Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carne Picada at H&H

The most famous of all the hole-in-the-wall restaurants in El Paso is H&H Carwash.   I, myself, have been talking about it since, oh, 1958.  Yes, since then!
Well, I was a toddler, and the reason was that I could mimic the KHEY radio announcer saying, "H&H Carwash, right across the street from the Tasty-Pastry Bakery!"  And for some reason my Dad thought that was real funny and clever of me.

Anyway, they serve a dish there called "Carne Picada."  Which means, basically, chopped up meat.  What it really means is that you will be served incredibly delicious diced beef, tomato, onion, and jalapeno that has been seasoned and seared perfectly on a very hot griddle.  It will be served either as a burrito with a dollop of guacamole (the diet version) or as The Plate, which is with refried beans and rice and grill-warmed flour tortillas.
Both Kenny Haddad and his cook told me how to make it, and I can present a pretty good approximation;  but for some reason, the plate that you are served in H&H is, ... well, just more perfectly Carne Picada.  There is some special magic in the old gas stove or the hands of the hard-working woman who stands over it all day that makes it wonderful.  
So, even though this will not be exactly the same, here's the recipe:
1. Mix granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and a Mexican tomato/chicken broth powder called Consomate in more or less equal amounts.  This is the seasoning that will get sprinkled over the beef and vegetables as they are searing, and it's key to the flavor of the dish.   They go pretty heavy on the black pepper at H&H, but I will use a little less.

2.  Dice up some Tri-tip.  This is a cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin that is flavorful and tender and is what they use.  Dice it into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.  This is supposed to cook fast!

3.  Chop some tomato, white onion, and jalapeno.  Chop the jalapeno really fine, but the tomato and onion small to medium dice.  I prepare equal amounts of tomato and onion, less of the chile, for obvious reasons.

4.  Get ready to cook.   You need to prepare this in small portions because the griddle needs to stay hot, so maybe enough for 2 servings at a time.  If in doubt, do one at a time.  I'd use about a heaping tablespoonful of each vegetable with each portion of meat. Crank up your griddle or pan until it's screaming hot, and add just a little oil.  Peanut is good for hot frying.  I have found that I love using these iron pans to brown meat.  They get hotter faster than the cast iron,  are easier to move around, and are exceptional browners.

5.  Put the meat in first and leave it alone!  Let it sear for a few minutes on the pan.  Then stir to turn it over and add the veggies.  Sprinkle liberally with the seasoning mixture.  Get it good and brown and the onions "caramelized".  (I don't know why but I hate that word.)
6.  Serve it.  Be sure your tortillas are  warm and toasted.  Add some guacamole.

Now, close your eyes.  Listen for the voices of the politicians, the students, the cops,  the school friends,  the compadres, the UTEP coaches and players,  the sons and daughters and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of the Arab fruit vendors and Jewish refugees, the TB sufferers, the ranchers and miners who were chased out of Mexico by Pancho Villa, the braceros, they are all here.  Hey! Your car is ready!  Ahh, ... yes, this is almost, but not quite,  perfect.


TexasTamale said...

Born and bred in the border town of El Paso Texas; having moved to east Texas 20 years ago, I cannot express how much I enjoy YOU and your blog!
To find this recipe from H&H Car Wash brought back so many memories! As a child I went with my Grandmother, later as a adult by myself!!! I worked at the El Paso Times and couldn't wait till Monday mornings to wash my car at H&H and EAT! The Huevos Rancheros I was addicted to, but had to have the Carne Picada when the person next to me at the counter had just been served the Carne Picada! It was all I could do to not ask for a bite! Thank you for blogging! ALL your recipes of El Paso and the valley are quite special to me! Therefore you are now too! Salud! "Tu eres mi amiga" :)

Jan said...

Wow, thank you so much for the kind words! I am delighted that I have helped someone find a way to relive memories and enjoy a little of our best regional food. I pretty much finished with this blog a few years ago, but it is gratifying that people still enjoy it. Thanks again!