All hail the humble taco, a perfect marriage of starch, protein, fruit, vegetable, and appetite, a triumph of down-home Mexican gastronomy, a thing of rare culinary beauty.
Of course, that's a taco made with fresh, quality ingredients by someone who knows and loves authentic Mexican food. That's where Mark Miller comes in.
Like so many chefs who stood American cuisine on its ear during the 1980s and 1990s, Miller made his culinary bones as chef at Alice Waters' seminal Chez Panisse. A student of the cuisine and culture of Mexico and the American Southwest, he went on to open restaurants in that idiom in the San Francisco Bay Area, then moved to Sante Fe and opened Coyote Café, in its day one of the most important restaurants in the country. (Miller recently sold off his share of the restaurant.)
So much for history. What Miller's got now is one of the best cookbooks Clean Plate Charlie has ever stained with tomato sauce, pureed chilies and chopped cilantro. It's called, appropriately enough, Tacos, and while Charlie hasn't cooked through all 75 of the unspeakably delicious-sounding meals-in-a-tortilla, the half-dozen or so he has are, well . . . unspeakably delicious.
There's the chicken and chorizo taco, the chicken bathed in a green
marinade of lime juice, chilies and herbs, stuffed into a crispy
tortilla and dabbed with salsa fresca. There's the short rib taco, the
meaty little suckers braised long and low in dark beer, then shredded,
folded into a soft tortilla and garnished with caramelized onions and
crema. And there's the wicked-good swordfish taco, the fish marinated
in orange juice and achiote paste and wrapped in a tortilla with
shredded lettuce and an incendiary salsa of caramelized pineapple and
habanero chilies so ridiculously tasty you could stuff the leftovers
into a napkin and eat them. For breakfast.
Tacos is available
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through Amazon.com and costs $21.95, about what it would cost for a
couple of meals worth of indigestible, ick from a can pseudo-tacos. It
will be the best 22 bucks you and your taste buds ever spent.