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~ The Spice is Right: Baja & Carnitas Blends/Rubs ~

IMG_4951Most Americans love the fiery flavors of our American Southwest.  That said, too many American cooks rely upon store-bought spice blends in an attempt to duplicate authentic flavor and don't realize:  Mexican food is Mexican food.  It can't be bought.  It varies from region to region and cook to cook, and, the blending of the spices is at the discretion of each cook in each region. Because of this, when naming my blends, I am careful to add "-style" at the end, because, while they are "in the style" of a specific flavor profile, they are, after all, concocted to my liking. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d08e01c4970cA bit about me and spice blends:  Because I cook a wide-range of multi-cultural and ethnic fare often enough throughout the year to merit their purchase, my larger-than-average spice rack is full of worldly flavors. That said, because spices have a relatively short shelf life (and herbs have an even shorter one), I purchase very few in bulk, and, I almost never buy pre-mixed spice blends or rubs.  Why?  Aside from a few classic culinary institutions, like Old Bay Seafood Seasoning, Bell's Poultry Seasoning and Chef Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Steak Magic, pre-mixed spice blends vary in flavor, from manufacturer to manufacturer, WAY too much to suit my taste, and, if they don't sell enough of any one, they pull it from the marketplace -- never to be found again.  I hate it when that happens.  There's more.  In almost all cultures, very few cooks use store-bought spice blends -- they make their own concoctions to their liking.  It's only us Americans who've gone ga-ga for standardization. For taste, consistency and sanity, I make my own blends and rubs.

IMG_8163 IMG_9151 IMG_8305To get my recipes for ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita & Taco Seasoning ~, and, to learn ~ The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: ~ just click the Related Article links below.

Mel's Baja-Style Spice Blend for Tacos & Quesadillas:

IMG_4517The spice blend I make for Baja-style fish tacos and chicken quesadillas is resemblant of the spices used in Southern California, more specifically San Diego. Because of the abundance of fish in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean around the Baja, Mexico region, it was the inhabitants of the region who invented fresh, catch-of-the-day Baja fish tacos.  That said, a US college student named Ralph Rubio, who was visiting San Felipe on Spring break back in 1974, fell IMG_4691in love with a particular fish taco made by a vendor named Carlos. Rubio asked Carlos to open a taco stand in San Diego, but he declined because he didn't want to leave Mexico.  Carlos did give Rubio a list of ingredients, which resulted in Rubio opening a stand in San Diego in 1983.  I love fish tacos and I love chicken quesadillas too.  

Right after I came up with my Baja-style spice blend, it was a "no-brainer" to transition Baja-style and spice from one recipe to the other.

You can find my recipes for, ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Cod-Fish Tacos ~ , and, ~ Cheesy Baja-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Quesadillas ~ in Categories 1, 2, 3, 13, 14, 17 or 19.

IMG_4581For Mel's Baja Spice Blend:

4  tablespoons Mexican-style chili powder

1  tablespoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons ground coriander

1 1/2  teaspoons Mexican-style oregano (optional)*

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste

* Note:  Mexican-style oregano is not usually added to Baja spice, but, I like it, so I put some in.

 ~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together all of the spices, and, if you have one on hand, transferring the mixture to an empty shaker-type spice container, to store it, is really convenient.

IMG_4588Pushing Baja-style a bit further =  Mel's Carnitas Spice Blend:

IMG_4873"Carnitas" is Mexican for "little meats", in Spanish "carne" means "meat" and "ita", added to the end of a word, implies "small".  This dish is simply small shreds of rich, juicy, pork, with crispy brown bits strewn in throughout.  It's made by braising (low and slow heat) a nicely-seasoned, inexpensive, 8-10 pound, cut of pork known as a "Boston butt", that has been cut into manageable thirds or quarters, in a pot of lard for several hours.  When the desired tenderness is reached, IMG_4854after 3-4 hours, the heat is turned up so the outside begins to crisp.  At this point, the collagen in the meat has broken down enough to allow the meat to be shredded and used as a filling in tacos, tamales and burritos.  The most famous version hails from Central Mexico.  It's flavored with an orange, onion and bay leaf, plus, aromatic dry spices like cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and Mexican oregano -- the dry spices are basically Baja-style with a couple more added to the mixture. 

You can find my recipe (which doesn't require 10 pounds of pork and a few pounds of lard), ~ Justified:  Carnitas w/o a Big Butt & a Vat of Lard ~, by clicking in Categories 3, 13, 17 or 19.

IMG_4739For Mel's Carnitas Spice Blend:

4  tablespoons Mexican-style chili powder

2  tablespoons Mexican-style oregano

1  tablespoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons ground coriander

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

Step 1.  Place ingredients in a bowl and stir together.  If you have an empty spice jar, transfer mixture to it (it makes seasoning the carnitas much easier).  Tip:  Save those empty spice jars!


The Spice is Right:  Baja & Carnitas Blends/Rubs:  Recipe yields 7 tablespoons Baja Spice Blend, and, 9 tablespoons Carnitas Spice Blend 

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoons; small bowl(s); small spoon; shaker-type spice jar(s) (optional)

IMG_7377Cook's Note:  Poultry seasoning. Typically, these two words get used generically in the writing of lots of recipes, leading the reader to believe they are all basicially the same and can be used interchangeably.  In the world of spice blends, nothing could be further from the truth.  To learn all you need to know about poultry seasoning, and, get my recipe for how to make your own, click into Categories 8, 15, 16 or 18 and read: ~ So what exactly is in Poultry Seasoning?  Poultry? ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)


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