Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beer Braised Turkey Tacos with Chipotle Guacamole

Deborah Schneider, the author of Amor y Tacos, once said, "The immediacy of a taco, handed to you hot from grill and comal, can’t be equaled. You can stand there and eat yourself silly with one taco after another, each made fresh for you and consumed within seconds."  She added, " a great taco rocks with distinct tastes that roll on and on, like a little party on your tongue, with layers of flavor and textures: juicy, delicious fillings, perfectly seasoned; the taste of the soft corn tortilla; a morsel of salty cheese and finally, best of all, the bright explosion of a freshly-made salsa that suddenly ignites and unites everything on your palate."  Those words provide a much better advertisement for tacos than any thirty second advertisement from the chain with the bell.  And, dare I say Schneider's words also trump the smell of chicken cooking on the flat top of another chain ... the one takes its name from a pepper and who makes far better tacos that that bell place.

Although I usually eat tacos once a week (from that place with the pepper name), I recently had the urge to make some tacos at home.  When I make tacos at home, I usually make fish tacos, like Tacos de Pescado, so I can eat with my beautiful, pescatarian wife.  This time, however, I wanted to make something different.  And, I mean truly different.  I did not just want to make chicken tacos or steak tacos.  For once, I did not even want to make carnitas tacos.  I really wanted to try new flavors and textures.

I did some research and came across a recipe for beer-braised turkey tacos.  The recipe came from Deborah Schneider.  Her recipe sounded delicious, but I had to make a few alterations and substitutions.  First, her recipe calls for a Mexican dark lager, like Negro Modelo.  I bought most of the ingredients at a grocery store that did not have Negro Modelo, so, I had to improvise.  I bought a dark lager from ... Utah.  It was Unita Brewing's Baba lager. The other alteration was that I decided to leave off the garnish of cilantro and sesame seeds.  First, the store was surprisingly out of fresh cilantro.  Second, I had other designs for the taco that would preclude sesame seeds.

As I thought about how beer-braising the turkey would introduce a lot of distinct tastes, I wanted to add additional flavors that went beyond mere sesame seeds.  My beautiful wife has made me a fan of guacamole, so I decided that I would add a spicy, chipotle guacamole to add to the tacos. This recipe for guacamole is very simple and it packs a good kick from the chipotle and adobo.  More importantly, I thought the smoky and earthy flavors from the chipotle and adobo would reinforce the malty and roasted flavors of the dark beer used to braise the turkey.  In the end, the flavor combinations worked perfectly.  I had made myself some substantial, richly flavored tacos. 

Taco recipe adapted from one by Deborah Schneider
available at Food and Wine
Makes 12 Servings

Ingredients (for the tacos):
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds of turkey thighs, skin and fat removed
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium white onion, cut into 1-inch dice, 
     plus minced white onion, for serving
1 large oregano sprig
1 chipotle pepper with 1 teaspoon of adobo
1/2 of an ancho or poblano pepper, diced finely,
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 cup of water
1 12-ounce bottle of dark beer, such as Modelo Negro

Ingredients (for the guacamole):
2 avocados
1 chipotle, diced with 1 teaspoon of adobo
1/2 red onion, diced finely
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon of sea salt

1.  Brown the turkey.  In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season the turkey with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until richly browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer the turkey to a plate. 

2.  Saute the base ingredients.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the casserole along with the garlic, diced onion, oregano and chipotle and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato, ancho or poblano pepper (reserve some for a topping on the tacos) and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until the tomato releases its juices. 

3.  Braise the turkey.  Return the turkey to the casserole, add the beer and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, turning once, until the turkey thighs are tender, about 1 hour. Transfer the turkey to a plate and let cool. Discard the oregano sprig and cinnamon stick and boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 12 minutes. 

4.  Prepare the guacamole.  Add the avocados, chipotle with adobo, red onion, lime and sea salt in a bowl.  Mash and mix all of the ingredients together until you achieve the desired consistency.

5.  Finish the dish.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until softened and heated through. Remove the turkey meat and shred it. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and puree. Return the sauce to the pot and stir in the shredded turkey. Season with salt and pepper.

6.  Plate the tacos.  Spoon the turkey onto the tortillas. Top with minced onion and minced pepper. Serve immediately.

That quote from Deborah Schneider at the beginning of this post ends as follows: "At the end of our two or three-bite taco you just want to repeat the experience until you are sated."  I can truly say that, at the end of eating one of these beer-braised turkey tacos, with the chipotle guacamole, I truly wanted to eat another ... and another ... and another....


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