It's fiesta time! Join us as we grill a whole Mexican feast over the campfire: Gazpacho with Tostones, Carnitas Caseras (Mexican Pulled Pork) Tacos with homemade fire-grilled tortillas, nopales salad, refried beans, and grilled fruit skewers with coconut glaze for dessert. The pork carnitas is meltingly tender and juicy with crispy grilled bits and edges. So good. We grill it all!
Last month's theme for our Campfire Cooking series was 'Mexican Fiesta'. And what a feast it was! Sabina and I were in party mode all day as we sliced, diced, grilled, tossed, and smoked our way through the menu. What a fun meal to cook outdoors over the campfire (or barbecue grill). We made sure every course and every dish had something with that smoky grill flavour in it, and we found that our theme running through this meal was oranges. A bit of orange juice or orange zest found its way into almost every dish, adding its citrusy brightness and fruity zing.
Campfire Cooking: A Mexican Fiesta
Guacamole & Fruit Salsa with Plantain Chips, Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
Mexican Gazpacho with Grilled White Fish Flakes
Carnitas Caseras Tacos with Homemade Tortillas
Refried Black Beans, Nopales Salad
Grilled Tropical Fruit Skewers with Coconut Glaze & Vanilla Ice Cream
Apéritif: Jamaica Cocktail
To start our fiesta, we made Jamaica (huh-mike'-a) cocktails. Cold Jamaica tea is a popular drink in Mexico, made from dried, deep-red hibiscus blossoms. It's tart and fruity and absolutely thirst-quenching and refreshing. To make it, bring 4 cups of water and 1 cup of dried jamaica blossoms to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let the tea cool completely. Strain, sweeten, and dilute with water to taste to serve (usually 1 part tea to 2 to 3 parts water). For our Jamaica cocktail, we add a generous shot of tequila and a squeeze of orange juice. A bright and zippy way to wake up our taste buds and put them into a party mood!
Appetizer: Guacamole, Fruit Salsa, Plaintain Chips, Blue Tortilla Chips
We stirred together a creamy guacamole with the usual suspects: mashed avocado, finely chopped white onion and finely diced tomatoes, a bit of cilantro, minced garlic, minced grilled jalapeno and lots of lime juice and a bit of salt. Grilling the avocadoes, onion, and jalapeno first added a tantalizing hint of smoke to the dip. We jazzed it up even more by adding in a squeeze of orange juice and a good grating of orange zest - so fruity and delicious. We served the guacamole with a dip of spicy fruit salsa (this peach salsa would be a great choice), and some plantain chips and blue tortilla chips for scooping up the fabulous dips.
Soup Course: Mexican Cold Gazpacho with Flaked Grilled Whitefish, Tostones
This gazpacho was outstanding - we could have all licked our bowls clean if no one was looking! We followed a recipe in a book, but although it had a good array of ingredients, it turned out bland. So we doctored it up with our signature touches. We grilled the onions and bread in it for an added smoky flavour, and then added a whole lot more of the flavour-enhancing ingredients - vinegar, lime juice, salt, and tequila. By the time we were done with this gazpacho - we had a most amazingly flavoured chilled soup. It was so bright, complex, and wake-up fresh. Grilled pieces of white fish (haddock) flaked on top of the soup provided a delicious contrast in flavour and texture.
For crunch, we served the gazpacho with tostones. Though not originating in Mexico, these crispy plantain slices are eaten throughout the Caribbean (including some coastal areas of Mexico). We fried thick plantain slices in a skillet in the house and flattened them, then brought them outside for the second fry, to crisp them up in sizzling oil in a frying pan over the fire. They were hot off the grill to eat with the cold gazpacho. This fantastic first-course soup combo produced a lot of 'wow's for its mouthwatering zesty flavour and variety of textures. A cold Mexican beer to sip along with it made this course an amazing kick-off to the dishes to come.
Entrée: Carnitas Caseras Tacos with Homemade Tortillas, Sides of Refried Black Beans, Nopales Salad
Carnitas Caseras (Home-Cooked Carnitas) is the Mexican version of pulled pork - meltingly tender, juicy, slow-braised pork shoulder cooked with lots of flavouring and then shredded into large chunks to use as a filling for tacos, tostadas, burritos, etc. We slightly adapted the recipe from Diana Kennedy's book, 'The Art of Mexican Cooking', and it was fantastic. We browned the meat chunks in a cast iron dutch oven on the fire, added milk, orange juice and seasonings and then braised it slowly over the fire for about an hour. The simple combination of ingredients turned into a rich complex braising liquid to flavour the chunks of pork shoulder as they simmered to luscious tenderness.
In the end, we removed the meat chunks from the braising liquid and crisped them up in a skillet before shredding them. The crackly bits of charred edges and buttery tender shreds of meat made for a lip-smacking filling for our tacos.
And there's that tender, tasty meat - all shredded into delicious morsels ready to pile on our tacos.
We made a tortilla dough with masa harina and water, then used a tortilla press outside to flatten the balls of dough and cooked them on a griddle over the flames - warm, fresh, soft tortillas were ready to fill with that wonderful meat. For the adornment in our tacos, we served some of our guacamole, a fresh pico de gallo salsa, a green tomatillo salsa, a tangle of pickled red onions, and a dollop of sour cream.
Our side dishes with the tacos were refried beans and a nopales (cactus) salad. We had made a batch of cooked and seasoned black beans (in the Instant Pot) in the house, then mashed them and reheated them over the fire to serve as a side to our tacos. For the nopales salad, we bought fresh cactus paddles in the Latin import store in Edmonton. Using gloves and a sharp paring knife, we trimmed off all the spikes, then cut the paddles into fingers and grilled them until they had a nice char. We diced the grilled nopales and tossed them with some of the pico de gallo, a squeeze of lime juice, and a little drizzle of oil to make a fresh, bright side salad with tantalizingly smoky overtones.
Dessert: Grilled Tropical Fruit Skewers with Coconut Crust
To top off this amazing Mexican meal, we grilled chunks of mango, pineapple, and orange on bamboo skewers, brushing them with a luscious coconut glaze. We made the glaze by boiling together ½ cup of coconut sugar, ½ cup of coconut water, the zest of one orange in strips, and ¼ cup of shredded coconut for 2 to 3 minutes, then letting it cool. We toasted unsweetened coconut shreds in a skillet over the fire, to sprinkle onto the fruit, and served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
As the sun went down, we sat in the warm glow of the campfire and sipped on our hot Mexican coffees (a shot of tequila in there helped keep us warm from the inside!)
It was a wonderful little taste of the tropics right here in the sunny north of Canada. Fiesta Olé!!!!!
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Recipe adapted from Diana Kennedy's book, 'The Art of Mexican Cooking'
Carnitas Caseras (Home-Cooked Carnitas) Tacos
for the carnitas:
- 2 tablespoons lard or oil
- 3 pounds (1.4kg) boneless, skinless pork shoulder
- ½ medium white onion, coarsely chopped (~1 cup)
- 4-5 fresh marjoram sprigs (or ½ teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano)
- 4-5 fresh thyme sprigs (or ½ teaspoon dried thyme)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 medium orange, cut into 8 pieces (preferably organic)
- 1 cup (240ml) milk
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
for the tortillas:
- 2 cups (250gms) masa harina (instant corn masa flour) (I use Maseca brand)
- 1½ cups (360ml) warm water
- 1 tablespoon oil
- a pinch of salt
for the carnitas:
- Cut the pork into 2-inch (5cm) cubes.
- Heat the lard or oil in a large, heavy skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Fry the meat to lightly brown all sides (about 10 minutes). Fry it in 2 batches if necessary.
- Add the onion and return all the meat to the pan if you browned it in 2 batches. Fry for another 10 minutes, until the pork is well browned, stirring occasionally.
- Add the marjoram, thyme, bay leaves, orange chunks, milk, salt, and pepper.
- Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the pork is tender. If cooking over a campfire, move the pot to a cooler part of the fire so that it just keeps cooking at a nice gentle bubble. There will be a lot of liquid in the pot.
- Remove the lid and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (about another 30 minutes), stirring occasionally.
- Remove the herb stems, bay leaves, and oranges, and scoop out or drain off some of the excess fat accumulated at the top of the liquid.
- Increase the heat (or move the pot to a hotter part of the fire) and fry the meat until the edges get dark and crispy. If there is too much liquid in the pot for it all to evaporate and let the meat get crispy, remove the meat chunks to another skillet or drain off the liquid, and then cook them until crispy-edged.
- Use two forks to pull the pork chunks apart into thick rope-like shreds. Season with more salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Keep the carnitas warm and covered so the meat doesn't dry out. Serve in tortilla shells with your favourite toppings.
- Serves 8.
to make the tortillas:
- Stir together the corn masa flour, water, oil, and salt to make a soft dough.
- Form the dough into 16 balls, keeping them covered with plastic or a damp cloth to keep them from drying out.
- Line a tortilla press with 2 sheets of thick plastic (from a ziptop freezer bag). Place each ball between the sheets of plastic on the tortilla press and press until the tortilla measures about 5½ inches in diameter.
- Preheat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.
- Gently peel the plastic wrap off the tortilla and quickly and evenly flip the tortilla onto the hot griddle or skillet. Fry for about 1 minute on each side, until a few brown specks appear.
- Wet a cotton towel or napkin and wring it to remove as much moisture as possible. Keep the stack of cooked tortillas wrapped in the damp towel in a covered container to keep them from drying out and keep them warm until serving time.
- Makes 16 small tortillas.
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