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Homage to the Taco Chronicles “The Series“ Tacos al Carbon

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    Homage to the Taco Chronicles “The Series“ Tacos al Carbon

    Homage to the Taco Chronicles – The Series – Tacos al Carbon

    In 1521 a Spaniard by the name of Gregorio de Billalobos brought the first head of cattle to the New World to what would later become the Mexican city of Tampico along the Rio de Canoas. To put that in proper perspective, this occurred approximately six months before Cortez conquered the Aztecs and captured Mexico City. Those herds eventually spread to most of northern Mexico and well into Texas and other parts of what is now the United States. These areas, with their vast grazing lands, allowed proliferation of the populations of cattle, horses, sheep, mules and goats.

    So why then is the year 1521 so significant? Well without Mr. Billalobos and the importation of cattle, barbecue beef would not exist, either in Mexico or here. But as we all know it does and the cooking with open fire of carne asada, or meats grilled over those open coals, became common place throughout northern Mexico from the states of Tamaulipas to Sonora.

    Fast forward a few hundred years to the 1930s in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexican border. There Mexican cowboys, or vaqueros and other ranch hands began open fire cooking lessor cuts of beef, often given to them as forms of payment. The most coveted of those cuts was known as the faja or Spanish word for "belt" which describes today’s skirt or flank steaks. Thus the cooking of those cuts over open coals became known as fajitas. After cooking they would wrap them in flour tortillas with the result becoming loosely known as tacos al carbon, or tacos made with grilled meats cooked over coals. A woman by the name of Maria Ninfa Rodriquez was native to the Rio Grande valley and grew up with this delicious taco tradition. Little did she know that she would later become the champion of that tradition.

    Flash forward again to 1969 in Houston, Texas. Maria Ninfa found herself widowed with five children to feed all while running a struggling tortilla business on Navigation Road along the east end of downtown. In order to be innovative, and improve her bottom line, she set up a few chairs and tables in the front of her tortilleria and starting selling tacos al carbon. Apparently they were a hit because legend has it she sold 250 of them on her first day, introducing the big city (and eventually the world) to her native valley heritage in the process. What is interesting is that the pre-assembled tacos al carbon eventually became the build your own variety back to the simple fajitas, and a Tex-Mex icon was born. Ninfa’s thus became a Houston institution with the original still down on Navigation Road, one of my very favorite restaurants.

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    So we’ve gone from Carne Asada, to Fajitas to Tacos al Carbon. The question is, are they really any different? If you ask a Mexican what his version of tacos al carbon is, he would probably say it’s any one of a variety of meats grilled and eaten with either flour or corn tortillas, depending on the geographical location. But in Texas, tacos al carbon usually always translates into grilled beef skirt wrapped in flour tortillas. It’s largely then a matter of semantics.

    So do it yourself, build it out of a variety of proteins grilled over coals served with condiments such as guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream and roll your own. Or order them pre-wrapped to the table to avoid the latter. All I know is that eating them brings back memories of my own that began with a little known individual who brought the first cow to the New World in 1521, to a young woman who moved to Houston and made famous a Rio Grande tradition, and of family, la familia, that made this dish one of our very favorites. Of all the tacos I make or will ever make, these will continue to be on my table because they speak of, well….home.

    Tacos al Carbon

    Course. Lunch or Dinner.
    Cuisine. Texas-Mexican (Tex-Mex)
    Makes. 4 to 6 servings
    Takes. 30 minutes prep, 3-5 hours to marinade and 20-30 minutes to cook

    Ingredients – Meat & Marinade

    3-4 pounds of beef skirt or flank steak
    1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
    1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
    1/2 cup Dales Steak Seasoning
    2-3 garlic cloves rough chopped
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon chili powder
    1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

    1/2 teaspoon per pound of your favorite steak seasoning for grilling

    2-gallon zip-lock bag

    Ingredients – For Tacos Presentation

    10-12 – corn OR classic flour tortillas
    1 bunch scallions for grilling
    2 bell peppers for grilling
    Pico de Gallo (optional: add mango or pineapple chunks)
    Sour Cream
    Queso (Mexican cheese dip)
    Lime wedges
    *Tomatillo Salsa Verde (bonus recipe below)
    Lots of cold beer

    Directions – Marinade & Meat Prep
    1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients either in a shaker bottle or a blender. Cut the meat into usable lengths, place them in a 2-gallon zip-lock bag and pour in the marinade. Marinade in the refrigerator for at least 3 and up to 5 hours. Do not over marinade, the acid content will tend to cook the meat.
    2. After the marinade is complete, remove the meat and pat dry. Season the meat with the steak seasoning and allow to come up to room temperature while you prepare the grill.
    3. Fire up your favorite outdoor grill with either charcoal or wood splits. Grill the meat fast and hot directly over the coals, flipping often to avoid scorching. Once the meat has the right amount of "char", let it rest before carving. If using skirt, it should only take about 15-20 minutes, with flank up to 30 minutes depending on the thickness. We like our flank medium rare.
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    4. Once the meat is cooked and resting, grill off the scallions and bell peppers. Brush them with vegetable oil prior to placing them on the hot grate.
    5. When rested cut the meat into strips or cubes against the grain. Serve with fresh hot tortillas, the grilled veggies and condiments of your choice.

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    *Tomatillo Salsa Verde (bonus recipe)

    1 pound or about 10 tomatillos
    1 white onion cut into quarters
    1/2 cup chopped white onions
    4-5 cloves garlic whole
    1 large Roma tomato halved
    2 jalapeno or 2 serrano peppers (dependent on your heat tolerance)
    1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    Juice from 1/2 lime
    1 teaspoon Kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    Vegetable oil for brushing

    1. Remove the tomatillo husks and rinse the sticky coating under running water. Chop in half and place on an oiled baking sheet, cut side down.
    2. Cut the peppers in half and remove the stems, seeds and veins (unless you want the heat).
    3. On the same baking sheet, place the Roma tomato halves, the peppers, the onion quarters and the garlic cloves. Brush all the veggies with some oil.
    4. Either place the baking sheet into a hot broiler or add them to a hot grill fire roasting them until they are slightly charred and softened.
    5. Place all of the grilled veggies, half of the chopped cilantro, and the lime juice into a blender and pulse 2-3 times. Leave the salsa chunky avoiding over blending into a liquid state.
    6. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Once blended, pour your salsa into a bowl and add the chopped white onion and the remaining cilantro. Mix well with a spoon.
    7. As an added bonus try mixing in some soft avocado chunks to add further depth of flavor and creaminess. This is the only salsa you’ll ever need!
    8. Serve as a condiment or on the side with some tortilla chips.

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    I'm happy to announce that today, March 31st, is officially WORLD TACO DAY !! Some of the Tex-Mex restaurants have banded together here in Houston and chosen this day to celebrate the taco. Okay it's not Tuesday but their choice not mine. So dig out your favorite grilled meat or go to your local taqueria and have a taco today to celebrate !!

    For those interested in following or have missed any of my Taco Chronicles series, here are links to previous offerings;

    Tacos de Guisado
    Tacos al Pescado
    Tacos de Chivo Birria
    Tacos al Pastor

    Next up is another favorite of mine, barbacoa. Stay tuned, until then Trout is out !!!

    "This is what defines Mexico….a Good Taco"

    Mucho Gracias Senor Troutman


      !muy delicioso!


        Excellent! Another great add to the chronicles!!!!

        Buenos dia del Tacos!!!!!!!!!


          Simply OUTSTANDING!! Muchas Gracias!!


            Great write up! Those are pretty different than tacos al carbon that I’ve had at a few places up here. Usually here they’re pretty basic, just carne asada with onion, peppers, and cilantro on street taco style tortillas.


            • Troutman
              Troutman commented
              Editing a comment
              That's a beauty of these kind, they are grilled meat in a tortilla with whatever else you want. Easy peasy but oh so good !!!

            Thanks so much. I can't decide which I have enjoyed more in this series, the recipes or the history lessons.




              • Troutman
                Troutman commented
                Editing a comment

              Thanks for the recipe, Troutman. Excellent writeup.

              I haven't been to Ninfas at that location ever since Old Unfaithful (ex-husband) departed the scene, but the Carne Asada there was amazing. We ordered it every time we went. And their green sauce, smooth and delicious, was outstanding. I recall it being somewhat creamy, as if there was avocado in it as well? Or am I misremembering?


              Edited to add: I found the Houston Chronicle's recipe for Ninfa's Green Sauce in a post from the Homesick Texan, one of my fav recipe sites:

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              She gave the updated recipe here (same ingredients): https://www.homesicktexan.com/2007/0...een-sauce.html
              Last edited by fzxdoc; March 31, 2021, 12:19 PM.


              • Troutman
                Troutman commented
                Editing a comment
                Ninfa, and its in your recipe, adds sour cream. That makes it creamier. Her's is also less chunky then mine, it's a more well blended salsa. Great stuff !! Adding avocado really helps the creaminess.

              • Mr. Bones
                Mr. Bones commented
                Editing a comment
                Ohhhhh, Milady, I jus hasta give this sauce a try!!!!

                Loves, LOVES, !!!!! some Salsa Verde, I go through [i]Quite A Bit[i], we can safely say!

              Troutman Outstanding job, as usual! Amazing background story - you are much older than you seem, with your earliest memories beginning with someone bringing a cow to the New World in 1521!

              Bookmarked, and your recipes are going into Paprika when I have a chance tonight.


              • Troutman
                Troutman commented
                Editing a comment
                Heck, I'm older than dirt man !!!

              Nice, as usual. Man, it is raining around here so I may end up with some restaurant tacos today, but this weekend we will be burning up some meat!!! I haven't done a flank steak in awhile. Time to correct that.


              • Troutman
                Troutman commented
                Editing a comment
                The flank I used was American Wagyu. After the marinade, it was melt in your mouth tender !!

              • jfmorris
                jfmorris commented
                Editing a comment
                It took me 55 years to discover flank steak, and its been my new favorite cut in the past year. I also bought my first skirt steak not too long ago to use for fajitas, and my wife cut it up into chunks and made beef stew with it! . It was good stew...
                Last edited by jfmorris; March 31, 2021, 02:59 PM.



                Looks damn good.
                You must be Mexican.
                I'm Half myself


                • Troutman
                  Troutman commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Nope, Swedish/Danish/German.....but my heart is south of the border !!!

                Awesome write up as usual. Making me hungry. Learned a ton. Thanks for sharing. Another restaurant is on the list.



                  Thanks for making this series!


                  • Troutman
                    Troutman commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Thanks for saying that, this series flies a little under the radar but is a passion of mine. I intend to continue until I run out of tacos to create !!!!

                  • SheilaAnn
                    SheilaAnn commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Troutman may your list of tacos be endless! 🍻🌮🌮


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