Praise the Braise

We’re settling into May quite well here in Texas. Governor Abbott permitted the start of reopening of Texas on the first and we’re swiftly hurtling towards phase two! Our little corner of the world is cautiously stepping forth from our corona-rest and shaking off the pent-up cabin fever of shelter-in-place. Optimism abounds at every turn. Optimism for a less unsettled tomorrow. In an effort to restore a little normalcy, I advocate that along with May comes the return of what I feel is “Taco Tuesday” season. I don’t wear us out on tacos every Tuesday this time of year, but I do try to slip tacos in here and there. Tacos are practically a given here in Texas. I even worked at a local Taco joint one Summer to pay the photographer for my wedding! Totally worth it and I still enjoy their food to this day.

This past Tuesday night I chose a taco recipe from someone a little north of Texas. She’s still a Southerner mind you, but this recipe hails from an Arkansan and a rather sweet one at that! I had the privilege of hearing Amy Hannon Nelson at a ladies event held by a local church last November. She was warm, funny, and offered valuable wisdom about serving those around you. I was able to not only hear her speak, but I was blessed with the opportunity to purchase her book and have her personally sign it for me! This Taco Tuesday is in a way sponsored by Nelson. By the looks of her recipe for Braised Carne Asada Tacos though, you wouldn’t know it was from any further north than Laredo, TX. It’s unctuous and smokey and pretty addicting. She wasn’t joking when she says that after eating, they “stand around in the kitchen and nibble any leftover meat with our fingers until we nearly pop!” It was in fact very challenging to cut ourselves off from this very thing!

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The recipe calls for flank or skirt steak. Flank and skirt steak are very similar in many ways, but differ in regards to where they’re obtained on the cow. They’re very close, but flank steak comes from the area between the hips and ribs whereas skirt steak comes from the part between the chest and abdomen. They can both be used in this recipe interchangeably. The cost is different, but the results will be just as good! Both of which will still need to be tenderized with a meat mallet to break up the tough connective tissues.

After you’ve pounded out the meat to break up the connective tissues and you’ve massaged the homemade rub in, please don’t neglect searing a beautiful crust to both sides of the steak. It’s really and truly one of the most important steps. It drives in so much flavor into the finished dish. You want to braise a beautifully seared piece of steak. You don’t want to steam/boil it. It just wouldn’t be the same! It’s like comparing a tenderly grilled chicken to a boiled chicken. The flavors are completely different. The former is much more appetizing than the latter.

Hannon recommends that you layer the tender, juicy shreds of meat with plenty of avocado and sour cream with cheese on a flour tortilla. We’re still trying to make healthier choices bit by bit, so we swapped flour tortillas with Siete Almond Flour Tortillas for me and Mission Corn Tortillas for The Mr. I’d had my fill of Monterrey Jack cheese lately so I opted to switch things up for a change with Cotija cheese. Cotija is a Mexican cow’s milk cheese that originated in the town Cotija in the Hills of Michoacan. It’s grainy and salty and a delicious alternative to your average shredded taco cheeses. Each taco got a generous squeezes of lime as well and we still actually managed to have leftovers after we nearly popped!

Truthfully, it seems like a long cooking time, but this was one of the simplest preparations ever. I was really sold at how such an easy process could produce such a delicious dish! The long, slow braising in the oven (you can also pop this into your slow-cooker), really obliterated any bit of toughness from the meat making it so easy to shred. It practically fell apart on its own! This technique might just be my new weapon of choice in my arsenal…

What’s one of your pet weapons in your culinary arsenal?

Currently Reading: Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening: The Total Guide to Growing Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Other Edible Plants the Natural Way by J. Howard Garrett and C. Malcolm Beck


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