El Restaurante Mexicano January/February 2011 : Page 8

meaty Diners embrace Mexican dishes made with beef and pork MENUS 8 el restaurante mexicano

Cover Story: Meaty Menus

Kathleen Furore

Statistics might show chicken tops beef and pork with U.S. diners. But though U.S. per capita chicken consumption was 82 pounds, beef 59. 7 pounds and pork 48 pounds in 2010, according to the CME Daily Livestock Report, meat is a mainstay on Mexican restaurant menus.<br /> <br /> “Even our customers who say they are concerned about eating healthy crave pork,” says Chef Enrique Cortes, who with Gustavo Castañeda, is the culinary genius behind La Taberna Tapas restaurant set in the burgeoning University Village area of Chicago’s South Loop. “Our [dishes made with] pork belly are very popular.”<br /> <br /> Meat is not only a Midwestern culinary craving. At Centrico in the heart of New York City’s Tribeca, a traditional birria made with braised short ribs is a best-seller, followed closely by skirt steak tacos. “We use about 120 pounds of skirt steak every four days...almost 240 pounds of skirt steak a week,” Chef Angel Telesaca reports.<br /> <br /> On the opposite coast, Taléo Mexican Grill’s the authentic pork carnitas entree—made with a family recipe from Michoacán—is a house favorite, Isai Rosas, general manager and executive chef, says.<br /> <br /> And at Chevys’ 68 company- owned locations and 33 franchised restaurants nationwide, meat tops the list of customer favorites. “Steak is by far the most popular protein for our fajitas, tacos, burritos and nachos,” Lowell Petrie, chief marketing officer of Real Mex Restaurants, Chevys parent company, notes.<br /> <br /> NEWS ON NUTRITION<br /> <br /> Many meat cuts on the market today are lean and packed with essential nutrients. That fact is important to note when creating beef and pork dishes, because it is information that could lead customers to experiment with more of the meaty items on your menu. <br /> <br /> Beef, for example, contains Nine essential nutrients— protein, zinc, vitamin B 12, selenium, phosphorus, niacin, vitamin B, iron and ribofl avin)—while pork is a source of thiamin, niacin, ribofl avin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, protein, zinc and potassium.<br /> <br /> On the fat side of the equation, half the fatty acids in beef are monounsaturated— the same heart-healthy kind of fat found in olive oil. A 3-ounce serving of Cooked beef typically has more monounsaturated fatty acids than saturated ones, while the amount of saturated fat in beef that can potentially raise blood cholesterol levels is comparable in lean beef, fish and chicken. Today’s pork, too, boasts a healthy profile: it has 16 percent less fat and 27 percent less saturated fat than it did in 1991, making many cuts of pork as lean as skinless chicken.<br /> <br /> A Mexican Meat Primer<br /> <br /> Barbacoa. Meat cooked in a sealed, underground pit, usually wrapped in maguey or sometimes banana leaves. Often the meat is placed on a grill over a cauldron filled with water, vegetables, beans, chickpeas, herbs and spices to create a soup, flavored with the drippings. Birria. A barbacoa specialty of Jalisco made with lamb or goat.*<br /> <br /> Bistec. Beefsteak Carne asada. Broiled meat. Also, in parts of northern Mexico, this term refers to a Cookout or picnic where meat is cooked over coals.<br /> <br /> Carne molida. Ground meat or hamburger<br /> <br /> Carnitas. Pork, usually simmered in enough lard to cover it, often with the addition of garlic and sometimes fruit juices, until tender and crisp, then used as a filling for tacos. A specialty of Michoacán. Cecina. Paper-thin pieces of dried or partially dried beef or pork that are sometimes infused with powdered or ground chiles and other seasonings. Sometimes called Tasajo, especially in Oaxaca.<br /> <br /> Chilorio. A meat filling, popular in northern Mexico. Usually made with pork but sometimes with beef, that is boiled, shredded, then fried with ground chiles and other spices.<br /> <br /> Chorizo. Mexican– or Spanish– style sausage. The Spanish version is usually dried and flavored with paprika, while Mexican style chorizo is usually sold fresh either in links or in bulk and is fl avored with chiles such as the ancho and pasilla. Chuleta. Chop (as in chuleta de puerco, or pork chop).<br /> <br /> Longaniza. A sausage fl avored with chiles and other spices.<br /> <br /> Sábana. Literally “sheet.” Tenderloin steak pounded paper thin and briefly seared on a comal or parilla before being served, often with a sauce and melted cheese.<br /> <br /> Tasajo. Thinly sliced, dried or partially dried beef or pork that is often fl avored with chile. Also called cecina.<br /> <br /> A BEEF AND PORK SAMPLER<br /> <br /> La Taberna Tapas, Centrico, Taleo and Chevys have very different profiles:<br /> <br /> La Taberna features the flavors of Spain’s Basque region, Latin America, Mexico and the Mediterranean. At Centrico, restaurateur Drew Nieporent and Chef Aarón Sanchez—Nierporent’s business partner, cookbook author and Food Network star—focus on a fresh interpretation of regional Mexican cuisine, inspired by the food of Sanchez’s childhood.<br /> <br /> Taléo is known for its upscale service, well-appointed interior and authentic Mexican food. And the casual dining Chevys chain offers an array of freshly prepared Mexican dishes in a relaxing, cantina-style atmosphere.<br /> <br /> Each puts a unique spin on beef and pork dishes. Cortes’ take on La Taberna’s Empanadas de Picadillo (beef empanadas) earned praise from Chicago Sun- Times food critic Pat Bruno, who dubbed the “flaky and delicate” pastries stuffed with ground beef, queso fresco, raisins and chile ancho sauce delicious.<br /> <br /> “The queso fresco balances the flavor—it melts inside,” explains Cortes, noting he uses phyllo dough instead of empanada dough “to make the empanadas lighter.” Another special touch: the avocado mousse and radish garnish that accompanies the dish.<br /> <br /> Meat also shines on the Charcuteria, a plate filled with Serrano ham and Chistorra (“skinny, one-inchwide Cataloniona chorizo,” Cortes explains) and served with grain mustard, cornichons and herbed crostinis.<br /> <br /> For Centrico’s Birria en Estilo Jalisco, Telesaca begins with braised short ribs, removes the fat and sears the meat on the bone. “Then we cook the meat for four hours—it is ready when The meat falls off the bone,” says the chef, who then cooks the meat in its own sauce enhanced with ancho chile puree, roasted onions, tomatoes, garlic and oregano Mexicana. Slow-cooked baby pig, marinated in achiote, oregano and roasted garlic, is featured in the Cochinita Pibil, a summer special. “We shred the cooked meat, then do a very fast sauté in achiote and orange juice so it Is juicy inside and very crispy outside,” Telesaca says. “We serve the pork on top of a banana leaf and fi nish the dish with lime, pickled onions and chopped habanero.” <br /> <br /> Taleo’s Rosas cooks boneless short ribs for 10 to 12 hours, then finishes the meat with onions, tomatoes and spices for the restaurant’s popular Beef Rib Enchiladas served with mild guajillo sauce, cilantro lime rice and Frijoles charros.; slow cooks pork ribs 12 hours, seasons them with spices, fi nishes them on the grill with chipotle-apple barbecue sauce, and plates them with mashed potatoes and vegetables; and cooks pork shoulder for three to four hours in oil, orange juice, water and spices, then caramelizes them with sugar for the carnitas—one of Taleo’s mostordered meats. Customers can choose carnitas plated with frijoles charros and Mexican rice, in tacos or on a torta.<br /> <br /> At Chevys, beef and pork share the stage in the chain’s most popular offerings. “The one singular entree that is the most popular is our Mixed Grill Fajitas, which features both grilled steak and carnitas,” Petrie says.<br /> <br /> For more information about the role beef and pork can play in your restaurant, visit www.beeffoodservice.com and www.theotherwhitemeat.com.<br /> <br /> Marinating Steaks<br /> <br /> Lean beef cuts benefit from marinating when grilled to make them tender and juicy.<br /> <br /> Marinades are seasoned liquid mixtures that not only add flavor, but in some cases help tenderize a beef cut. A tenderizing marinade must contain an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, yogurt, wine or vinegar, or a natural tenderizing enzyme found in Fresh papaya, ginger, pineapple and figs.<br /> <br /> These tips ensure great results:<br /> ¦ Always marinate in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. <br /> <br /> ¦ Marinating longer than 24 hours in a tenderizing marinade can result in a soft surface texture. (A tenderizing marinade only penetrates about ¼ inch into the cut Surface of beef.)<br /> <br /> ¦ If a marinade is to be used later for basting or served as a sauce, reserve a portion of it before adding the beef. If marinade has been in contact with uncooked meat, bring it to a full rolling boil before using as a sauce. <br /> <br /> ¦ Never save and reuse a marinade. <br /> <br /> ¦ Allow ¼ to ½ cup marinade For each 1 to 2 pounds of beef.<br /> <br /> ¦ Marinate in a food-safe plastic bag or a glass utility dish. Select dishes in which the beef will fit snugly, but lie fl at. Turn or stir the beef occasionally to allow even exposure to the marinade.

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