Summer is here and that means it’s barbecue season, no matter if you’re tailgating at the ball park or planning a cookout in the backyard. There’s nothing better than traditional “carne asada,” especially if served in its most trendy form as “street tacos.” If you’re the chef in charge, no worries. It’s pretty hard to screw up this grilled treat as long as your creation is prepared properly in the kitchen beforehand.
It all starts with selecting the meat. Most Mexican markets will want to sell you flank or “skirt” steak because it’s cheap and more practical for a large group of hungry folks. I like to use very thin cuts of rib-eye however, since it’s more tender and contains ripples of fat that adds to the flavor. Then comes the critical part: the marinade. For a small party of neighbors or just a meal for the family, nothing differs except the size of the bowl to soak the meat. The basic ingredients of the marinade should include plenty of crushed garlic cloves, freshly squeezed lime juice, at least a cup of chopped cilantro leaves (no stems), a hefty splash of olive oil and a can of diced green chili. Add salt and pepper and mix together with the steak. Refrigerate for at least an hour, occasionally stirring.
Salsa verde and guacamole are nice touches on the side so your guests can “doctor up” their tacos to taste. But be sure to have plenty of beans, rice and white corn tortillas on hand to complete the meal.
Pollo asado is always a good alternative to throw on the grill, and it’s more economical than rib-eye steak. About three whole chickens cut up into quarters will work for a party of six to eight guests, or you can buy wings, breasts and legs already pre-cut if you’re lazy like me. Chicken goes great with a citrus marinade, so you’ll need about six oranges and lemons (or eight limes) freshly squeezed for about one cup of juice. Pour into a glass bowl along with the following ingredients: One table spoon of olive oil, one table spoon of oregano, two table spoons of minced garlic, one table spoon of ground cumin, one chopped onion and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and bathe the chicken in the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Now you’re ready to throw the chicken on the grill, occasionally rotating to make sure all sides are cooked to a golden brown. Serve with beans, Spanish rice, avocado slices and plenty of tortillas.
This is a bit trickier on the grill vs. slow cooked in a crockpot, but well worth it for that desired smokey flavor. Start with about five pounds of boneless pork shoulder marbled with plenty of fat, which keeps the pork from drying out and remain tender. Again, the marinade should be citrus-based with about 32 ounces of orange and lime juice. Add Chipotle peppers, chopped onion, minced garlic and chopped cilantro leaves. Mix well. Cut the raw pork into thick rectangular slices, add to the marinade and chill overnight.
In the morning, place the pork strips on a large platter and season with garlic salt and pepper. I like to wrap four strips together and wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil to hold the juices in. Under a covered grill, smoke the pork for about 30 minutes under low heat. Afterwards, remove the pork from the foil and cook for another 15 minutes, rotating both sides to get a slightly crispy outer texture. Once again, serve with rice and beans plus pico de gallo and avocado, as well as both corn and flour tortillas.
If that seems like a lot of work (and it is), there is an alternative if you’re desperate for carnitas and live in the southern California. Just have a catering service come to you! In the San Diego or Tijuana areas, Chancho Libre serves up delicious, slow-roasted tender pork with all the fixings for any party or occasion. They also have an excellent variety of sides and salsas. Call them direct at 52-664-1892959, or contact HispanicHorizons.com at 858-610-3596.
And for a unique Cuban experience in the Los Angeles area, you have to try Portos Bakery and cafe. They also will cater your outdoor or special event, and the Pan con Lechon roast pork sandwich is a real treat. So is the Cubano and Ropa vieja sandwiches, chorizo pie and authentic Cuban potato balls. Simply Google portosbakery.com or call one of their restaurants in Burbank, Glendale, Downey or the newest location in Buena Park. The chain is personally endorsed by actor Andy Garcia, who has attended every grand opening since 1960.