I am grateful to live in the Western United States where Mexican cuisine is abundant. My husband’s family lived in Rhode Island several years ago, and my mother-in-law complained the supermarkets didn’t carry the ingredients necessary to make tacos. I don’t know if this is still the case today; but, for me, living without Mexican food would be like living without water. I just couldn’t do it.
Carne asada is one of my all-time Mexican favorites. In Spanish, the name means “grilled meat”. Typically, carne asada is made from either flank steak, skirt steak, or flap steak. The meat is either rubbed with a combination of salt, pepper, and spices or marinated. You can eat the “grilled meat” by itself, with sides of Spanish rice and refried beans, or you can chop it and eat it burrito style.
Flap steak is the most difficult of the three cuts to find. Most supermarkets stock both flank and skirt steaks. Flap steak is the short loin that comes from the middle section of the rib cage. The most tender steaks like the T-bone, porterhouse, rib eye, and tenderloin come from this part of the animal. Flap steak is the portion of meat that extends down from the T-bone and porterhouse steak. If you can find this cut, flap steak is my preferred choice when making carne asada. Whichever cut you choose, these steaks should all be cooked over a high, dry heat. In addition, I find marinating inexpensive cuts of beef makes them more tender; and it is essential to cut them very thinly across the grain. When serving carne asada, common accompaniments are chopped green cabbage, rice, beans, guacamole, freshly made salsa, grilled scallions, and tortillas; and I often serve my carne asada with grated cojita cheese. For a true Mexican flavor, grill your meat over Mesquite charcoal.
If you are looking for an easy rice side dish, Goya’s® packaged Mexican Rice is delicious. If you want to try flap steak but can’t find it in the supermarket, we recently purchased Bill Bailey’s® Carne Asada from Cosco—this is a flap steak. It was very tender and quite tasty!
Much like a backyard barbecue in my neck of the woods, in Northern Mexico the preparation of carne asada is an important social event. Mexicans heat up the “asador” or grill, barbecue their meat, and enjoy the results with family and friends. As summer days fade and our grilling days become numbered, serve carne asada at your next backyard gathering.
Carne Asada Serves 6
For the marinade: ½ cup tequila ¼ cup fresh lime juice ½ jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced 4 teaspoons minced garlic Cholula® Hot Sauce to taste (I use 10 dashes) 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the carne asada:
2 ½ pounds flap steak, skirt steak, or flank steak 6 grilling onions, cleaned (or large scallions) 12 (6-inch) flour tortillas
In a medium bowl, combine tequila, lime juice, jalapeño, garlic, Cholula®, and pepper and stir to combine. In a large glass casserole dish, place steak and onions. Pour marinade over meat and onions, cover with plastic wrap, and marinate in the refrigerator 4 hours, turning occasionally.
Bring steak and onions to room temperature. Preheat the grill to high. Remove steak from marinade and grill about 5 to 7 minutes a side, depending on thickness to no more than medium-rare. After you have cooked steaks on the first side, before turning, place onions on the grill. Grill onions 2 to 3 minutes per side. Watch onions closely as they burn easily. When steaks are done, remove from the grill and let rest a few minutes, then carve against the grain into thin slices. Onions are done when they are soft but crisp tender.
If you don’t have a tortilla warmer, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Wrap 3 to 4 tortillas in aluminum foil and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Repeat until all tortillas are wrapped in foil.
To serve: Place tortilla on a dinner plate. Top with cooked flap steak and grilling onion and garnish with avocado and salsa. Roll and eat burrito style or eat with a knife and fork.
Carol Ann’s Homemade Guacamole
4 large ripe avocados ¾ cup red onion, chopped 1 tomato, chopped ¾ cup Anaheim pepper, seeded and diced 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Remove skins and seeds from avocados. With a spoon, scoop out avocado meat into a medium bowl and mash with a fork, leaving some small chunks. Add onion, tomato, pepper, garlic, salt, and lime juice. Blend gently.
Cooking tip: To help retard browning, place avocado pits in guacamole until ready to serve. Also, guacamole will keep overnight if placed in an airtight, covered container with pits and refrigerated.
Shopping for avocados: If you want to use your avocado immediately, select one that yields to gentle pressure. If you are shopping ahead and plan to use the avocado in a few days, pick one that is firm to the touch. Pass up avocados that are bright green and feel rock-hard. They are difficult to ripen. Also, don’t buy this vegetable if it is sunken, shriveled, or feels mushy.
Storing avocados: Avocados should be stored at room temperature until they are ready to eat. To speed the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with an apple. Once ripe, avocados will keep up to 2 days in the refrigerator. If you use only half of an avocado, leave the pit in, brush the flesh with lemon juice, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
Carol Ann’s Salsa Makes about 3 cups
3 to 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped ½ cup white onion, diced ½ Anaheim pepper, seeded and diced 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced 1 teaspoon minced garlic ¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice ½ teaspoon salt
In a small bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, Anaheim and jalapeño peppers, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and salt and toss gently. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Shopping for tomatoes: Select firm and plump tomatoes. Do not buy pale, spotted, or mushy specimens. Avoid tomatoes with blemishes or cracks. Color is a good indicator of freshness. Pick brightly colored tomatoes. My father taught me to shop with my nose. Smell the stem end of the tomato. If it is ripe, it will smell like a tomato. Ripe tomatoes should give slightly when pressed. Storing tomatoes: Tomatoes must be treated gently. Place only ripened tomatoes in the refrigerator. Cool temperatures slow the ripening process. To ripen, place tomatoes at room temperature stem side down. To hasten the ripening process, place tomatoes in a paper bag and keep at room temperature.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
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