¡Fiesta! (Mariachi not included)
Who doesn’t love a Mexican feast? But making one at home is a giant hassle, with all the different dishes that go into it. It takes forever and turns your kitchen into something resembling a frat house on Sunday morning.
But, The Kid and I figured it out; with just a little work, and very little outlay of dough.
Whenever I make green pork chili, I make it with a giant pork shoulder. They take hours and hours to cook, so I try to get lots of bang for my buck. I’d use an entire pig, but I don’t have a big enough pot. As it is, I usually use The Kid’s bigger Le Creuset Dutch oven, Mrs. Lovett (the name comes from the character in “Sweeney Todd,” because she’s gray, like the pot, can take a lot of heat, and ends up roasting in an oven).
Along with a massive porker, I layer in poblano peppers, tomatillos, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and chicken stock. After it cooks for five or six hours, I remove the meat, and purée the roasted veg with my hand blender. I remove a couple of cups of it and freeze it. I also take a hunk of the pork and freeze that as well.
Then, down the road, we use them for mock carnitas tacos.
To turn my veggie purée into a delicious salsa, first I pick up a ripe avocado at the market. I dice up the avocado, and dump it all into the green veggie liquid. I break out my hand blender and whir until it’s smooth.
To make mock carnitas, I take my cooked shoulder out of the freezer, and let it defrost. Then I shred it like I’m making pulled pork barbecue. I heat up a skillet, and put the meat in there along with a ½ cup or so of water. I cover it and let it cook on medium-low until it’s hot and sizzling. I then uncover the pan, turn up the heat, and once the water is evaporated, I toss it around the skillet until it’s crispy around the edges. You don’t need any extra fat because there’s plenty left in the meat.
Now, to augment the feast without any extra work on our part. I go to my local tortilla factory (Tortilleria Y Carniceria, 3801 Wake Forest Highway). There I pick up some fresh, warm tortillas, and the most awesome freshly made tortilla chips on the planet. Total cost? Less than $5.
When I grabbed an avocado, I also picked up some fresh cilantro and a white onion. This, along with our salsa, will dress our tacos.
Now I have to share an embarrassing secret with you. Despite having lived in the Bull City for almost 30 years, and haunting the 9th Street area like a chain-rattling spirit, until recently, I’ve never been to Cosmic Cantina (1920 Perry St.). The Kid often visits for a burrito fix, but I’d never been.
One night my child came home with not just a giant burrito, but some guacamole, too. I tried it and was delighted. It was awesome.
So, for our feast we stopped by Cosmic, and picked up guacamole. We also ordered two small orders of rice, and two small orders of their pinto beans. Total cost: about $8.
That night we ate like royalty. Everything was amazing. We had so much left, we decided to do it again the next day.
We were a little low on meat, and rice and beans, so I swung by Cosmic again and picked up more rice and beans. I also scored two small containers of their steak to fill out our taco stuffing. Again, it set me back less than $8.
At dinner time when I emptied the steak into a skillet, I was shocked. Those two little Styrofoam containers filled up my 10 inch frying pan. Again, we dined in Nirvana.
For around $20 and very little effort we had two nights of restaurant quality Mexican dinners. And we got to eat in our pajamas, while watching “Jeopardy.”
Let somebody else do most of the work.
What’s the secret to a yummy Mexican fiesta at home, Alex?
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.