A friend recently asked me for a recipe for taco meat. Hmmm. Taco meat. Taco meat is about as sexy as wearing a skirt suit to the prom.
It’s the minivan of the food world; negative visual appeal, but does its job so damn well that it’s pretty much irresistible. I couldn’t even bring myself to eponymously title this post. Who wants to read a post called “taco meat?”
But tacos are the perfect taste experience; the umami from the meat, rich sour cream, salty cheese, tangy tomato salsa. The perfect food needs a strong foundation, so I set out to actually record the steps I take when cooking the meat.
I’m sure I’ve already given it away (psst: read the title) but the Jessica Rabbit of this dish is the chiles in adobo, smoked squid-sized peppers suspended in a viscous brick red sauce. When you crank open the can they smell like a campfire. The peppers are smooth and glossy and pack a powerful punch. The tang and subtly sweet smoke from the sauce brings another dimension to the flavor. They add complexity to everything from your mother’s chili, to baby back ribs, to southwestern-style black bean burgers. I would swim in this sauce it if I didn’t think it would give me a skin rash.
If you like heat, feel free to chop up the peppers and add them to whatever you’re making, since the ribs and seeds of the pepper hold all the spice. If you want a milder chipotle flavor, push the chiles aside, and go for the sauce on its own.
While the meat is simmering, you can prepare all of your favorite sides – shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, black olives, lettuce, Spanish rice and beans – whatever it is your family likes to add to their shells. Sometimes I even sneak a little sautéed spinach or cubes of roasted sweet potatoes into the meat mixture at the end. This dish may not be sexy, but it’s an easy pleaser and takes only about 15 minutes to put together … a minivan driver’s dream.
- ½ medium red or yellow onion, diced small
- 1 small jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced small (remember to wash your hands after handling, otherwise your fingers and anything else you touch will tingle uncomfortably for several hours)
- ¾ pound lean ground beef or pork
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 grinds pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon sauce from a can of chiles in adobo (remember to wash your hands; read jalapeno caution)
- 1 cup tomato puree
- ¼ cup cilantro (optional for the 20% of us out there who think cilantro tastes like soap)
- Cook the onions and jalapenos in a 10-inch frying pan over medium heat, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the pork/beef and salt and pepper and stir, breaking up the meat and cooking until it starts to brown. Add the spices and adobo sauce and stir to combine, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato puree and stir. Bring the heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes, until the mixture thickens and the flavors develop.
- Turn off the heat and fold in the cilantro.
- Serve this mixture as a filling for burritos, hard or soft-shell tacos, or even on buns for Mexican-style sloppy Joes. Serve with your favorite fixings and a side of tangy slaw or rice and beans.