Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thai-Mexican Pork Taco Hybrid Experiments: Trial #1

While I was making my favorite Mexican chile pepper marinade/sauce for pork tacos, I had an epiphany culinary in nature. The piquant nature of the ancho and guajillo chiles reminded me of Thai chile peppers, and then it struck me how both cuisines use the same ingredients and have some similar taste profiles. I spent some time thinking about what would a Thai-Mexican pork taco taste like? It would definitely have heat from chiles, hints of spices, tang and sweet from citrus, and some savory-salty from a sea source. I decided I would make two different sauces for marinades. One would be Mexican chile based, the other Thai chile based.

Thai Chile Based Meat

When I was learning about making a good, homemade tom kha gai, I also learned about nam prik pao. During our last excursion to stock up on Asian foods, I bought a bottle of nam prik pao for future recipes. It's interesting stuff, and I like it. It's a nice blend of heat, salty, and sweet. I thought it would be the perfect base for my Thai-Mexican pork taco hybrid.

Here's what I used for the sauce for one pound of meat:
¼ cup nam prik pao
¼ lime juice
4 Tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons freshly ground spice blend*
½ orange juice
1 cup chicken broth
>>Add enough water to cover the meat if this volume of liquid does not<<

Mexican Chile Based Meat

I've always used dried Mexican chiles for my sauces. The drying process concentrates flavors as well as develops them, much like wine taking on hints of various flavors. My rationale that what is missing from a Mexican-based sauce that is present in a Thai-based sauce is the savory/salty/sea flavor. Therefore, I added both oyster sauce and fish sauce. In reflection, I think the oyster sauce was not necessary, making the final product taste more Chinese.

Here's what I used for the sauce for one pound of meat:
⅓ cup of ancho/guajillo sauce**
⅓ oyster sauce
¼ fish sauce
¼ lime juice
¼ orange juice
2 teaspoons spice blend*
1 cup chicken broth
>>Add enough water to cover the meat if this volume of liquid does not<<

** Ancho/guajillo sauce: 4 ancho & 4 guajillo chiles lightly toast on a hot skillet before being steeped them in water that is just below the boiling point. Remove from heat before adding chiles. Steep until chiles become very soft. Blend them with a little of the steeped chile water, then strain to remove seeds and pulpy bits. Will make much more than required, but good for other uses.

* Spice blend: Using whole all spice, star anise, cumin seeds, and cloves in portions you prefer, grind up into a powder.

Taste-Testing the Meats

Though both sauces initially started out tasting very "hot" from their respective chiles, in the cooking process both became very mild. I was a bit disappointed about the loss of heat, so I will figure out where it went for future experiments.

My impression was that the Mexican version had a much tangier citrus taste followed by a deeper savory/salty/sea flavor. The Thai version was a nice balance of heat, tang, and salt, with a very subtle hint of sweet. Out of the two, both Pooky and I preferred the Thai based version. The Thai version struck me as being more Thai than a blend of Thai-Mexican in flavor. I may have to tweak my spice blend and add Mexican oregano, which I did not in this first round of experiments.

Both version were very tasty, and successfully included a savory/salty/sea dimension to the meat that is not present in a purely Mexican version. Both lacked the heat of their respective chiles, so I will explore what caused them to lessen in intensity. I was very pleased with my initial results and will continue to tweak until I find the balance of flavors.

1 comment:

Wynette W said...

I love this post and the fact that you are a "food experimenter"! My two all-time favorite foods are Thai and Mexican... I wonder what it would have tasted like if you had mixed the two together after they were done? I really thought that was where you were going with this. Loved the blog!