The distance from Los Angeles, California to Houston, Texas is 2488 kilometers. The range I drove in 2 days through four different states in an extraordinary caffeine-fueled drive. All this to meet family I had not seen in over 20 years. In celebration of the small reunion, large quantities of beer were obtained, and Carnitas was on the menu for the day!
Carnitas is a Mexican cuisine dish originating from the state of Michoacán, and it is heart-clogging magic! At this Family Style cookout, three kilos of lard were used and once melted the pork was put in the pot. Ribs, pork shoulder, and pork rind were all submerged under the melted fat, which is similar to the French cooking method of Confit. However, even though the process of making carnitas is like confit, it differs in the way that the heat is turned up towards the end to add a crispy texture to the pork. The whole process takes anywhere from two to four hours, and the result is a very tender, juicy meat and crispy.
While the pork was crisping up in the pot, the pork rind was removed before that happened. Once out it was cut up into small pieces and mixed with lime, Salt, red onions and slices of pickled jalapenos. In Spanish, we call this pork skin Cueritos, and the texture is a bit gelatinous. It not for the squeamish but this dish that’s perfect for a hot day and goes perfectly with beer or two or three…
Finally, the main meal was ready! I enjoyed my carnitas by using the meat to make tacos. I did a rough chopped of the pork since I enjoy keeping most of the out crispy skin intact. I then thinly sliced up some red onions, add a splash of lime to help neutralize the onion and of course some I topped it off with spicy red hot sauce. I was in heaven. It feels good to be home.
Fonda Santa Rosa
A favorite among the nearby neighborhoods, Fonda Santa Rosa in Houston serves a mix of traditional Mexican cuisine along with Tex-Mex. While some purists would scoff at this, Fonda Santa Rosa seems to find the right balance. I was surprised to see dish likes Cochinita Pipil on the menu.
Cochinita Pibil is a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán that involves marinating the meat in citrus juice, and annatto seed. It is then enclosed in a banana leaf and slow cooked. This dish is uncommon, and you don’t find at many restaurants that serve it. Along with this semi-rare dish, Mexican cuisine staples like Enchiladas and Chilaquiles were included in the menu. Perfectly prepared and cooked these items were exemplary.
When Spanish conquistadors brought wheat to Mexico, the indigenous people found the taste of the grains initially challenging to eat. It was not until bakers started changing their baking ingredients that the locals were beginning to respond to it. Bakers began by incorporating local elements like maize (corn), piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), and chocolate. As Mexico continued to be colonized, the French began immigrating to Mexico bringing with them different baking methods and recipes. One of these recipes was brioche, which is believed to be the base of the Concha.
Conchas are a staple at all panaderias (bakeries) and go supremely well with a cup of coffee. Even if a piece of bread is not sweet, it is sweetened up by being dipped into a hot chocolate or milk. Bread has become as common as tortillas. All of my family from the youngest to the oldest loves going to our local panaderia (bakery) and choosing their favorite one out. However, as delicious as they look they tend to be kind of dense, so it fills you up pretty quickly, which is why most of my family would only eat pan (bread) for breakfast.
One of the things I had to try while visiting Texas was the barbecue. Their reputation in the barbecue world has been steadily growing in America. Most iconic barbecue states usually use only pork. However, unlike its culinary counterparts, in Texas beef reigns supreme. So when it comes to barbecue, brisket has become this states signature. The beef brisket is a cut of meat from the lower chest of the cow. This cut of beef is cooked gradually over low indirect heat. Pitmasters tend to use an oak wood fire that’s carefully observed throughout the whole process. If you try to cook it fast, the collagen will not render, and the meat will end up being tough. This entire process can take anywhere from 16 to 20 hours to adequately prepare a brisket.
Roegels Barbecue seasons their brisket with a very simple black pepper and salt rub and can be ordered by the pound, as a sandwich or in a plate with two sides. Without a doubt, in my mind, this was the best beef I have had in a long time. Juicy soft and savory, it was falling apart at the slightest touch. It was so incredibly rich that I did not even bother using any of the bbq sauces that were available at the table! I can not wait till I visit Roegels Barbecue again.
Carne Asada at Home
There is something innate, almost primal about cooking with fire. Natural instincts kick in as I get excited when the beef short ribs hit the piping hot grill. As it sizzles the aroma of seared meat quickly fills the air. It’s an enticing smell that instantly draws everyone around the hot coals. This is Carne Asada, a communal style meal that has everyone talking, laughing and of course eating.
As my aunt fumbles around trying to find music to play, the grill was quickly being filled up with green onions, chicken, short ribs and thinly cut flank steak. Both the chicken and flank were coated in a red chili marinade that went well with both types of meat. Our host, Verna, made the guacamole fresh with avocados imported from Mexico. They have creamy and buttery taste compared to a Thai avocado. The flavors and texture are so well balanced in guacamole that its made with a rough mash that leaves chunks of avocado visible.
My host decides to add a little more texture and “sabor” (flavor) with the addition tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. No seasoning was added, and it wasn’t needed. Homemade salsa was a readily available option for building your taco. I, of course, think it’s necessary. So I put everything on my tacos. The guacamole was exceptional, and the sauce was mild but complimented the meats! Bbq, family and friends it’s a good day.