If you're a foodie, you love a well stocked supermarket, and I could spend the whole day just browsing around the large and boldly colorful, sparkling clean Mexican Mercado (supermarket) in my California town. For those who are accustomed to the typical American grocery, the Tortilleria (the tortilla factory), the Taqueria (the food court) and Panaderia (the bakery) are a terrific bonus, but the Carnicería (the meat dept) where meat does not come in plastic trays, is my first stop.
With so much to see, it can be somewhat confusing to a gringa like me. The courteous and helpful Mexican Carnicero (butcher) offers a huge selection of every sort of fresh USDA meat imaginable, all displayed in a gleaming meat case that must be a hundred feet in length. The customers cue up to select from a dizzying variety of cuts that will be wrapped up in butcher's paper for you. Even the cuts of meat may look unfamiliar because it is usually cut along the muscle groups, so there is less bone included... more bang for the buck! American butchers cut cross several muscle groups and take a crosscut section of bones along with the meat, which of course adds to the overall cost we pay.The first thing you'll notice is that Mexican Carne De Res (beef) is generally cut very thin, and its only about 1/4 inch thick. While you may not see large roasts or thick, juicy American style steaks, you can certainly ask the Jefe de Carniceros (Chief Butcher) for any special cut you'd like or preorder in advance.
Mexican cuts are thinner for two reasons; first, like most other countries, meat is not consumed as a high percentage of the diet in Latin America. Secondly, the wonderfully complex flavors of Mexican cuisine make the most of thin cuts of meat to stretch the food budget with traditional recipes that add delicious combinations of robust ingredients and piquant seasonings.
Another thing that you will notice in the Carnicería is that the beef also looks leaner and less marbled than its fatty, corn fed American cousin, and the meat is not generally aged so its very bright red in color. The fat may have a yellow tint due to the vitamin A in grass from cattle that are raised on pasture rather than feedlots. Not only does the Carnicero do a painstaking job of removing most of the fat, but a leaner beef carcass is preferred... a plus if you're trying to eat healthier meals.
This makes Mexican beef an excellent choice for the pressure cooker where it benefits from moist heat cooking methods like braising, steam-roasting, poaching, or stewing. For this recipe, the cut of beef I bought at my local Mexican Mercado, was a Clod Steak. This is just one of the many different names for a Boneless Shoulder Steak, which can also be labeled as an English Steak, a London Broil, or Swiss Steak. It's a fairly cheap cut of beef from the chuck, that's the shoulder section of the steer between the ribs and the front chest (brisket). Because the big muscle groups in the chuck are heavily exercised and contain a lot of connective tissue, they are naturally very flavorful, but less marbled and tend toward toughness… perfect for the pressure cooker.
The pressure cooker, with its thick base does a very good job in caramelization, an important cooking trick that not only adds color, but also flavor, to many foods. Caramelizing onions is just cooking them for 10 to 20 minutes to get a nice caramel brown color which develops a rich, sweet flavor as the natural sugars within the onion begin turning to caramel. It's important to have all the onion pieces roughly the same size and shape so they cook evenly otherwise the smaller pieces will start to burn before the larger pieces can caramelize.
The onions will lose as much as two-thirds of their volume as the water within them evaporates. Stir them often as they begin to brown, and watch closely as they'll quickly go from light tan, to golden. The deeper the color; the richer the flavor, and with care, you can get a deep mahogany brown, but the danger of burning is high, so I'm happy with the golden brown.
Lightly brown the strips of beef in hot oil and then toss in the green stuff. If you are shopping at the local mercado, buy a mild Mexican chile pepper to add a zesty piquant flavor without too much heat, and you'll also need some peppery cilantro leaves add to the unique Mexican taste. Add other hot peppers if they appeal to your taste buds, or just stick with an assortment of colorful bell peppers if you're more timid.
The peppers will loose a lot of water during cooking, but that ads to the flavor of the au jus dipping sauce. When you remove the lid, divide the meat mixture between the sandwich rolls and top with a slice of Jack cheese while its still hot.
Taste the dipping sauce and adjust the flavors to your taste. I added more salt and a big splash of Mexican style jalapeno hot sauce before spooning it into small ramekins on each serving plate.
The finished sandwich.
While almost everyone hides their pressure cookers in the back of the cupboard during the summer months, I hope this recipe will tempt you to make use of it all year long. I'll be adding more time saving, beat-the-heat recipes that will get you out of the kitchen and explore more for uses for today's modern pressure cookers, so check back soon.
Mexican Steak Sandwiches
This recipe is a bump up from the popular French Dip Sandwich with a little more zesty flavor that comes from the addition of Mexican ingredients. I chose a Clod Steak, but you can substitute any cut of boneless chuck and slice it into thin strips for this recipe. This will serve two, but you can easily increase the servings without changing the cooking time.
1 tablespoon veg oil
1/2 lb thin cut beef clod steak
1 onion, halved and sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1/2 mild Mexican (Anaheim, poblano, pasilla) chile pepper, seeded and sliced
1/3 cup minced cilantro leaves
Mexican hot sauce to taste
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules
1/2 cup flavoring liquid, beer, wine, coffee, stock, etc.
Salt and pepper to taste
2 slices Jack cheese
2 hoagie rolls, toasted
Heat the oil in the pressure cooker, brown the sauté the onions over medium high heat until they begin to caramelize and become soft and brown. Slice the meat into 1/2 strips of about 2-3 inches in length, and brown them in the pressure cooker. Add the green veggies, hot sauce, beef bouillon, salt and pepper, and the flavoring liquid of choice. Lock the lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 8 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid. Split and toast the rolls. Divide the steak and veggies between each roll and top with the Jack cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings in the au jus dipping broth, portion it into small ramekins and serve on the plate with the cut sandwich.
Cook's Notes: If using another cut of beef, either ask the butcher to slice it thinly, or partially freeze it at home and use a fillet knife to cut it into thin strips. To substitute thinly sliced, boneless pork = change the cooking time to 6 minutes. To use strips of chicken = change the cooking time to 4 minutes.
More spiciness... more hot peppers. I must have a cast iron palate because I expected more hot Mexican taste. Next time I'll omit the bland bell pepper and increase the chili peppers, maybe I'll add a hotter variety like a couple of jalapenos, or some crushed chipotle peppers (which are just dried jalapenos) to add more heat. What do you say... any chile pepper aficionados?