Carnitas with pasta? Why not. Esdras Ochoa of Mexicali Taco & Co. put the two together so well that he won the top prize in Del Real Foods' Fight for Flavor competition.
The event pitted five Latino chefs against each other, vying to win $5,000. Each had to design a dish around products from Del Real Foods, a company that specializes in heat and serve Mexican foods. Ochoa chose carnitas (fried pork) and Del Real's salsa de molcajete roja, a fire-roasted tomato and chile salsa. The pasta was fettuccine.
The food at Mexicali Taco is casual, but for the contest, Ochoa went for a fine dining approach. The green swirl that garnishes the plate is avocado mousse--avocado, cilantro, olive oil, kosher salt and a squeeze of time whirred in the blender. The golden sauce behind it is a puree of sauce from the carnitas, a little of the pork and olive oil.
Pickled vegetables that Ochoa worked into the dish included carrots, jalapeños and the sprig of cauliflower propped against the pasta.
The contest took place on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and so Ochoa decorated the plate with marigold petals. The marigold (zempazuchitl) is the flower associated with the holiday.
Other chefs taking part were Aaron J. Perez of Vaka Burger, who made banh mi with carnitas; Natalie Curie of El Coraloense Seafood Restaurant in Bell Gardens, whose shredded chicken sope (above) was named "people's favorite;" Gina Galvan of Chomp Chomp Nation, who produced an Asian-flavored pork tostada, and David Moreno of Komodo Food, who dressed up ropa vieja with plantains and cheese.
Ochoa's recipe may sound complex but if pared down to the basics, it's easy and practical to make at home.
FETTUCCINE A LA MEXICANA
From Chef Esdras Ochoa of Mexicali Taco & Co.
1 (1-pound) package Del Real carnitas
2 (1-pound) containers Del Real salsa de molcajete roja
1 (1-pound) package fettuccine
3 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Crumbled queso fresco
Crushed dried chile de árbol
1 avocado, diced
Place the carnitas in a large saucepan. Add the salsa and simmer 5 to 10 minutes, until the meat is heated through and mixed evenly with the salsa. Keep warm over low heat until serving. Or prepare in advance and reheat.
Heat a large pan of water. Add the salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Bring to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions until firm-tender. Drain. Place the pasta in a large pan, add the remaining olive oil and stir to mix.
To serve, arrange the pasta on a large heated platter or divide among individual serving plates. Top with carnitas and salsa, then drizzle with crema. Sprinkle all over with queso fresco. Garnish with crushed dried chile de árbol, avocado and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over the top.
Makes 6 servings.
Disclosure: I was lucky enough to be one of the three judges.