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Cooking Local Father's Day Steak Tacos

June 15, 2012

    Welcome back to the kictchen. Friends, we are coming up on a holiday that celebrates the family patriarch, dad, papa, father. And while I sometimes grumble about these seemingly manufactured Hallmark holidays, I really wish I could be with my dad on Father’s Day this year. So if you are lucky enough to have the old man close at hand, why not cook up a big meal in his honor?
    When I think of stereotypical man meals for father’s day, I tend to think of hearty, meaty, comfort food fare. Something primal and nothing fussy. Maybe lots of sloppy sauce.
    Now, don’t get me wrong. I love plenty of foods that fall into these categories, and far be it from me to cast aspersions on whatever special meal you want to cook for dad or the farther of your kids. And don’t worry dads, I’m not going to go all frou frou vegan on you.
    But I do want to make a lightly more exciting meal than beers and brats. My father, Lauren Kaplan, is really the reason I love good food. He taught me to seek out exciting new flavors, to play around in the kitchen, and to pass on your love through the foods you serve. Papa, even though you probably aren’t listening to this from 3,000 miles away, I love you. Thanks for being such a great dad, and thank you for helping me to develop a passion for tasting all the best things life has to offer.
    OK listeners, enough of that, on with the show! I want to suggest a spicy chipotle rubbed grilled flank steak taco feast. Tacos are one of my favorite meals, and they are a great way to feed a crowd with somewhat exotic flavors without too much trouble.
    We’ll get a nice marinade on the steak, fire up the grill, make some guacamole and maybe some salsa and assemble the rest if the toppings and call it good. I’m sure dad will be pleased.
    For the Chipotle marinade we’ll need:

    -1 small can of smoked chipotle peppers with sauce
    -3 cloves crushed or minced garlic
    -2 tablespoons olive oil
    -1/2 cup cilantro, chopped fine
    -1/4 teaspoon salt
    -1 teaspoon cumin powder
    -1 tablespoon honey
    -the juice of one lime

    Open up the can of chipotle peppers and taste them before you go any further. I’ve found some real variation in the spiciness of these peppers, and we want to know a baseline of how spicy these are before dumping the whole mess in. Now, I’m a huge fan of hot peppers, and I think spiciness enhances flavors. Chipotle peppers aren’t usually too killer hot, and they add a great smokiness. Also, we are not goimng to eat all the peppers, but rather let them add flavor to the marinade. That being said, if you are unsure how heat tolerant your guests will be, better to stick with just a couple peppers and a few spoons full of the sauce.
    Mix together the crushed garlic with the olive oil, salt, cumin, cilantro, and the lime juice. Warm up the honey in the microwave or by submerging the bottle in hot water, so it will mix into the marinade more easily. Vigorously stir in the honey and the chipotle peppers.
    We are going for a balance of spicy, smoky, sweet, and tangy. Give the marinade a taste and adjust accordingly. When it is to your liking, pour the marinade over a nice bid 2 pound flank steak (or however much steak you want to cook, you can always set aside extra marinade that hasn’t touched the meat for later use. I like to marinate meats in large zip top bags, because you can squeeze all the air out and make sure the meat gets flavored evenly. Let the steak marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour or so.
    While the steak is absorbing all those good flavors, let’s whip up a batch of guacamole, which is certainly something we’ve done on this show before. Again, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to my guacamole. I like it to be a cool, creamy, tangy flavor to cut the spiciness of the rest of the dish. I don’t believe in much seasoning in my guacamole beyond salt, lime, and cilantro. Tomatoes are optional in my book, but a little bite from some onions or scallions is a nice addition.
    But basically I just grab as many ripe avocados as I can muster (for a huge taco feast, lets say 5 or 6), about half as many roma tomatoes as avocadoes, plus the same number of limes as tomatoes. Then I snag about a half a bunch of cilantro (I like lots of cilantro), about ¼ of a red onion or a couple of green onions, a pinch of salt, and I get to work.
    Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a medium bowl. Chop up the tomatoes into small pieces and add to the avocadoes. Finely chop the cilantro and add it in as well (I definitely use some of the tender stems as well as the leaves, although most of the stems I threw in with the steak marinade). Chop up the onions or scallions super fine, we don’t want to overpower the delicate avocado with harsh raw onion. Roll the limes under your palm on the counter top, squeezing them a bit to loosen up the juice before cutting them in half and squeezing the juice into the bowl. Finally, add a generous pinch of salt and mash the whole mess together with a fork until the avocadoes are smooth and creamy.
    The two things that really bring the zing to your guac are the limes and the salt, so if it tastes dull, it probably needs more of one or both of those. I find that I have to hide the guacamole on taco night, because it will be snacked away before dinner if I leave it out with any tortilla chips in range. Wrap up the finished guacamole, letting the plastic wrap sit directly on its surface. This will keep the guac from oxidizing and turning brown before dinner. Store it in the fridge until you are ready to eat.
    Now it’s time to preheat your barbecue. We want it nice and hot, so the outside of our flanksteak sears, while the tasty juices are trapped inside. I’m also going to cut the very root ends off of two bunches of green onions and drizzle them with just a little bit of olive oil and a shake of salt. Grilled green onions are a Mexican food classic, and they are surprisingly delicious for such a simple side dish.
    When the grill is hot, toss on the steak over a high/medium high heat and let it grill for about 5 or six minutes per side. It is hard to accurately judge the doneness of your steak without using a meat thermometer, and of course it varies widely depending on how thick the meat and how good your grill is. Add the green onions to grill when you flip the steak over half way through.
    When our beautifully marinated chipotle flank steak is grilled to perfection, set it on a cutting board to rest for at least 5 minutes, which will allow the juices to settle back into the meat. If you cut it right away you will lose a lot of flavor, not to mention burn yourself. Pull the grilled green onions off when they start to char a bit.
    While the steak is resting, let’s very thinly slice up some green cabbage for a crunchy topping. I’m also going to crumble up a half wheel of salty, delicious Mexican cotija cheese. I think I’ll also finely chop up some raw onions and some more cilantro, plus some lime wedges and radish slices. I like to offer lots of toppings for a taco feast, and the radishes, onions and cilantro are all locally available and delicious this time of year. I know we talked about making a home made salsa, but we are running out of time for this week. I might just stick to some hot sauce on the guacamole.
    Thinly slice the flank steak across the grain, and arrange it on a platter. Warm up a big old stack of corn tortillas on the still warm grill, and put them in a basket wrapped in a clean dish towel to stay warm. Get dad another drink and call everyone to the table, this taco feast is ready!
    I hope I’ve inspired you to cook up something a little bit exciting for fathers day. Yes, I recognize that smoky chipotle peppers and tacos aren’t every dad’s idea of the perfect meal, but hey, I know my old man would dig it.
    Whatever it is that you are cooking, do it with love. Invite friends and family and random loved ones together. We spend too much time worrying about the past or the future. So take some time this weekend to savor the present and celebrate someone who means a lot to you, father or otherwise.
    I’d love to hear what’s going on in your kitchen. Send me any questions or comments to Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.