You can’t trust fusion food. After it became a culinary buzzword in the 80’s too many menus regarded it as permission to throw merde at the wall and see what stuck. Sometimes it would turn out brilliant and become a lasting icon – sesame encrusted tuna and California rolls for example. Mostly it was just sort of confused. And frequently it was an incomprehensible train wreck of flavors and techniques. Chefs around the world eyeball the word “fusion” with deep suspicion and not unreasonably.
Nonetheless, fusion is kind of making a comeback. Roy Choi did not just bring food trucks to American pop culture, he renewed the interest in fusion food with his Korean BBQ Tacos. The ever-shrinking world has gotten chefs interested in applying techniques from one culture with the ingredients of another. David Chang makes a very nice dashi substituting heavily smoked bacon in place of the thinly shaved dried bonito fish.
It can work, but don’t take it for granted.
But this dish is amazing. Cheeseburger Tacos. Cheese. Burger. Tacos. The best parts of the taco meet the best parts of a cheeseburger creating something that is intensely familiar and comforting while simultaneously being a mind-blowing culinary surprise. It comes from Alex Stupak of Lucky Peach, a magazine/ website I like to describe as “the print version of Mind of a Chef.” Cheeseburger Tacos are far too outre and suspiciously middlebrow for the likes of Bon Appetit but they are right at home in this “I just really dig food and ‘zines” publication.
I think this is my favorite food photo so far.
The salsa in this recipe is not optional. It has a lovely ketchupy zing that’s followed up by an addictive heat. It makes it simultaneously more burger-like and more taco-like.
Cheeseburger Tacos by Alex Stupak
Proc: Enough for a party of 6 Fighters
- Two Skillets
- Spice Grinder (optional)
- For the mandatory salsa
- 2 ripe plum tomatoes
- 10 dried guajillo chiles (also called cascavel)
- 1/2 tsp of Mexican oregano
- 1/8 tsp of cumin seeds
- 6 cloves of garlic, skins left on
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup of water
- 12 Tortillas
- For the filling
- 1 tsp lard or vegetable oil
- 1 lb of ground beef
- 1 lb of Chihuahua cheese, grated
- (Named for the region in Mexico. This is not made with dog milk. Muenster or Monterrey Jack are good substitutes).
- Kosher salt as needed
- For finishing
- 1 plum tomato, sliced
- 1 Avocado, sliced
- 1/2 white onion, diced
- chopped cilantro
- 2 limes, sliced into wedges
Salsa first! The salsa can be made ahead of time and kept for three days.
- Preheat the broiler and put the tomatoes on a baking sheet. Roast them under the broiler until the skin is blackened in spots, about 7 minutes. Turn and roast the other side until it’s a bit blackened. As soon as you can handle the tomatoes, peel the skins off them. Discard the skins and set the flayed tomatoes aside.
- Donning your nitrile gloves, tear the stems off the dried peppers. Tear them open and remove the seeds and ribs. It will be plenty hot without them.
- Heat an ungreased skillet to medium heat. Toast the oregano and cumin seeds until fragrant – less than 30 seconds. (If what you have is ground cumin or you don’t have a spice grinder then you can skip this step)
- Toast the dried peppers in the ungreased skillet until they smell delicious and slightly blackened in spots. If you see wisps of smoke, pull them from the pan – less than a minute. This step is not optional.
- Soak the toasted peppers in hot water for 30 minutes. You might have to use a plate to get them fully submerged. Discard the soak water afterwards.
- Toast the garlic in the ungreased skillet. Toast until it is a little bit squishy and blackened in spots – about 5 – 6 minutes. Between the peppers and the garlic your kitchen should be smelling amazing. Remove the skins as soon as they can be handled.
- In the blender add the flayed tomatoes, spices, peppers, garlic, salt, sugar, vinegar, and water. Blend until smooth. Strain the mixture through the sieve, pushing it through with the back of a spoon.
- Prepare the landing zone for the tortillas. Place a clean dish towel on a plate.
- Place tortilla in an ungreased skillet at medium heat. Heat it until there are toasty spots on the bottom (30-60 seconds) and flip. A fork is the easiest tool to use.
- After the second side is toasty, transfer the tortilla to one half of the towel and fold the towel over to keep the warm in. They will stay warm for quite a while.
- Fresh tortillas are best, but this method can rescue store-bought tortillas. Never microwave tortillas.
- Prep the tortillas and hold them warm.
- Prep the toppings (tomato, avocado, onion, cilantro, limes).
- Melt the lard or vegetable oil in a skillet. Salt and brown the beef (about 10 minutes). Add the grated cheese and stir until it is completely melted, about 3 minutes.
- Taco assembly: Use the back of a spoon to smear some mayonnaise on the tortilla. Add some of the filling, tomato, avocado, onion, and cilantro. Top with some salsa. Right before stuffing this into your face add a squeeze of lime juice.
ProTip: If you can’t find Mexican oregano, do NOT substitute Mediterranean oregano. They come from two completely separate families of plants. (Mexican oregano is a species of verbana, not origanum.) If you can’t find Mexican oregano at the grocery store then substitute majoram. Otherwise your salsa will taste very italian and you may end up with the bad kind of fusion.