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Tacos: Recipes and Provocations Hardcover – October 20, 2015
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About the Author
Alex Stupak earned recognition as one of the world's most innovative pastry chefs while leading teams at progressive cuisine icons Clio, Alinea, and wd-50. But innovation only counts, he figured, if you push yourself out of your comfort zone, and so he left that world to cook Mexican food, a cuisine that captured his head and his heart. His restaurant Empellón Cocina earned him a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant in the country, and Food & Wine magazine named him a Best New Chef in 2013.
Jordana Rothman is a veteran of Time Out New York, where she held the reins as the magazine's Food & Drink editor for six years. She's a respected member of the national food writing community and a frequent contributor to print and digital publications such as Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, New York Magazine, Cherry Bombe, MadFeed, Grub Street and Conde Nast Traveler.
Top customer reviews
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There are some really interesting recipes in this book. This book is also not for the "casual" or traditional taco maker as the recipes are likely not what you are expecting.
The tone of the recipes is set in the first half of the book which gives a brief background on Alex Stupak and his culinary journey, some fundamentals on spices and chilies, and then a pretty lengthy explanation on the type of corn that best lends itself to tortillas, tortilla recipes, and salsa recipes. Thoughtfully, the tortilla recipes give you the ingredient option of easier to find masa harina (as well as the harder to find fresh masa). In addition to corn and flour tortillas recipes, there are some creative fusion recipes such as pistachio, saffron, and rye tortillas. The subsequent dedication to salsa recipes emphasizes the wide variety of ways a salsa can create a completely different taste and look to a taco.
The second half of the book is dedicated to taco recipes. While the opening notes suggest that some of the recipes are classics, I tend to disagree. That being said, the recipes are pretty cool. Some examples of recipes include Chicken Tacos with Kale and Salsa Verde, Skirt Steak Tacos, Fried Oyster Tacos, Pineapple Tacos, and Wild Spinach Tacos.There are also a few taco recipes that would lend themselves to breakfast as well as a couple of dessert taco recipes.
The closing section has recipes for components (such as Adobo paste) that are used in some of the recipes.
The writing tone of this book is very down to earth and lightly humorous. There are really nice photos throughout the book mostly showing plating of the final dishes but some showing steps along the way.
Pretty much all of the recipes require advance planning and preparation. They do not lend themselves to throwing together on the spur of the moment.
I recommend this cookbook to fans of Alex Stupak and foodies who enjoy innovative spins on traditional recipes.
Along with this one, your collection should include a copy of Ricardo Munoz Zurita's Los Chiles Rellenos de Mexico (has both Spanish and English) and Robb Walsh's The Tex-Mex Cookbook.
The corn tortillas are substantially easier to make. Start with them.
His flour tortilla recipe is contradicted by other things he has written on-line about the same (or nearly the same) recipe. Online, he indicates the flour tortilla recipe makes 24 (not 12, as the book indicates). He also suggests an hour rest (rather than 10 minutes) before rolling out the tortillas. Better flour tortillas result. It seems to be an unfortunate error.
The first half or so of the book centers on fundamentals: tortillas and salsas. Stupak is uncompromising here: fresh tortillas, or nothing. I tend to agree. He walks the reader through nixtamalizing corn, grinding it for masa, and pressing tortillas, including instructions on storage and on starting with masa preparada. Of note here is the range of flavored and amended tortillas, enriched by obvious (spinach, spices) and nonobvious (chorizo?!) additions, which have a long history in Mexico. He also has a pretty good flour tortilla recipe. The salsas are phenomenal. I made two of the salsas last night, and found them to be mindblowing - well balanced, intense, and unusual. I especially recommend the salsa macha, which reminded me of a cross between a pipian and buffalo wing sauce. My wife, who was born and raised in the DF, is ecstatic.
Recipes range from old favorites (carnitas, al pastor, barbacoa) to high-concept rethinks (pineapple tacos with lardo, pastrami with mustard seed salsa, sea urchin and guacamole.) With the exception of the pastrami one, which is a little precious, I think they all manage to embody a Mexican sensibility, flavor profile, ingredients, and general approach - even if the end result is cheffed-up and unconventional. Having eaten tacos filled with octopus slathered with Thai basil pesto in the DF and a memorable one of raw marlin tartare in Tijuana, I'm perfectly fine with some wild tacos in the mix. Tacos al pastor have their roots in 1950s Puebla and its Lebanese immigrants hawking shawarmah, and fried fish tacos use Japanese tempura batter. There's cosmopolitan, modern, gourmet restaurants all over Mexico serving food that's influenced by that of the Mediterranean, Asia, and even India. If incorporating other cultures' ideas was off-limits in Mexican cuisine, Mexican cuisine would not exist at all. I can't wait to tackle some of the off-the-wall recipes here.
Which brings me to my own provocation. As we've already seen in some of the reviews, many people - often Caucasians, often casual visitors to Mexico - seem to hold strong opinions on Mexican cuisine. They loudly and snarkily deride as "not traditional!" or "completely inauthentic" any food not served on their last vacation to Mexico or served in the grungy taqueria they pride themselves on having "discovered." These folks know just what authentic really is, and they're the arbiters of it. Obviously, I regard this attitude as deeply patronizing - and ironically unaware of the diversity and evolving nature of Mexican food.