For many newcomers to Skellefteå, one of the hardest challenges is coming to terms with new cuisine and finding the ingredients for our own country’s dishes. In this regular column, Jennifer Claywood aims to help all Norrland newbies find a taste of home. This month we explore Mexican-American food with Skellefteå resident, Jesse Grajeda, an American with Mexican roots. Photography by Donna Richmond.
Imagine it. You’re standing in front of your outdoor grill, tongs in hand. No, scratch that. We can do better. You’re standing outside at the height of the summer season. The sun is at your back and there’s a slight breeze exactly just cool enough. In front of you is the biggest outdoor grill anyone’s ever seen. You’ve got a cold beer in hand, steak on the rack, friends and family gathered round. And you’re wearing that apron. You know the one.
Fusion is the way!
Such a scene strikes me as quintessentially American; the “good old days” that never really existed. Like many Americans, I grew up idealizing my home country as the great “melting pot,” but never really felt part of one until moving to our northern Swedish town. Don’t get me wrong – America has its mix of cultures and traditions, but there’s a difference between a mix and a melt. Melting implies blending. Fusion. But instead of finding blurred edges between peoples, there is often rigid segregation. Today’s recipe, Carne Asada Fries, is a street food that could be considered a blending of Mexican and American favorites, and comes to us through Jesse Grajeda, an American with Mexican roots. The recipe originates from San Diego, about an eight hour drive from where Jesse was born in San Jose, California.
Heat is neat!
With a long growing season, gardening was a favorite pastime shared by his family and he started cooking at a young age. Using fresh garden produce, he was able to prepare a combination of simple American and Mexican dishes. In his early teens, he learned to barbecue over an open flame, an experience that took his desire to prepare food to the next level. He has always been fond of multiple flavors and heat in his dishes. When asked why he moved here, great Mexican and spicy foods were not on his list. But family, adventure, and the thirst to experience new things were.
Jesse, along with his wife Anna Enmark Grajeda, made the decision to start their family here in Skellefteå, a place that has “seasons, nature, fresh air, and peace.” And winter. Real winter. Jesse recalls seeing people swimming in the days leading up to Christmas when attending university in Southern California. It always seemed wrong to him. Little did he know that one day he’d meet people willing to jump into a “pool” carved out of ice in a river in northern Sweden. In February.
Since moving here, Jesse and Anna have welcomed two children into the world; Noel and Luna. Three languages are spoken at home: Swedish, English, and Spanish. Their home will be a fusion of cultures not just in language and traditions, but in food experiences. Lucky kids!
When preparing the jalapeños for this recipe, I suggest wearing gloves and protecting your eyes. I once got a jalapeño seed in my eye and it was an experience I never want to have again. Masochists may want to skip this advice. As to the citrus requirements, yes we all want to have the kind of time where we can squeeze fresh juice out of fruits, but if you don’t have the patience, no biggie. Just pour the stuff from a bottle. It will still be delicious! And if you only have one citrus juice available, just use the one, don’t worry about the others.
Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a glass bowl that will not react with the citrus juices. Add the beef, turning to coat. Cover and then marinade for one to six hours. While the beef is marinating, you can continue the recipe by preparing the pico de gallo or guacamole (if you choose not to buy store bought).
Pico de gallo:
Start with the hottest part: the jalapeño. The seeds are the main source of spice, so if you want the least amount of heat possible, be sure to scrape these out and discard them how you see fit.
To get the most out of your pico, you’ll want to chop the ingredients very fine. This will ensure a consistent flavor and texture for every bite.
Toss the chopped jalapeño with the lime (or lemon or both) juice, onion, cilantro, black pepper and salt. While that is marinating, prepare the tomatoes. Set the tomatoes aside and add them right before serving as this will ensure that they stay fresh. However, you are welcome to throw everything together ahead of time if that is easier.
Slice the avocados in half, discard the pit, and scoop out from the shell. This should be an easy process. If the avocado is not ripe enough, this step may be difficult. It is best to allow the avocados to ripen at room temperature in a paper bag.
Mash the avocado and then mix with the remaining ingredients.
You’ll want to cover the guacamole with plastic wrap, touching the plastic to the top of the guacamole itself to avoid discoloration before serving.
While the beef is marinating for 1-6 hours, prepare your pico de gallo and guacamole. If you’d prefer, you can use store bought and skip this step.
After the marination period, let your steak rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. Blot the meat dry, but not so dry that you remove all of the spice. Preheat a grill (if using) to medium-high heat.
Preheat the oven and bake the fries according to the package directions (usually 10-12 minutes per side).
The most authentic way to prepare the steak is to cook it over a grill for about 5-6 minutes each side for medium rare, or longer for your preferred doneness. I don’t recommend cooking this cut of beef to medium well or well done, but if you must, ensure that you cut the steak into bite-sized pieces after grilling.
If your grill is covered in snow, or you just want to keep things in the kitchen, you are welcome to brown and cook your steak in cooking oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it is the desired color. To keep the steak juicy, it is suggested that you fry the steak whole and rest at room temperature for 10 minutes before slicing it. However, you are welcome to cut up your meat before cooking and sauté until done.
Remove fries from the oven and top with cheese, then bake for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Top the cheesy fries with steak, pico de gallo, guacamole, and creme fraiche and/or sour cream.
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