Nothing says BBQ like a great Carne Asada! Summertime means a la parilla and that means grilling the Mexican way; prepare your meats and poultry with a good recado or adobo. Barbecue flavor is determined by the rub (recado) or marinade (adobo), the meat, chicken or seafood, the charcoal that its cooked over and, of course, the sauce (salsa).
To master el arte de la parilla, first, you’ll want to grab Roberto Santibañez’s new cookbook, Truly Mexican (with JJ Goode and Shelley Wiseman, released this last year by Wiley & Sons). Truly Mexican breaks down cooking techniques and ingredients logically and simply, so that once you master a technique, you have opened the door to make any of a multitude of recipes that follow in the sections on Salsas, Guacamoles, Adobos and Moles & Pipianes. The opening chapter, Basics, explains the various chiles and herbs, complete with useful charts and really beautiful photos, which will help you recognize the ingredients when you shop. Start by selecting an Adobado, as Chef Santibañez says, “such a simple and gratifying process: toasting chiles to release their aroma, soaking them to soften their texture and blending them with spices”. Follow his step-by-step directions and you’ll be cooking like a Mexican grandmother in no time!
If you’re planning to try your hand at this, buy your dried chiles and seasonings in the Mission, packed by the El Guapo Co. in those neat little clear plastic envelopes with the colorful paper tops. These are even found in Safeway’s Mission neighborhood stores, at Chicos Produce, Casa Lucas* (by the way, this a great way to buy your seasonings, cinnamon sticks for $1, a package of cloves that is just the right amount for the recipe at hand (and the next one or two) instead of paying through the nose and being forced to buy enough to “nail” your next three Easter hams, and some things you cannot find in other brands, like little dried shrimp and Mexican oregano). For bulk buying, go to Evergreen Supermarket, on Mission between 21st and 22nd Sts. (free parking around the back on Capp St.); better pricing and bigger plastic bags of chiles.
No time to make adobado. Check out Adriana Almazan Romano’s Sal de Vida line for great flavors to rub on your meats, poultry or seafood before grilling. Check here for her amazing salt pairings chart. Our favorite: the Habanero… but palate beware, it packs a punch… of chile that is!).
Flank steak is the meat of choice for Carne Asada. Its thin so it cooks quickly. Skirt steak is another good choice. Rub with Chef Santibañez’s Three-Chile adobado and its ready to use in 2-3 hours. Or, select Basic Guajillo Adobado for Pollo Adobado using de-boned chicken thigh pieces, marinated overnight. The next important ingredient is your Mesquite or oak charcoal, for a real Mexican wood-smoked flavor.
As for salsas, there are so many great choices in Truly Mexican: 11 raw salsas from a basic Pico de Gallo; to exotic Fresh Mango and Pineapple and 25 cooked salsas using all kinds a unexpected ingredients like strawberries, peanuts and beets! (Some of these salsas can be made up to five days in advance). Add your sides: black beans, tortillas and guacamole, and if its Carne Asada you are going to want to grill up some of those over-sized green onions (also called spring onions) as well.
To make your meal unforgettable, buy your tortillas at La Palma, where they make them by hand or make your own; (see How to make tortillas by hand). These can be made earlier in the day and then just throw them on the grill to quickly re-heat (be careful, more than a minute on each side and they become tostadas and not good ones!). Add Elote (see recipe) which is Mexican-style corn and your meal is just waiting for a couple of ice cold Coronas or even better Negro Modelos. For you more adventuresome types, throw a couple of jalapeõs on the grill and you’re ready to go.
*(both on 24th St. between Florida and Harrison)