Food Lab and Vanitas

Over Christmas, I received J. Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab, and it was a great introduction to Kenji’s style of how he meticulously and methodically tests recipes and devises techniques. In addition to Serious Eats and The Food Lab, his resume includes a stint with (the also meticulous and scientific) Cook’s Illustrated, further credentializing his food chops. I have come to love his writing and his approach to food. I like to read most cookbooks cover-to-cover, and The Food Lab was a great compendium full of helpful insights. This weekend, I was prepping for a grad party and wanted to do homestyle tacos. Kenji came through, and I couldn’t be happier. Kenji is THE man. Below is his recipe found on Serious Eats, and boy it did not disappoint. Make these now. I bought 10 pounds of flank steak from Costco and let it marinate over night. The next day, I grilled the steaks, let rest, and did a small dice before stuffing them into my favorite La Tortilla Factory yellow corn tortillas, and topped with a homemade pico de gallo, homemade guac, crema, crumbled cotija and a squeeze of lime. I made a few tweaks to the marinade, but found the flavor to still be really tasty. Adjustments noted in [brackets]. Also, I apologize for the cellphone pictures, but didn’t have time to snap real shots with the DSLR while serving guests.


Carne Asada Tacos
3 whole dried ancho chilies, de-seeded and de-stemmed
3 whole dried guajillo chilies [omitted]
2 whole chipotle peppers, canned in adobo [subbed with ground chipotle powder]
3/4 c fresh juice from 2 to 3 oranges, preferably sour oranges [replaced with fresh lemons]
2 tbs fresh juice from 2 to 3 limes
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs Asian fish sauce
6 medium cloves garlic
1 small bunch cilantro
1 tsp whole cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 tsp whole coriander seed, toasted and ground
2 tbs dark brown sugar
kosher salt
2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed and cut with the grain into 5- to 6-inch lengths [subbed for flank steak]

Pico de Gallo
Wedges of lime
Corn tortillas

Place ancho chilies on a plate and microwave until soft. Transfer to a blender and add remaining spices, orange/lemon/lime juice, olive oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, cilantro and brown sugar. Blend until smooth and season with salt. Taste should be balanced, but favoring the saltier side. Transfer marinade to a large ziplock bag or container and add steak, making sure to coat eat steak with the marinade. Allow to marinade overnight. As I used a plastic container, I periodically rotated the container to ensure that all the pieces of steak got a healthy douse of the marinade.


Remove meat from fridge 30 minutes prior to grilling to allow meat to warm up [this is a good practice in general when grilling any kind of meat]. While charcoal is probably preferred [gives it that nice smoke], I fired up the gas grill and heated her up nice and hot for about 10-15 minutes and visibly smoking. Remove the steak from the container, allowing any excess marinade to drip off and place directly on the hottest part of the grill. A well-preheated grill will immediately sizzle and help form those lovely charred/grilled bits. Cover the lid of the grill, and cook for about 10 minutes total, flipping midway. Flank steaks are pretty thin, so it shouldn’t take too long. Internal temp should register in the high 120/low 130°F [I like it still pink on the inside, so will err close to 128°F].


Remove meat from grill, transfer to cutting board and allow to rest for 10 minutes to allow steaks to redistribute juices. Thinly slice the meat against the grain, or if you’re like me, slice into small cubes. With the remaining marinade [now full of raw meat juices], place in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the marinade to reduce and thicken to a saucy consistency, whisking every so often to prevent lumps or burning. This should take 7-10 minutes. This sauce will be pretty salty, so use sparingly on the carne asada.


Prep the garnishes and warm the corn tortillas. I love to do this on my still hot, but flame off grill. It leaves such pretty grill marks on the tortillas. Top each tortilla with meat, a bit of the reduced marinade, pico de gallo, guacamole, dollops of crema, spoonfuls of crumbled cotija, a squeeze of fresh lime, and you’re all set. Enjoy!

These tacos are full of flavor. Tomatoes are at their best right now, and they lend a nice sweetness to balance out the salty flank steak, creamy guac and crema, and briny cotija. I was really skeptical about the fish sauce and soy sauce additions to the marinade, but they work so well in infusing the flank steaks with a ton of flavor and umami. So much deliciousness. I think my next challenge will be to master a good al pastor recipe.


As usual, I’ve been pretty busy. We were in Southern California last weekend for a wedding out by Joshua Tree National Park. The scenery is really different – there is beauty in rocks and sand and cacti. Oh, and the most glorious sunsets I’ve ever seen.

We also had a great time just eating our way through the OC and LA. It was a fantastic long weekend for us, celebrating food and love and life. I’ll post my trip recommendations in a different entry.

I’ve also been pursuing my other hobbies, as evident here.

I’m still trying to figure out how all my hobbies and life goals tie in with each other, and what my next move is. I’m not one to remain too complacent or comfortable, and yet I wonder how I’ll be able to do everything that I’d like to do with this one short lifetime that I have. Or maybe Anne Bronte is right, vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas!

Thanks for stopping by,

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