Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales: Duck Tacos in Habanero Cream Sauce
Apparently I have a thing for Latin cuisine. First, I couldn’t stop singing the praises of Antojitos, then, last month, I reviewed (and loved) Gran Cocina Latina and The Latin Road Home, and now, I’m reviewing yet another Latin American cookbook – Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales, by Roberto Santibanez. And what’s not to love about Mexican food? It’s full of sweet veggies like corn and peppers and tomatoes, foods wrapped in bread, spicy tender meats, and no one is ashamed to smother anything with cheese.
I kind of love this little book: it’s cute, fun, and approachable. Of the three books mentioned above, it takes the narrowest focus, looking mainly at, well, tacos, tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches), and tamales, as interpreted by the “street-side kitchens of Mexico.” There are also a handful of recipes for salsas, drinks, and desserts, just to round out your meal. This book doesn’t delve too deeply into techniques or histories behind the foods presented, but the colorful photographs and evocative recipe notes still manage to bring the street-food culture to life.
The recipes are enticing and non-intimidating – most of the recipes would qualify as comfort food in my book. The taco chapter is my favorite, with recipes for Potato and Chorizo Tacos, Pork and Pineapple Tacos, the amazing Chipotle Duck Tacos shown here, and even some more exotic choices, like Cactus Tacos and Beef Tongue Tacos. I also can’t wait to try some of the yummy agua frescas and margaritas, and I made the Cajeta-Banana Bread Pudding last night to go with the tacos – it was incredible; keep your eye out for the recipe here later this week.
The tacos here are a mash-up of three different recipes in this book: first, you cook duck legs in orange juice and cinnamon until it’s falling off the bone, to make Duck Carnitas. Then, you cook the duck in a tomato-chipotle sauce to make Tomato-Chipotle Duck Stew. Finally, you roll the duck in fresh corn tortillas and smother them with Habanero Cream Sauce, then bake them enchilada-style. Having tasted the recipe at all three stages – carnitas, stew, and habanero-cream sauce covered – I can say with confidence that doing any of the three versions is well worth your time.
The bottom line: Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales is a cute little book focused on comforting Mexican recipes, street-cart style. The recipes are approachable, the photos are bright and colorful, and the stories behind the three styles of street food are engaging. If you’re already well-versed in Mexican cooking, it probably won’t offer much new knowledge or inspiration, but for a relative newbie it offers many new ideas, simple and accessible enough to add to your weeknight dinner rotation.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy of Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales, but all opinions are my own.
Duck Tacos in Habanero Cream Sauce
Recipe adapted slightly from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales. Makes 12 tacos, enough for 4-6 people.
Note: The habanero cream sauce recipe presented here is different from the original in that it doesn’t roast the tomato before adding. Since tomatoes aren’t in season now, I used canned tomatoes and still loved the sauce. If you make this in the summer, replace the canned tomatoes listed in the sauce recipe below with 1 medium, ripe, cored tomato, roasted at 500°F for 25 minutes (until blackened), then chopped and added to the sauce with the peppers.
For the duck filling:
- 4 1/2 lbs duck legs (6-8 small legs)
- 1 large or 2 medium white onions, peeled
- 1 medium head garlic
- 1 stick Mexican cinnamon
- 2 TBS kosher salt
- 1 medium orange, peel left on, quartered
- 2 TBS reserved duck fat
- 1/2 c. reserved duck cooking liquid, fat skimmed off
- 1 dried chipotle chili
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 c. canned, diced tomatoes
For the habanero cream sauce and tacos:
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 1 small fresh habanero chile
- 1 TBS reserved duck fat
- 1 small white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 c. canned, diced tomato
- 8 whole allspice berries
- 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
- salt, to taste
- 12 small corn tortillas
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Take one of the onions (or half of the large onion) and thinly slice. Remove one clove from the garlic, peel, and set aside. Slice the remaining head of garlic in half horizontally, peel left intact. Add the duck legs, skin side up, sliced onion, head of garlic, and cinnamon stick to a large dutch oven or oven safe-pot with lid. Sprinkle the duck with the 2 TBS salt and rub gently into the skin, then squeeze the orange quarters over the duck. Add the squeezed orange quarters to the pot, cover with lid, and place in the oven.
- Roast the duck for 2 1/2 hours, shuffling the legs around a bit after 1 1/2 hours. Remove the duck from the pot and let cool slightly. Remove the skin from the duck and discard, then use a fork or your hands to tear the duck meat off the bone into bite-sized pieces.
- Strain the liquid and duck fat out of the pot into a bowl. Discard the duck bones and cooked vegetables. Let the liquid sit for a few minutes to separate the fat from the juices. Finely chop the remaining onion (or half of the large onion), and the reserved 1 clove peeled garlic. Pour a small amount of very hot water over the dried chipotle in a small bowl, and let sit for 5 minutes to soften, then remove the stem and seeds from the chipotle and finely chop the pepper.
- Skim 2 TBS of duck fat from the top of the liquid and heat in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, garlic, chipotle pepper, bay leaf, and thyme, and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes longer, then add the duck and the 1/2 c. cooking liquid (with as little fat as possible). Simmer for 10 minutes, and taste for seasoning, adding salt as needed. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Make the sauce: Set the oven to broil, and place the two peppers on a baking sheet. Broil, watching closely and turning the peppers every minute or two, until the skin is blistered and blackened, about 5-7 minutes. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 20 minutes, then rub off/peel off the skin, cut out the stems and seeds, and roughly chop the roasted pepper flesh.
- Using gloves, remove the stem and seeds from the habanero. Place the pepper in a dry saute pan and toast over medium-low heat, turning frequently, until softened and beginning to blacken, about 8 minutes. Use tongs to remove to a cutting board and chop finely, wearing gloves if you’re touching the pepper directly.
- Heat the duck fat in the saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and allspice berries and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped red pepper, the habanero, and the chopped tomatoes to the pan and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add the heavy cream, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Carefully blend the sauce until fully smooth, then strain through a fine mesh strainer (to remove any large chunks or allspice berries).
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (if you’ve turned it off after roasting the duck). Divide the duck filling equally among the 12 tortillas, then roll up and place in a baking pan, seam-side down. Pour 2-3 cups of the habanero sauce over the tacos, and bake for 10 minutes. Serve warm.