Alex Stupak is pushing the limits of Mexican cuisine. His mission: treat tacos with respect and serve them in a fun environment. A former pastry chef who worked in top restaurants [WD-50, Alinea (chicago), and Clio (boston)], Stupak’s true love was Mexican cuisine. Starting with authentic Mexican flavors, ingredients, and techniques, he is known for introducing unexpected elements. The guacamole, for example, has a touch of sea urchin added for that “WOW, what was that?” factor. Imagine tacos with ingredients like beer-braised pork tongue and chorizo, or brussels sprouts, malted hummus and hazelnuts.
Of course, none of these creations would be what they are without some salsa. Empellon offers seven different salsas, so whatever mood you are in you will not be disappointed. Their smoked cashew and chipotle sauce is dubbed “crack sauce” and you might be tempted to eat it by the spoonful. So YES, if you are a lover of Mexican food: go to Empellon. But, if you just like to eat amazing food: go to Empellon!
To sample some of their best, don’t miss their monthly taco tastings, $55 for six tacos and complimentary Margarita. And on another night while also feeling gastronomically adventurous, head over to the East Village for some creative cocktails and amazing desserts at Empellon Cocina. In the meantime, enjoy this taco recipe from Alex Stupak. empellon.com
Crispy Smelt Tacos with Cabbage and Lime Mayonnaise
This is, hands down, my favorite taco on earth. As a New Englander, fried seafood is very close to my heart and anytime you take something crispy and wrap it in something soft and supple it becomes all the more appealing. There are all sorts of legends and lore surrounding the idea of the fish tempura taco but I find most of them hard to believe. Whether this is authentic or not becomes quickly irrelevant once you sink your teeth into one.
MAKES 8 TACOS
For the Lime Mayonnaise
1 CUP mayonnaise
1/4 CUP freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
1 tsp grated lime zest
In a bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk together. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator until needed. (Can be made up to a week in advance.)
For the Tempura Batter
3 CUPS all-purpose flour
1 1/2 CUPS rice flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 CUP beer, very cold
1 1/4 CUP vodka, very cold
In a bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Gently fold in the liquids and dispense into iSi Siphons, each charged with 2 CO2 cartridges.
For the Jalapeño Relish
1 CUP Sweet Pickled Jalapeños, seeded and de-veined
1/2 CUP Tomatillo Base
1/4 CUP reserved Sweet Pickling Liquid from the jalapeños
1 TB sugar
salt, to taste
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. In batches, transfer to a blender and purée to a coarse texture. Transfer to another bowl and stir with a spatula. Set aside.
Advance Preparation: This relish can be made up to a week in advance.
To make the tacos
2 CUPS vegetable oil, for frying
8 Maine smelts
all-purpose flour, for dredging
8 tortillas, warmed
1 CUP Lime Mayonnaise
1 CUP Jalapeño Relish (a mix of sweet pickled jalapeños and tomatillos)
2 CUPS shredded cabbage
1 CUP red radish slices
1/2 CUP minced onion
1/2 CUP cilantro leaves
In a 3-qt Dutch oven fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the vegetable oil to 350°F.
Clean the smelts: Start by cutting off the heads. With a paring knife, cut a slit up the belly and remove the innards. Rinse under cold water and pull the spine away from the flesh (this is optional, as the bones are very small and edible).
Dredge the smelts in the flour and coat in the tempura batter using the iSi Siphons. Carefully place into the hot oil and cook for 4-6 minutes, or until the smelts are cooked through and crispy. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and drain.
To assemble the tacos, lay the tortillas on a plate or, if serving family style, on a platter. On each tortilla, spread 2 tablespoons of Lime Mayonnaise followed by 2 tablespoons of Jalapeño Relish. Add 1/2 cup of shredded cabbage and top with the fried fish. Garnish the tacos with equal amounts red radish slices, minced onion and cilantro leaves.