All hail the mighty taco. Just speaking the word makes my mouth all drooly and tingly like I just got back from a root canal minus all the searing tooth pain. Thank you, Mexico, for making one of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth and believe me, I’ve put many tasty things in there.
I am half Cuban and no, not all Latinos are raised on a diet of tacos (I read in a book once that even Mexican people eat other things as well). When I was in my late teens, I was a skate rat. All I ate was Taco Bell “tacos” and 7-11 Big Gulps, occasionally with lots of drugs. My sustenance had to be fast and easy. I lived by the motto Skate or Die and I had no time for anything else. I never knew what authentic tacos were like.
One day during a pretty gnarly skate run in downtown Miami I came across my very first taco truck. The smell was so frickin’ amazing that I almost fell off my board. “Tres tacos carnitas por favor.” The sweet lady took my money and about a minute later I quickly scarfed down the three perfectly charred pork tacos and in one breath ordered 2 more. “Wow, this is so much better than Taco Bell,” I thought to myself. If these were “real” tacos what the hell had I been eating prior to this?
Later in life I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am a fast food junkie. I have serious cravings for the hot fire sauce that can eat through pennies and ground mystery “meat” nestled in a Dorito shell. It’s just different. I can appreciate both sides of the taco coin and move on.
The first thing about tacos is that you really have to try hard to fuck them up. As long as you use actual tortillas (preferably corn but flour tortillas are still autentico in my book) and not hot dog buns you have taken the first step to making a true taco. Second, whatever you decide to stuff the suckers with, just make sure it’s cooked and seasoned properly and, above all, tasty.
Here are some things that are delicious in tacos: pork, chicken, beef, nopales (cactus), eggs, lamb, shrimp, Spam and, yes, even tofu. Here are some examples of things you perhaps shouldn’t put in your taco: shoelaces, diamonds, toenails, syringes, etc… Understand the difference?
I want to talk to you about garnishes. Some variety of salsa is generally a preferred garnish for a tasty taco. Maybe even a little chopped onion and a few sprigs of cilantro. Perhaps followed by a squirt of fresh lime. That’s it, very simple. Simplicity is key. Do not cover your lovely taco with a mound of junk. If you have to eat your tacos with a knife and fork you screwed up. Messy is good, unpickupability™ is bad.
My one bit advice I have for you is this: Authenticity is nice and fine but cooking should be fun. “Fusion is confusion” is a stupid rhyme. I made a new rhyme for you: “Suspicious can be delicious.” Just make your tacos delicious and let the food police argue about ruining tradition. I respect and love a lot of traditions. Things are classic for a reason but when it comes to food new classics are invented every day.
Cuban Roast Pork Tacos with Habanero Mango Salsa
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp oregano oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup sour orange juice, or 1/2 cup orange juice & 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Put all of the mojo ingredients in a blender and pulse until the garlic is minced up.
(for the pork)
4-6 lbs. pork shoulder roast
Pour the mojo over the pork shoulder and marinate overnight. The following day, preheat the oven to 250F degrees. Transfer the pork (fat side up) and marinade to a roasting pan and cook for 4 hours basting every 1/2 hour. Add a little water to the pan when it starts to dry out. Pull the pork out and let it rest for 15 minutes. It should be so meltingly tender that it falls apart just by touching it.
(for the salsa)
2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 habanero, minced (use less if you don’t want as much heat)
2 scallions, sliced on a bias
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (stems and all)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Mix all of the salsa ingredients in a bowl and let it sit in the fridge while the pork cooks (about 4 hours) so that the flavors meld.
(for the tacos)
corn tortillas (if you can get or make fresh ones all the better)
fresh limes, quartered
queso cotija (Mexican crumbly cheese. If you can’t find it use a salty cheese you like)
Warm the tortillas either on a dry hot pan or in the microwave (wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel for 1 minute). I like to double up the tortillas per taco to make them super sturdy. Place 3 tortillas on a plate (or 3 stacks of two if you doubled up). Then put a moderate handful of shredded Cuban pork on top of each tortilla. Top the pork with a spoonful of mango salsa. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro and a little crumbled queso cotija. Serve with a few lime quarters and eat within arms reach of the hot sauce (Tapatio in the house!). Have lots of napkins and perhaps a bib. Enjoy, you taco eaters you. xoxo