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Much ado about Carne Asada

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A recent post by ceviche really got me to thinking about carne asada.Why don't we have great versions in LA? What is carne asada?What are its forms and traditions? So, I've had a great number opportunities over the years to experience the best carne asada and parrillada in Mexico, in Sonora, and in the best region, northen Mexico.I was blown away though, when the group I was traveling with this past weekend in Leon, Guanajuato ordered arrachera from the room service menu at the Holiday Inn, of all places, and how good it was.The Holiday Inn in Leon has better carne asada than the best restaurants in LA?

During a food crawl recently with Kaire Raisu in Tijuana, we checked out some carne asada as I contemplated the common thread that made the best places so good.

Here is my field tested theory: Carne Asada doesn't have the social, traditional or commercial infrastructure in the US to replicate the quality and taste in Mexico.Carne asada the Mexico way would outprice the average carne asada consumer in the US.Due to economics and local US tradition, a cheap, fast food version of carne asada thrives amongst the mexican-american community and entrenched "norteamericanos".

Northern Mexico makes the best beef:Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango,Coahuila,Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas.But, the rest of Mexico fairs quite well, basically, quality beef is available throughout Mexico at a very accessible price for taco stands, taquerias, and restaurants alike.Restaurants advertise their Sonoran beef, and Benito Molina at Manzanilla in Ensenada even tells you the name of the ranch.We have cuts that approximate the arrachera here in the US, but now from the same cows nor are they cut the same way.Mexican butchers in the US do American cuts from US beef.Even latino markets in Los Angeles have ranchera, not arrachera.Arrachera can be cut with a fork,-tender, juicy, and sublime.The beef matters in Mexico's asada as it does in Argentina's parrilada, Brazil's churrasco, and Japan's kobe steak.

The forms:carne asada tacos, the individual cut, parrilladas(assorted grilled meats),vamipros,perrones(Rosarito), tortas,gringas,sopes, huaraches, mulitas,quesataco(Tijuana) and so many more concoctions.

Even in our neighboring Tijuana, the street taquerias and stands advertise the fine cuts like NY Steak and Arrachera.Many of the best stands and taquerias doing tacos grill with coal, wood or mezquite and use blends of fine cuts and regular cuts to make economically sound tacos of high quality.In Sonora, Tacos Jass uses NY, top siroin(palomilla), and diezmillo.In TJ, a taqueria on the eastside of town has a secret blend of several meats over coal, the style and presentatio is uniquely Tijuanense.The meat is grilled and chopped moments before serving.The parrilladas of Mexico and grilled and brought to your table on a brazier or a hot cast iron plate to keep warm, but are cooked on the grill.Sorry ceviche, they can touch the cast iron plate, just shouldn't be cooked on them.They can be served as whole cuts, in pieces, sliced, or chopped roughly for a taco.The cuts:NY steak, arrachera(favorite),cabreria(rib-eye),diezmillo,and palomilla are the most popular.The best versions are the taco, parrilada, and fine cut plate.In general, the more ingredients in the vehicle, the lower the quality of meat used, the American style burrito being the easiest way to serve cheap cuts as the taste comes from the conglomerate fillings.

The accompaniments are also important: flour tortillas(esp. those light Sonoran tortillas),queso fundido,salsas, a mixed salad with roasted chiles, tripas and costillas(ribs),refried beans sonoran or sinaloan style(infused with pork or chorizo and cheese),grilled onions and jalapenos,escabeche(pickled vegetables and chiles),baked potatoes, quesadillas de trigo,etc.This aesthetic exists throughout Mexico, carne asada isn't a fast food to be trivialized.Yeah, and they even got it right at the Holiday Inn in Mexico.

Until a Mexican steak restaurant in the form of Fogo de Chao, Mercado Buenos Aires emerges, or a taqueria/stand with the conviction of and sourcing of Mole La Tia comes forth willing to charge $3 for a carne asada taco of imported arrachera or NY steak, we are stuck with the fast food staek combo plate and ranchera from Costco street and truck tacos.We could have it here though, but it's goin' to cost you.Maybe some Sonorans here in LA will come forth and make it happen.

If you've survivied this far, here is the fun.A celebration of carne asada and a feast for the eyes.

Two parrilladas in Cd.Obregon, Sonora-Ny steak,arrachera,ribs, and tripas with tortillas Sonorenses
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
Arrachera, tripa,sonoran refried beans,sonoran tortillas,and a quesadilla(bitten!
)http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
A prep at Tacos Jass in Hermosillo blends NY, top sirloin, and diezmillo.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
Aged cabreria in Hermosillo,Sonora
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
Grilled arrachera-Tijuana,BCN
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
carne asada tacos made from blended cuts-Tijuana
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
Manning the grill in Tijuana
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
A NY steak and shrimp quesataco(taco with meats enveloped in a grilled-cheese wrapper)-Tijuana,BCN
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...

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  1. stunning. i'm shocked that my dumb post helped inspire this ode to carne.

    seriously your post has got me thinking about the different cuts of meat, something i had never considered before. if el parian can sell their tacos for $2 or so a piece, why can't someone else sell tacos with really good meat for $3? if starbucks has shown us anything, it's that people are willing to pay a lot more than we think for what may or may not be superior quality product!

    1 Reply
    1. re: ceviche

      No your post wasn't dumb at all.You brock it down nice, and brought forth all the carne asada interests out there, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

      Well, if we could get some of our friends to stop accepting inferiority, we could do this.Again, it's just about having great food, not drawing lines.

    2. ok now you've really got me thinking about this...

      could part of the equation be where the cooks come from?

      in the US, most cooks are mexican, but most of those cooks seem to come from places like oaxaca, puebla and michoacan. not places that have deep carne asada traditions i'm guessing.

      at the holiday inn in Leon, the cook(s) who made your meal were likely locals from the area, an area that does a lot of carne asada. i doubt any cooks from oaxaca or puebla would go to the trouble of leaving their homes in search of better $$$ and settle in Leon rather than go to the US.

      maybe asking oaxacan/poblano cooks in the US to make carne asada correctly compounds the ingredients availability problem?

      as a side note: my wife and i were in Moroleon and Uriangato, GTO (near Leon) over thanksgiving and we were blown away by the delicious food EVERYWHERE. simple $5 comida corrida set menus absolutely blew away anything i've ever had in the US. even a simple buffet that our taxi driver recommended to us (lots of policemen and cab drivers eating there) was excellent, for about $4.50 total for two people, including beverages. insanity...

      4 Replies
      1. re: ceviche

        Well, the Bajio is the heartland of Mexico and yes, food is great all over.I know, I've been eyeing comida corrida on recent trips, just to see what they are serving and a loncheria in el Centro Historico in Leon was tempting.We had our comida corrida in a fonda at the mercado Soledad.Chile relleno with picadillo and albondigas with chiles gueros, perfect Mexican rice.Carnitas from heaven.

        Certainly Mexican line cooks are streaming in to the US but not restauranteurs and chefs.Chefs like Benito Molina and locations like Tacos Salceados thrive in Mexico due to an educated consumer.Why would they come here and have to hear, dude, where are the burritos and chips?Many Mexican restauranteurs here in LA have grown up here and have been removed from Mexican culture several generations only knowing dumbed down combo plates, burritos, and nachos.These foods are in the conscience of non-Latinos and Latinos alike.But, we are slowly turning the corner with places like Moles La Tia, La Casita, and Chichen Itza, places that wouldn't have stood a chance years ago.Angelenos are learning and exploring.Places like Mariscos Chente have been there all along, just under the radar.

        Leon has so many carne asada places, many featuring the style of nearby Monterey, and it is in cattle country as well.Carne asada is done well all over Mexico due to its place in culture.At backyard berbeques here in the US we do dogs and burgers, in Mexico it's carne asada.I went to a family function in Aguascalientes:carne asada, grilled nopal, homemade salsa, a salad, handmade tortillas, and quesadillas nortenas.

        The problem here is the restauranteur opening a place to make money, not food, and the consumer, raised on canned salsa, oversized burritos, and the value combo plate.

        And yes, the ingredients problem, and who will eat them if they stock the items.Mariscos Chente won't bring in callos from Mazatlan for fear of them rotting.People want the burritos and cheap cocktails, and think they're being ripped off if they're paying more than $10 for Mexican.They'll overlook callos done superbly and then go to the Water Grill and pay 2 times as much for an inferior raw seafood.As the great Eat_Nopal once asked, have you ordered these items? The real gastronomy of Mexico.

        1. re: ceviche

          s.g.l.a. called it perfectly.
          It will be very tough to overcome entrenched consumer And corporate mindsets And the dwindling supply of quality beef.
          - 'Mericans have been programmed to want cheap and 'clean' (Taco Hell). Or at least clean (El Torito).
          - Large corporate chains are a brick wall - they have their formula and they are sticking to it. I had a long, infuriating, blood pressure raising email dialogue with a Chipotle 'advocate' who made this very clear. No amount of persuasion would convince them to add freshly made soft corn tortillas (!!!), chopped white onion and cilantro for tacos or to substitute decent Mexican style hot sauces or even 'home made' salsas for bottled Tabasco. Mexican Grill my a**. Grrrrrr.
          - As long as feed lot beef *cough*Harris Ranch*cough* is the standard, we're not making progress on the supply side.

          I guess we have to start at the grass roots. Persuade smaller chains like Hows, Gelsons or Bristol Farms that they should try to get arrachera. Heck, maybe even sample it on the weekend.
          Use the meat to make home made tacos for your more enlighted friends. Start a new carne asada movement!

          1. re: DiveFan

            I think there were some Mexican beef companies at the Expo Comida Latina that had arrachera, but haven't found distributors yet.

            I've had my own personal protest against carne asada here in LA, until recently it was more subconscious.There are always better options on the menu, or when the best thing on the menu is a ranchera combo plate I'm out.

            Well, years ago all we had were combo plate joints, and now we're doing pretty good.We just need a Sonoran with tripas to come forward and lay it on us.You've got it right Divefan, just keep exposing people to the good stuff and slowly we'll create a movement.I would love to see the end of industrial food production, fast food chains, and food products.

            The boys at La Casita in Bell had to convince the Mexicans in Bell that their food WAS Mexican, and have kept the menu very accessible to survive.But, the locals have adjusted and keep comin' back for more.It can happen.

          2. re: ceviche

            Actually, if you ask anyone that's Mexican, they will say the best cuisine in all of Mexico comes from Puebla.. Oaxaca, not so much but Puebla.. No mames! They are especially known for mole poblano and barbacoa, carne asada is just a staple throughout the country, not one state makes it better or worse. I've heard that West coast food is horrible in comparison to east coast food in America.. you just have to know where to go to get it :) this applies to mexico too

          3. well until others join in, it looks like this is going to be our place to discuss carne asada.

            you mentioned the cast iron plate, and you're totally right. being SERVED in the cast iron plate helps keep the carne hot, so that the last taco isn't cold and dry. it's when they COOK it in the cast iron skillet (or in a saute pan, griddle, etc) that it develops that *other* character. my favorite place in phoenix is a sonoran place, and they bring out their parilladas on what appear to be foil-topped hibachis, with coals inside (i think).

            note to any enterprising restauranteurs in the future who use this thread (or the LA board thread) as a springboard to carne asada stardom: don't forget to give me and street free meals for life!!!

            -----
            Asadero Norte De Sonora
            122 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85034

            3 Replies
            1. re: ceviche

              Here's a great beef producer in Hermosillo,Sonora,Rancho El 17.Looking at the cuts makes you hungry!
              http://www.ranchoel17.com/ingles/prod...

              1. re: streetgourmetla

                This is the steak Bonita Molina uses/

                1. re: kare_raisu

                  Yes, that's the one my friend.

            2. I recently discovered a wonderful cut called "flap meat". I made some carne asada and it was much better than skirt steak.

              What's the equivalent name in Mexico?

              2 Replies
              1. re: bkhuna

                I don't think there is a flap meat equivalent in Mexico, but apparently El Parian uses this for their carne asada.It's a better choice than ranchera, more thickness.I would use flap over skirt, too.They are both from the same part of the steer.

                1. re: bkhuna

                  The "flap meat" which you reference is the 'inside' cut of the skirt. It comes from the same cut of meat as skirt, but is typically a larger piece of meat. The small, compact and thin ends of the cut are absolutely tender and much better than the outside skirt which is thicker. The bottom line for any asada is to remove all of the 'silver skin', cook directly over searing coals and under cook the meat.

                2. If the eyeballs are not cooked with the meat, you can't expect to get the full flavor.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Savorytart

                    i've never heard of cooking the eyeballs with the meat. are they like placed alongside the meat, on the grill? how do they flavor the meat? are they placed on top of foil to keep them from falling through the grates? what region of mexico is this from?

                    1. re: ceviche

                      Eyeballs? This is not a practice in Mexico.

                      Anyways, ceviche, another CA experience from Friday night in Tijuana.This was taken at a simple taqueria that also does parrilladas, the owners and cooks are from Sonora.Even though arrachera was available, I went with the top sirloin(palomilla), a cut very much available in the States, eventhough from US beef, is doable if an LA establishment was willing.Hint!!

                      Strips of grilled top sirloin with tripas, a queso fundido, and sweet onions
                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
                      frijoles charros(cowboy beans), worth the price of admission alone
                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...
                      pico de gallo con nopal, chiles toreados, and rabanos(radishes
                      )http://www.flickr.com/photos/15437927...

                      Cut into strips, ceviche style.

                      1. re: streetgourmetla

                        The aged ribeye photo is my new Myspace background. Thank you.

                        The recent tragic crime wave in northern Mexico might lead some people from that area to move to the US... people who can cook great carne asada and customers who will demand it.

                        Here's the photo I selected. Great wallpaper for carnivores!

                        http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3377/3...

                      2. re: ceviche

                        Well, you'll have to tell that to the people from Mexico who were cooking utilizing them. It wasn't a joke being played.

                    2. This post comes as an eye-opener for me, because I've always thought that the glories of Mexican cuisine were its sublime, epiphany-inducing moles and other sauces, with the meat only a poor-quality foil for the gravy.

                      To the reasons you suggested, one more. Very little Mexican beef is imported into the US. As I understand it, though NAFTA might have changed things, this is because very few Mexican packing plants comply with US regulations and because Mexico charges a hefty export tax on meat. So any restaurants making carne asada in the US must use American (US) beef, and top quality meat could cost, well, a lot. You might have to pay $30 for a plate of 3 tacos.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: Brian S

                        Hey Brian S.Mexico really has so many amazing regional foods and specialties.The Diane Kennedy's and Rick Bayless' have promoted Oaxaca, Puebla, Vera Cruz, and Yucatan mostly, D.F. too, but in addition to these legendary cuisines there are more.Endless possibilities.

                        You're right Mexican beef isn't imported, but there are alternatives.We have rib eye and NY, but the Mexican-American restaurants and clientele don't know any better at this point.Restaurants put carne asada on the menu as an afterthought, fluff, and a cost effective product.

                        Yeah, the regulations blow.Kills all the fun.

                        1. re: Brian S

                          Actually the reason you don't see much Mexican beef in the U.S. is because its more expensive. The vast majority of commercial beef there is grass fed, no hormones and NO SUBSIDIES... visit the Mexican beef producers webpages and you will find endless articles about how NAFTA is killing the Mexican beef producer.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Hey, EN - welcome back!!! You've been missed. And now, on to the argument...

                            The time I've spent in Mexico, I've been constantly amazed at how inexpensive the beef is. Delicious, high-quality stuff, grass-fed as you noted - for a fraction of what factory-farmed crap costs in the US.

                            Am I missing something here?

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Depends on what you call cheap. Alot of the really inexpensive beef at say Costco etc., is U.S.... that is the stuff that in the past averages $80 Pesos a Kilo within Mexico. Mexican beef tends to average $100 Pesos a Kilo within Mexico.. At the exchange rates prior to the current recession that was $3.46 per pound for US beef (including all the varieties)... and $4.15 for Mex beef (all varieties)... but the Mex beef producers are complaining that they are losing money at that level... and you have to consider that the Mexican beef did not include transportation & marketing costs of going to another country.

                              Of course I could see it currently being a deal on several fronts:

                              > The Peso has devalued 40% in the last 6 months or so... making U.S. beef more expensive than Mexican beef to people in Mexico. And making Mexican beef less expensive in the U.S. as well as to U.S. visitors.

                              > If you compare the prices of Mexican beef which is less likely to be CAFO with the equivalent in the U.S. then yes its a bargain.

                              The argument that Mexican beef doesn't meet U.S. standards is of course ludicrous and merely an illegal Trade Barrier by the U.S. producers. Nonetheless, Mexico just doesn't have the capacity to produce the volumes of beef produced in the U.S.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                I was thinking more in terms of the stuff you find at a carniceria or a local grocery chain. If I recall correctly, when I was in BCN in December, strip steak was going for a little over Mx$100/kilo, with better deals available. Given that supermarkets in California were getting more than US$10/lb for the same cut (with inferior flavor), it seemed like quite the bargain.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  You know... I have always been impressed with the availability of good cheap beef in Baja. I remember in 2002 having decent, locally sourced $8 filet mignon in a Mexicali steakhouse... I wonder if Street can shed some light. I do know that Beef Producers in Mexico are desperate for subsidies or tariffs on U.S. Beef... they claim to be the next "Maize growers". So I think that even though they have a better product they still are forced to take razor thin margins to compete with subsidized US beef.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    I see prices for beef lower all across Mexico, and lower prices for quality food in general. I do most of my carnivorous exploits in Sonora, in fact, I will be in Hermosillo and Cd. Obregon in the next month, and I have steak and asada at select places in Baja, that have very high standards, like La Ermita.My favorites are using Sonoran beef,I know there are cattle in Baja, because I almost hit some driving to Loreto one time,but I'm not aware of much of the sourcing besides the said locations.

                                    And, the quail, deer, rabbit, and other game.Que rico.

                                    1. re: streetgourmetla

                                      Re "lower prices for quality food in general." Amen to that. And the meat is the least of it. From avocados to zucchini, the produce section in a Mexican grocery store is a cook's playground. And even at upscale places, the prices are a bargain.

                                      I'm not particularly well-informed about agricultural practices in Mexico, but I get the sense that there's a lot less factory farming. Nevertheless, high-quality food costs far less than in the US. What are we nortenos doing wrong?

                                      It can't be a function of geography. Sure, it makes sense that transportation costs have to be figured in. But there's a noticeable difference in quality and price at places that are within walking distance of each other, but on different sides of the border.

                                      Time to call my brothers - we're trying to schedule a fishing trip for early summer. The pending question is Loreto v. Mulege...

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        Yeah.. I think it has to do with distribution practices & shopping policies. In Mexico, the produce turns very quickly and produce managers (even in chains) are more empowered to go directly to the produce market... rather than through distribution points. In other words... a Safeway in San Diego gets its produce after its been consolidated in various regional distribution centers.... whereas as Commercial Mexicana in Tijuana gets its produce straight from the Central de Abastos (regional wholesale market)... the produce is generally picked within 12 to 24 hours when it hits the Central.

                                        I don't know the specifics in Tijuana... but in Mexico City's La Merced... pineapples are the least fresh item stocked having been cut in Veracruz about about 24 hours prior to the market opening... the pineapples are sold at perfect ripeness and generally all sold at the end of the day... this is possible because a big portion of people purchase produce the day of or prior to usage.

                                        In our typical supermarkets NOB... we are usually picking fruit once a week that was picked & refrigerated several weeks ago.

                          2. re: Brian S

                            I think the hype that the role of protein in Mexican cuisine is mere a poor quality foil for the gravy is a character assassination. I have researched two main culprits:

                            1) Biases of 1980's U.S. food writers. Before Farm to Table, Organic, Free Range, Sustainable etc., became chic in the U.S. I noticed that many U.S. chroniclers had a hard time with Mexico's gamier, stronger tasting meats usually served bone in or "whole" & rustic... whether referring to the yellow chickens, skinny turkeys, or gamey beef... U.S. writers at the time coming from a society that framed bland, lean, trim proteins as the civilized standard could only think of Mexico's traditionally free range proteins as poor quality.

                            2) Low Brow American-Mexican restaurants using institutional ingredients.... flavorless chickens, turkeys, pork & beef in traditional dishes without tweaking the recipe to account for differences in the ingredient quality. For example... take Mexican turkeys.. the flesh is lean / muscular & strong tasting... but with plenty of strong tasting fat in the bones, skin & tendons. In Mexico you have to poach that turkey before braising or roasting to yield a perfectly tender & succulent bird to perfectly melt into a rich, complex sauce.... however in the U.S., Mexican restaurants do that flavorless industrial Chickens and you get a completely bland & dryish bird that really needs that Mole Poblano to save it.

                            Finally, I don't think you need to charge $10 a taco.... but we should be willing to pay $3 to $5 for a high quality taco... I can only roll my eyes when CHers whine about $1.50 tacos... and raving about $1 tacos simply because they are a $1.

                            No other country spends a lower portion of Income on food than the U.S. Our priorities are completely screwed up.... we whine about paying a fair price for ingredients & meals but bid up our cookie cutter McMansions... where the land is typically worth 5 to 10 times more than the actual building.. and then are surprised when the bubble bursts.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Yeah the premise that a taco has to be a dollar to be good is strange.It should priced like any food, ingredients and market value.In TJ, people pay up to $40MXP for a taco at tacos salceados, and average about $25MXP per taco.These are all locals paying these prices, not LA residents with good salaries. Fish tacos are always about $15MXP in Ensenada for the good ones.The arrachera tacos at Tacos Jass in Hermosillo for the three steak blend,$15-20MXP.

                              I would absolutely pay $3-5USD for the kind of tacos you get at Salceados here in LA.Right now, my favorite taco stand in the Valley charges $1.25, and they are worth the extra quarter.

                              1. re: streetgourmetla

                                "Right now, my favorite taco stand in the Valley charges $1.25, and they are worth the extra quarter."

                                Alright that got a good laugh out of me.

                          3. Just like wines and chocolates take on flavors according to the areas they are grown and what is in the soil, so beef tastes different in different places, so it's not just about the cut, or how it's cooked.
                            And as far as regulations go? I work in a gourmet food production plant, and am VERY grateful that meat packing plants are regulated. I wish they were MORE regulated. If you could see some of the carnicerias in Central America and the effects of unregulated processing (think flies, maggots and the enticing aroma of rotting meat) on the meat industry you too would be thankful for US regulations in regards to food production.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: ElleD

                              I have been in a lot of carnicerias in Mexico and Central America. In the small rustic shops there may be a few flies, but I've never seen maggots or smelled rotting meat. The larger plants are clean and modern.

                              1. re: ElleD

                                If you're in the LA area head down to Tijuana to the Mercado Municipal to see the beef from Sonora in a clean carniceria with bright red cuts of Angus beef.

                                Yes, I believe we are saying all these things, it's the Angus beef from Sonora,the cut, the cooking, and the presentation, among other factors.

                                Sam is right, I've never seen maggots or smelled rotting meat.But, I do see free range lean animals, and restaurants, consumers, and companies that care about a quality product. Judging just by appearance there would have to be regualtion, to what degree I don't know, but the consumer is accustomed to a superior product in Sonora, places like Manzanilla in Ensenada, the finest restaurants in D.F. and Guadalajara, and legendary taquerias.At this point, I exclusively eat carne asada in Mexico.

                              2. Fresh of from my sabbatical, I would like to weigh in on the Carne Asada debates:

                                > Blame the Oaxacan & Poblano cooks

                                Completely baseless argument. California's screwed up Carne Asada predates any Oaxacan / Poblano immigrants. If we are going to blame anyone it would be my peeps... the Jalisco contingent. In the 1920s recruiters representing Ag business throughout California started going down to Mexico to recruit workers they specifically targeted Jalisco because they wanted lighter skinned, pious, very religious & conservative people (in fact there was a whole, very racist debate in Congress on why Mexican Creoles were preferable over Coastal Mexicans, Puerto Ricans or Black Latinos).... my paternal great grandfather was one of those recruited at age 14.

                                In any case it was these early immigrants from Jalisco that established much of the Mexican restaurant industry in California... and it was they who defined what Carne Asada would be. Of course... they also had to deal the economic realities of the time... including rations during WWII etc.,

                                > Carne Asada... what is it?

                                At core to the argument.. in most parts of Mexico you don't go to a restaurant or stand and as for a Carne Asada taco.

                                First, most restaurants do NOT offer anything called Carne Asada. In regional restaurants... like say a Traditional Mexico City cafe like Cafe Tacuba, the closest thing might be Bistek a la Tampiquena which is the iconic specialty at the Tampico Club (an old Golf & Polo country club in Mexico City that existed back when Tampico ocean front was the playground of the well to do)... what you are served is a very juice & flavorful Arrachera slow grilled medium, with a scoop of guacamole, a scoope of refrieds, a Mole Enchilada, grilled jalapenos & onions.

                                If you are in say Morelos, Puebla or Oaxaca, you might see a Cecina de Venado on the menu... a very thin venison steak that is grilled for no more than 30 seconds on each side served botana style with various garnishes, salsas & tortillas so that you can make up your tacos.

                                Instead when you want Carne Asada you typically go to a style of restaurant that usually has the word Asador somewhere in the name. Instead of a dish called Carne Asada.... there might be a menu called Carne Asada a la Lena or Carne Asada al Carbon... under the menu you would have cuts such as Arrachera (inside skirt), Cabreria (rib-eye), Palomilla (sir loin), Lomo (tender loin), Diezmillo, Costillar, Costilla etc., There would also be a menu called “Carnes Finas” used for cuts not suitable to be grilled over wood such as Corazon de Filete (Filet Mignon) that would be pan fried with butter and sauced with something delicate like Huitlacoche or Black Butter etc., In addition, such a restaurant might also include Parrilladas which are mixed grills finished at the table in your own personal hibachi type grill… it might include Cabreria, Arrachera, Rinon, Tripas, Costilla, Chorizo Seco and even whole Quails or Game Hens, Nopales, Sliced Potatoes finished on the Grill, Onions, Chiles Toreados etc.,

                                > Carne Asada Traditions in Jalisco

                                Since I am arguing that California’s lame Carne Asada traditions are probably attributable to my relatives… I think it’s appropriate to expand upon Jalisco’s Asada traditions.
                                First, Jalisco doesn’t eat much beef. Chicken whether raised in your yard or purchased at the market is the most commonly consumed flesh, followed at a distance by Pork, then things that swim. Along its extensive coasts, seafood is naturally king. In the watershed communities west of Guadalajara… freshwater fish, crawfish, sweetwater shrimp & easily transportable saltwater shrimp tend to dominate the grocery lists. Beef & Goat round out the list of “staple meats”. Then you have specialties like Quail, Game Hens, Venison & Rabbit that are also highly prized. Most home cooks don’t go around shopping for packets of beef like people do in the states.
                                The greatest concentration of Cattle can be found in the Highlands where my parents are from. However, this is Dairy country. People don’t care to eat beef on a regular basis. Most cooks I know might prepare it once or twice a month in the form of Carne Ranchera, Albondigas, Braised Oxtaisl or Caldo de Res…. Carne Asada is not considered “proper home cooking” that is women are preparing it, as part of their daily rituals to nourish their families.

                                What you do you is a tradition of male dominated, weekend cookouts whose primary function is to promote harmony via reciprocity among the clans. This a part of the country that was very violent in the 1940s & 1950s… product of a revolution that largely played out elsewhere… people riled up by the news but not getting enough action to get it out of their systems… complicated by a confusing Agrarian Policy that gave land to anyone tough enough to claim it from someone else & further complemented by all the Jorge Negrete & John Wayne movies… Highlands Jalisco was the real wild west that the gringo north only dreamed up... complete with Cantina Shootouts, Masked Gunmen and Robinhood characters. By the 1960’s things calmed down, and as in other Rural domains with Communal sharing of grazing lands & water resources… the interdependence of the various Clans & Households forced a peace and a way to regulate disputes. The weekend cookouts became ways keep your neighbors happy & open channels of dialog and they became increasingly popular creating new social structures, defining new mores & traditions.

                                In Highlands Jalisco… weekend cookouts typically followed one of several formats:

                                > Birria… someone would announce they are slaughtering a goat… a 2 day cooking process would yield massive quantities of braised goat in a thick, complex, chile based stew.

                                > Carnitas, Chicharron & Cueritos… someone would have a fat pig… they would get help preparing Chicharron & using that fat to cook various cuts of Carnitas… part of the Skin would be boiled & pickled for tostadas… people would gorge themselves… and then take home party favors such as like ceramic pots of Lard & unused cuts of Pork (the head, intestines, feet etc.,)

                                > Mariscada… after a day of ardous fishing someone would make a massive Caldo Michi stew of Catfish, Carp Head, Vegetables in a spicy broth, and grill Lobina (Bass) & Mojarritas (Sunfish) over wood fire etc.,

                                > Carne Asada… finally someone would announce they are killing a bull or ox… nice old tough, flavorful meat that would be tenderized & flattened with violence (Meat Mallets were a basic tool in Pre-Hispanic cooking) and Enzymes (primarily from beer)… everything that is appropriate would be grilled over mesquite… the various types of grilling cuts would just be mixed in serving trays and not separated. Most people don’t care what cut it is… it’s all delicious and tender… slowly grilled to barely pink in the center… juices oozing. The rest of the cuts not appropriate for grilling bundled up in packages for guests to take back

                                Of course… all around Highlands Jalisco and neighboring regions in Zacatecas & Aguascalientes you can find ranchers carefully raising distinctive lineages, yielding naturally tender & flavorful beef. A quick examination of the history of Mexican cattle lineages will reveal that most of these ranchers have been raising fine beef since the 1700s. However, these are the local, large landowning elites… who undoubtedly have been enjoying Loin Roasts and Veal Chop orgies, as well as their own version of Carne Asada more similar to what the large landowning elites in Sonora have. Further, you will find that even Jalisco is home to more interesting lineages (other than the boring old Black Angus that dominates the California scene).

                                So to summarize, I speculate that Highland Jalisco’s old peasant traditions of butchering up an old bull, beating it up till tender, marinading with beer etc., are what inform a lot of the Carne Asada traditions in California… and hence why there is such a chasm between the Asaderos of Mexico and the lame Cal-Mex Taquerias & Taco Trucks with their generic “Carne Asada” tacos.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  And, he comes out swinging! Welcome back from your sabbatical.

                                  You're right, and anyone who has traveled in Mexico will be made aware of the local meat consumption practices, such as the cecina in the south, the lack of "carne asada" in Jalisco, etc. In Guanajuato I saw many northern Mexico style asadores, because of immigration patterns, just like the Sinaloan influence in TJ.

                                  Even the two states where I actively seek out mis cortes, Sonora and Sinaloa, they are not called carne asada, but by cuts, cabreria, arrachera, palomilla, etc., and of course it's assumed that you know what you are doing. True to Eat Nopal's theory, asadores or places that specialize in carnes or parriladas are where you find carne asada, not part of a varied menu, and also at taquerias with outdoor mesquite fueled grills.In Sonora, some upscale steak houses have pleasing dining rooms separated from the hot and smoky work going on behind the tranquil scene. You could call it an asador for the caballero.

                                  1. re: streetgourmetla

                                    Aside from the well worn wannabe foodie corridors in Oaxaca & Puebla... not much is known in the U.S. about Southern Mexican cuisine... Tabasco is a state that has a fabulous outdoor wood cooking tradition... Closed Pits, Open Pits, Grills & Rotisseries... Alligator Gar, Sebu Beef, Turkey, Small Game Birds, Peccaries, Pigs you name it they got it, and they know what they are doing.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      Well, this Friday, it's the carnes of Cuernavaca! Yes, you're right, there's so much more south, and east we need to explore.

                                      1. re: streetgourmetla

                                        FYI... the town of Yecapixtla south of Cuernavaca is reknown for their Cecina. I am sure some restaurants in Cuerna have it on the menu.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          The last time I had tender cecina was at a roadside dive in La Marquesa,on the 15 to Toluca. Haven't had anything like it in LA, so I'll be on the lookout, not to mention some rabbit love in Cuerna.

                                          1. re: streetgourmetla

                                            I hope by rabbit love you mean consuming some tasty cooked conejo dishes =) I can already imagine you will be enjoying some awesome Rabbit Mixiotes or Grilled Rabbit Half with Guacamole (made from Criollo Avocados and not the crappy Hass we get) etc.,

                                            You will be envied.

                                    2. re: streetgourmetla

                                      One more note... anyone who wants to get academic about Carne Asada traditions in Mexico should pursue various types of "Macho Blogs"... i.e., sites where guys get together to talk about Off Roading, Hunting, Fishing etc., I have found numerous great recipes, tips & invaluable information on such sites. Para muestra... un button... just look at this mouthwatering little gem posted a Veracruzano on a Mexican Jeep Offroaders portal:

                                      http://www.jeeperos.com/foros/showpos...

                                  2. Just a reminder: there are various countries "south of the border" besides Mexico. Almost all have really good fully range fed beef as the major or only option. In most of Latin America, however, beef costs more than in the US. I now work about half time on DC where I eat pretty much only what I cook form scratch. Beef, pork, and especially chicken cost way more here in Colombia than in the US. Our vegetables and fruit are of higher quality and cheaper.

                                    1. we had a lot of discussion about cuts of meat and blah blah blah...but what's an "authentic" asada marinade?

                                      1. This is such a beautiful thread. Nothing blah about it.