Taco Time

The Tacos Hennicano at Juan’s Flying Burrito: A Creole Taqueria (juansflyingburrito.com) literally inspired me to write a contemporary New Orleans cookbook (Fun, Funky & Fabulous, Pelican Publishing, 2015). Back in 2013 or so, my then teenage daughter and I wandered into Juan’s Mid City location and these tacos were on offer on the special board: Gulf shrimp and hunks of smoky tasso sautéed and finished with salsa fresca, shredded red and green cabbage, spears of pickled okra, a finishing drizzle of pepper jelly and a scattering of razor -thin slices of green scallions on a warm, griddled flour tortilla. These ridiculously disparate flavors really worked together, the colors made for a visual feast, and the whole thing tugged at something for each of us…jointly we realized this was a riff on the Shrimp Hennican appetizer at Commander’s Palace. Brilliant! Juan’s was, and still is, making luxury dining available to us members of the unwashed masses via a taco.

Many of the cooks in the kitchen at Juan’s four New Orleans restaurants joined the crew after stints on the lines at the city’s luxury eateries and they bring their ideas with them. This is one such example. It shows up from time to time as a special. This seems like just the thing for a Hecho en NOLA-style Cinco de Mayo.

  1. For a thrifty version, substitute 1 lb. of boneless skinless chicken, cut into ½-inch cubes, for the shrimp. Add the chicken and marinade to the pan and cook until opaque and lightly brown, about 7 minutes, before proceeding with the recipe.
  2. If you are cooking over gas, heat tortillas by dropping them, one at a time, atop the gas flame. Wait a few seconds, then use tongs to flip the tortilla. When it begins to puff, about 8 seconds, remove it from the flame and wrap in a clean dishcloth. 
  3. Though Juan’s does not serve these tacos with cheese, for some of us there is just something missing without it. Oaxaca, a mellow, earthy cheese is just the ticket. Cacique brand is a favorite.

Tacos Hennicano (Shrimp & Tasso Tacos with Pickled Okra & Pepper Jelly)

Inspired by Nate Kelly, Juan’s Flying Burrito: A Creole Taqueria

Makes 6 tacos

18 large Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoons olive oil

6 ounces tasso, diced small (I like the tasso from WayneJacob’s Smokehouse in LaPlace)

2 tablespoons salsa fresca (recipe follows) or use a store-bought fresh variety from the produce section

6 6-inch flour tortillas (I like Hola Nola brand)

1 cup finely shredded red and/or green cabbage

3 tablespoons pepper jelly, warmed

3 whole pickled okra pods,split lengthwise very thinly slices green scallions for garnish

1. Combine the shrimp, Creole seasoning, garlic and olive oil in a medium bowl. Allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes and up to overnight before cooking.

2. Preheat oven to 300ºF.

3. Heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat. Add the shrimp and tasso and sear, turning as necessary with tongs, until the shrimp have a nicely colored exterior and the fat begins to render from the tasso, about 6 minutes. Add the salsa fresca and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Set aside.

4. Warm the tortillas in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes.

5. To serve divide the shrimp and tasso evenly among the tortillas. Top each with cabbage, then drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon warm pepper jelly and an okra spear. Scatter a few sliced of green scallions atop. Serve.


Salsa Fresca 

This makes more than you will need for the recipe. Serve the remainder with tortillas chips or spoon it over grilled chicken or fish.

Makes about 5 cups

3 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably Creole, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice chili powder to taste 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro and sea salt to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a large glass bowl. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

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