Milk Street: L.A.’s Best Tacos (Ep 601)


Fried Shrimp Tacos with Salsa Roja
Start to finish: 11⁄4 hours
Makes 8 tacos

At Mariscos Jalisco, Raul Ortega’s food truck in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles, the tacos de camarón, or shrimp tacos, are the main attraction, and for good reason. Ortega stuffs a perfectly seasoned shrimp filling into tortillas and fries the tacos to golden brown crispness before finishing them with tomato salsa and avocado. His recipe is a closely guarded secret, but in her version of those tacos, food writer and recipe developer Paola Briseño-González attempts to replicate that delicious melding of flavors and textures. The shrimp are chopped in a food processor to make the filling, so though the recipe specifies shrimp of a certain size, just about any size will work.

Don’t try to bypass the step of warming the tortillas before filling them. Straight from the
package, the tortillas likely will be brittle and will crack when folded. After warming the
tortillas, be sure to keep them wrapped in a towel so they remain pliable until you’re ready to fill the tacos.

For the salsa roja:
1 pound ripe plum tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded
1⁄4 large white onion, chopped (about 1⁄2 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 cup finely chopped green cabbage
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped

For the tacos and serving:
8 ounces ripe plum tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded
3⁄4 large white onion, chopped (about 1 heaping cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons plus 1 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
8 ounces large (26/30 per pound) shrimp (see headnote), peeled
(tails removed) and deveined
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Eight 6-inch corn tortillas
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced
Lime wedges, to serve

To make the salsa, in a food processor, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl; reserve the food processor bowl and blade. Stir the cabbage and cilantro into the puree, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.

To make the tacos, in the food processor, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Pulse to a coarse puree, about 10 pulses. Transfer to a small bowl. To the food processor, add the shrimp and pulse until finely chopped, about 4 pulses.

In a 10-inch skillet over medium, heat the 3 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the tomato-onion puree and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture has evaporated, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until well incorporated,
about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, until the shrimp turn pink and the mixture has thickened, about 1 minute. Set aside off heat.

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium until water flicked onto the surface immediately sizzles and evaporates. Add 2 tortillas in a single layer (it’s fine if they overlap slightly) and heat, flipping them once, until warm, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer to a kitchen towel and wrap loosely to keep warm and pliable. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, stacking and wrapping them in the towel. Add the remaining 1 cup oil to the skillet; keep warm over low while you fill the tortillas.

Lay 4 of the tortillas on a work surface and divide half of the shrimp mixture evenly among them, placing the filling on one side of the tortilla. Fold the unfilled sides over and press lightly; leave the edges open (do not seal them). Fill the remaining tortillas with the remaining shrimp mixture in the same way.

Return the oil to medium and heat until shimmering (about 350°F). Carefully add 4 of the tacos and cook until golden brown and crisp on the bottoms, about 3 minutes. Using a thin metal spatula, flip each taco and cook until golden brown on the second
sides, about 3 minutes, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Fry the remaining tacos in the same way, adjusting the heat as needed.

Transfer the tacos to a serving platter and spoon on some of the salsa. Top with the avocado slices and serve with the remaining salsa and lime wedges on the side.

Beef Chili Colorado Tacos
Start to finish: 33⁄4 hours (45 minutes active)
Servings: 6 to 8

Carne en chile colorado is a Mexican classic, and one of the delicious offerings that appear on the rotating menu at Walter Soto’s El Ruso taqueria trucks that operate in a couple locations in and around Los Angeles. “Colorado” translates from the Spanish as
“red-colored,” an apt name for the succulent, stewy dish of meat, sometimes shredded,
sometimes not, in a sauce of pureed dried red chilies. Pork is commonly used to make chili colorado, but this version is Paola Briseño- González’s ode to El Ruso’s rich, robust beef in red chili sauce. The cut of choice is a boneless chuck roast, which boasts plenty of
fat and connective tissue so that long, slow cooking yields rich, tender, full-flavored meat.
Either guajillo or New Mexico chilies work here; you can even use a combination. Both
are a deep red color, have bright, fruity notes with subdued earthiness, and contain only
mild chili heat. El Ruso also is well known for its flour tortillas, so that’s the type to serve
with the chili colorado for making tacos.

Don’t worry if the beef is not entirely submerged in the chili puree when the chunks are added to the pot. As it cooks, the meat will release some juices. However, if, after about an hour of simmering, the beef is not covered with liquid, stir in 1⁄2 cup water to ensure even cooking and prevent drying.

12 medium (about 21⁄2 ounces) guajillo or New Mexico chilies,
stemmed, seeded and roughly torn
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
21⁄2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 3-inch chunks
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 medium yellow onion, 1⁄2 roughly chopped, 1⁄2 finely chopped, reserved separately
2 bay leaves
Warm flour tortillas, to serve
1⁄2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped

In a medium saucepan
, combine the chilies and enough water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high, pressing on the chilies to submerge them. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand until the chilies are fully softened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain the chilies, discarding the water, and put them in a blender along with the garlic, oregano, cumin, 4 cups water and 11⁄2 teaspoons salt. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes; set aside.

Spread the flour in a pie plate or other wide, shallow dish. Add the beef, turning to coat all sides. In a large Dutch oven over medium- high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the beef, shaking off the excess flour, and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes; transfer to a large plate.

Pour off and discard any fat in the pot. Add the chili puree and bring to a simmer over medium, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the roughly chopped onion and bay, then add the beef and any accumulated juices. Return to a simmer, then cover, reduce to
medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and increasing the heat as needed to maintain a vigorous simmer, for 1 hour. If at this point the braising liquid no longer covers the beef, stir in 1⁄2 cup water and return to a simmer. Cook, covered, until a skewer inserted into the largest piece of beef meets no resistance and the sauce has the consistency of heavy cream, about another 1 hour. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the bay.

Using 2 forks, shred the beef. Return to a simmer over medium, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with flour tortillas and with the finely chopped onion and cilantro for making tacos.

Oaxacan-Style Vegetables in Chili-Garlic Sauce
Start to finish: 1 hour, plus resting time
Servings: 4

Some versions of Oaxacan chileajo contain meat, but in chileajo de verduras (also known
as chileajo de legumbres), vegetables are the main attraction, along with the earthy, garlicky red chili sauce that coats them (chileajo translates from the Spanish as chili-
garlic). Garnet-toned guajillo chilies are mild and fruity; we toast them in a little oil to draw out their rich flavors before softening them in hot water, then we use some of the soaking water when blending the sauce. We especially like the trio of potatoes, cauliflower and green beans, but feel free to substitute your favorites, adjusting for different cooking times. Vegetable chileajo isn’t usually served as a main. But sandwiched in telera rolls to make tortas or spooned onto crisp tostadas and topped with a few—or all—of the optional garnishes (see below), we think it’s wholly satisfying.

Don’t allow the vegetables to cool before adding them to the chili puree. And after
saucing, be sure to allow them to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. The residual
heat helps meld and mellow the ingredients in the sauce and, just as importantly, as they cool, the vegetables absorb flavors.

4 large guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
12 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
8 ounces cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
4 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine the chilies and oil; cook, occasionally turning the chilies with tongs, until the oil takes on a reddish hue and the chilies are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Carefully add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Remove the
pan from the heat, cover and let stand until the chilies are softened, 15 to 20 minutes, occasionally pushing the chilies into the water to submerge them.

Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chilies to a blender, then add 1⁄2 cup of the soaking liquid. Add the garlic, vinegar, oregano, cumin, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.

In a medium saucepan, combine the potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt, then add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high, reduce to medium and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just shy of tender, about 3
minutes; adjust the heat as needed to maintain a simmer. Add the cauliflower and beans; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain in a
colander, immediately add to the bowl with the chili puree and toss until well coated.

Let the vegetables stand for at least 15 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Optional garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro OR shredded cabbage OR crumbled queso fresco OR thinly sliced onion OR a combination

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