'The Chef' is more than a mythical figment of my imagination. While becoming a regular at 'The Chef's Corner' in Naperville, we became good friends. The friendship started on our love for the game of basketball spilling over to ethnic culinary arts. We stay in touch by having him pass on the recipes that I became accustomed to eating while visiting his restaurant.
My apologies to those that want a conclusion to the Drazen Petrovic story (bitterac , but that is going to have to wait again. Chef surprised me with a curveball this week and sent over how to make Crab tacos. This was never available at his restaurant which explains why this blog post will not have a regular 'Chef' story. Since I am the only white guy surrounded by Hispanics, he wanted to send over something to 'woo' the family with. He always have respected Hispanics and their culture telling me stories how the best cooks in all the major restaurants are Hispanics regardless of cuisine.
Chef's Crab Tacos
- Lump crab meat, one can (no this isn't warm in a can, you will find this near the seafood counter)
- Mayo (I am not a fan of mayo, so try to buy something quality)
- Sriracha sauce
- Corn Tortillas (smaller the better)
- Avocados (three to four)
- Jalapeno peppers (three or just one if you use Serrano peppers. )
- Serrano peppers (two peppers, I use this in the salsa as a change of pace)
- Limes (two to three limes)
- Garlic (three to four cloves)
- Onion (one small red onion)
- Tomatoes (four roma tomatoes)
- Shredded cabbage (not a big deal if you don't have it)
That is quite an extensive list of ingredients but don't be dissuaded the process is actually very easy with no cook time. So essentially after food prep you will be eating in ten minutes.
Let's make the salsa first. Chef says to serve this on the side of the tacos so I suppose that you need a bag of chips as well. The salsa actually tastes great on the tacos but the Chef really does not like the color red with this taco and scolded me accordingly.
Take the roma tomatoes and grill them. Chef specifically says to 'CHAR them'. Obviously that means until they are black. Instead of the grill, I took a skillet or pan lined with tin foil and charred the tomatoes until they were blackened. The tin foil was used to aid with the cleanup.
While charring the tomatoes, grab your garlic and remove the skin. No need to chop up the garlic since we are blending this. You could also leave the skin on the garlic and char the garlic similar to the tomatoes. Just be careful to not burn the insides of the garlic.
The tomatoes are still cooking so chop up your onion. Not being a chef, you want the onion sliced bigger than just diced. Does that make sense? When done prepping, leave the onion to the side.
Take your Jalapeno (one) or Serrano (two) peppers, cut off the stems and chop up the peppers then drop them into your blender.
Chop up a handful of cilantro then toss that in the blender. At this point you have your peppers, cilantro and garlic in the blender. The tomatoes are done grilling now so toss those in the blender as well. Chef said to add in a cup of water, so just measure a cup and pour in a half a cup into the blender with some salt and pepper;. Start blending, but keep an eye on the consistency of the salsa. Nobody wants runny salsa and add more water if needed. You might not need that remaining cup of water. Lastly taste the salsa and add more salt/pepper.
Dump the mixture into a bowl and then add the onion. I'm not a fan of blending up the onion but that is up to you. Taste the salsa one last time and add more salt if needed. Cover the bowl and set to the side.
Take your guacamoles avocados, I assume you know how to prep these and dump them into a different empty bowl. Stem and chop a Jalapeno pepper, then add to the bowl with the avocados. Take your one to two limes and juice them into the bowl along with a handful of chopped cilantro. Start mashing the mixture adding salt as you go. Quite a different type of guacamole, but cover this as well and set to the side.
Time to make the sauce for the crab, but we are not going to use all of the sauce we use so grab a small bowl that can be sealed for later. Inside that bowl, put in a cup of mayo. Yeah I know that sounds disgusting but we are not using all of it at once. With the cup of mayo, add in some Srirachi sauce with sugar. Depending on how spicy you want the sauce to be but the color should start to turn orange-ish color. Keep in mind that you are listening to a partially color blind person so have fun with that. Take a break to sample the sauce and grab another bowl for the crab. Start with one spoonful of your newly made sauce and fold the sauce into the crab attempting to not break up the crab during the process. Chef explained this to me saying that the crab is not to be dry but not runny either. Looking at the photos below, I made my crab a bit on the runny side. It depends on the crab but you could just use one to two spoons of sauce with your mixture. Whatever you decide to not use, seal the container and save the sauce for sandwiches for the rest of the week.
Wrap your corn tortillas (because only white people eat flour tortillas) in paper towels and wrap them again in a slightly wet paper towel then place into a microwave for 30-45 seconds. Even better if you have some clean hand towels but I assume paper towels is more accessible. For my tacos, I use two tortillas so when grabbing them from the package, I separate them in packs of two to 'break them' apart before reheating. Bayless has a tortilla reheating process in his books that involve wrapping tortillas in saran wrap and towels but whatever I sorta hate putting plastic in microwaves.
Wait until all the bowls are lined up with spoons available for serving, crab mix first followed with guacamole and finished with salsa. Depending on the heat, these tortillas cool down in a hurry. The point of this recipe is the heat of the tortilla with the cold of the crab/guacamole. Chef doesn't like putting the salsa on top of the taco……as you can see from my pictures, I broke that rule.
Lastly, don't forget to add the shredded cabbage on top.
There are few things that I have made that tasted like it came from a restaurant. Most of what comes out of my kitchen tastes homemade, obviously because my skillset is not from a proper culinary background. But these tacos? Words cannot describe how amazing they taste. The pictures look good and the output is on par with those gourmet taco food trucks. It is worrying to me though the tricks that restaurants play to make good tasting food. Mixing mayo with sugar scares me but at least I can control it. I guarantee that the cooks in the restaurant use condiments in excess to cover up slightly older meat or seafood. Old seafood with a cup of mayo, that really is an eye opener and makes me want to stay in and cook more often.
Before ending on a negative note, this procedure here looks lengthy but is produces a meal in less than thirty minutes. Similar to making a salad, food prep and eat so this is perfect for those nights where time is in short supply.
Vedad Vrselj calls Travnik home despite being forced out during the Bosnian War. His former restaurant in Naperville remains one of the most respected and highly reviewed eateries in the area winning awards for best burger and infuriated competition with better ingredients for less money (His yelp reviews). His cult following continues with catering to the Chicagoland area and stays in touch with his Facebook page.