Most of what we do at Empellón is not Mexican cooking as most would recognize or accept it by intention. This may sound counter intuitive but as obsessive admirers of this system of cooking, we make the conscious and respectful decision to be inspired by something and accept the results rather than copy other cooks recipes and traditions.
Now to confuse things further, we occasionally contradict all this and simply make the genuine article. The prompt for this comes from the chefs working in the kitchens. It's usually one of two situations. The first is when a Chef who was not brought up with all of this, discovers an idea, and wants to have a go at making it. The second instance comes from a Chef who was born and raised in Mexico wants to prepare something dear to them as a point of pride.
Antonio Navette-Mora runs the kitchen at Al Pastor. He understood the idea/agenda of creating a non traditional bar snack menu but offered these tlacoyos as a counterpoint to everything else we had been planning.
Antonio makes tlacoyos here now. They are oblong patties of masa. Within the masa is a black bean paste. It is important that the beans have the same viscosity as the masa to pull this trick off. These ones are fried on our griddle and topped with a coarse, molcajete-ground salsa of guajillo chiles and tomatillos. The construct is adorned further with slices of ripe tomato, chopped lettuce and crema.
This is not interpretative. It also offers flavors and textures that are familiar to both insiders and outsiders. When you eat this it's impossible not to love it.
This is a mash note bar snack that replaces the typical cornmeal batter with our own Oaxacan corn masa. To create the appropriate condiment for this dog, we naturally looked to mustard as the starting point. We combined the mustard with another truly Mexican corn product, huitlacoche. There is much more huitlacoche awareness these days but just in case, huitlacoche is the result of spores having their way with corn.
Basically, the kernels mutate and turn into a black mushroom of sorts with a delicate silver patina. Here we took the huitlacoche and began to cook it in a very typical way, with plenty of garlic, serrano chile and epazote. From there, we puree it with mustard and just a touch of fish sauce. We serve this huitlacoche mustard on the side in a re-purposed yellow mustard bottle. As Americans, we expect yellow mustard to squeeze out of that dispenser. There is something special to me about the dark surprise.
The bartenders and chefs at Al Pastor work long days and because of this, they eat off of our menu often. As much as we all love the idea of eating nothing but tacos every day in theory, in actual practice it can be a bit brutal of your stomach after a while.
Because of this, when we recently updated our menu, we took the opportunity to add some actual vegetation to the menu.
This is a simple salad of green beans, pea tendrils and tomatoes from Eckerton Hill Farm. The green beans in this salad were inspired from a strange and personal eating habit of my own. Whenever I order Chinese take out, I always order this garlic green beans. You know the ones. They are blistered in hot oil and then doused in a brown, slurry thickened sauce with bits of garlic in it. I never eat them hot. I always save them as a 3 am second course, eaten cold in front of the fridge with the door open.
Here we took chopped garlic and burn it in olive oil. To this we added some pasilla mixe that has been hydrated in sherry vinegar as well as a drop of white soy sauce. The green beans are blanched and marinated in this long enough for them to be full of flavor and not all that green anymore.
When I opened Al Pastor, the original idea was to have a little taqueria that focused on producing one taco well. That idea expanded before we ever opened into a multi taco menu and then to the idea of a Mexican taqueria retrofitted into a typical East Village bar. We think tacos are the ultimate bar food but, we began to look beyond that and made our versions of American concepts such as nachos and hot wings. Recently, we have augmented our menu, embracing this mash-up mentality even more so. So we here we have a dish that exemplifies this.
Here we begin with a unique way of preparing carnitas where pork is simmered in a mixture of lard, orange juice and canned evaporated milk. The liquids emulsify as they simmer and then the mixture eventually breaks. The sweet reduced orange juice and milk solids cling to the meat and then it begins to fry and brown beautifully.
As an American, I consider ribs of any sort to be a compelling bar snack. So all we did here is adapt a technique that is typically applied to every part of the pig, and concentrate its power to one specific cut. Carnitas on the bone, ie. baby back rib carnitas. We recommend drowning them in salsa verde, which we always have on hand.