, and really, really easy to eat.
Tacos al pastor http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/top-10-foods-try-mexico
al pastor and alambre: http://casablancamexican.com/real-mexican/
Caldo de Camaron y Pescado: http://www.allroadsleadtothe.kitchen/2013/08/CaldoDeCamaronYPescado.html