Monday, September 8, 2008
The Big Freeze
It breaks my heart to waste food, especially when it comes to good ingredients. Sometimes it can't be helped--a long vacation leads to proteins being shoved in the freezer, or a few late worknights lead to fresh ingredients spoiling in the crisper. Still other times there is the inevitable pile of "stuff" in the freezer that is, of course, still edible, but not exactly as tempting and fresh as it used to be. I felt the pangs of guilt over possibly wasting food this weekend as I surveyed the contents of my freezer. I knew for a fact that this coming week would be a tough one, filled with late nights, and likely punctuated with several take-out orders and large pizza pies.
Since it'd be foolish to buy fresh ingredients for the week knowing that I wouldn't have time to cook, I decided to chip away at the ice, clear the frosted fog out of my face, and cook something that had been living in the deep freeze for far too long. In addition to your standard bags of frozen vegetables, I usually keep a few Cornish hens, chicken breast, minute steaks, thin cut pork chops, and frozen fish in my freezer. It's no surprise that spending most of the summer cooking with fresh meats and produce from the greenmarket left my freezer a tad bare. But there, in the middle of the freezer were two excellent (albeit lonely) rib-eyes from the meat market down the street. I'd bought the steaks with the intent of serving them seared and broiled, cooked about medium rare. They had, by this time however, lost their unctuous, ruby red gleam, but were still more than edible.
After mulling it over for a while I realized that I could for once, set my meat purism aside and actually infuse some flavor into this beef. In fact, tenderizing it with a marinade was probably the best thing for it. I figured while I was at it, I might as well use a few things that were dying a slow death in the fridge as well, so after finding a tomato, a head of iceberg lettuce and small homestyle flour tortillas, it was obvious that I should go for beef carnitas. Carnitas basically look like smaller versions of fajitas. They're usually filled with slow cooked pork and topped with a salsa fresca, but since I had this big rib-eye, I decided to marinate it, cook it medium rare, and then thinly slice it across the grain. That would keep it juicy and mimic the results you'd get from something like skirt steak, the cut most commonly used for fajitas.
I would normally have liked to top everything off with some avocado or tomatillo salsa and sour cream, but this meal was about making something good with what was around. So, I topped it with a red salsa that I found in the cupboard and called it a day. It turned out great, and the rib-eye made a great last minute substitution for a skirt steak. Here's the super simple recipe I came up with for the marinade:
Beef Carnitas/Fajita Marinade
Juice of 2-3 limes
zest of 1 lime
1 tsp hot sauce
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed or roughly chopped
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
Season the meat you'll be marinating with salt and pepper. Toss into a Ziploc bag with the rest of the ingredients, close tightly and rub to combine. Marinate 20 minutes to 2 hours.