Taco Tuesday: Tacos al vapor at El Caney
Tacos al vapor are more or less anti-tacos, cooked over steam rather than crisped on the dry heat of a griddle; generally filled with substances that acquire their flavor through long, slow cooking rather than quick exposure to fire. The corn tortillas of proper tacos al vapor become essentially gelatinized in the process –- they are slippery things. The ideal meat for tacos al vapor is probably cabeza, cow's head steamed until the gristly bits turn soft and luscious, and until a strong, strong beef flavor develops.
El Caney is an El Monte butcher shop famous in the community for the quality of the carne asada meat it prepares for the grill. On mornings during barbecue season, the place is crowded with men lining up for bags of marinated flap meat, which will be perfuming huge swathes of Montebello and Pico Rivera by the end of the day. A little taqueria to the side of the meat counter will sell you tacos made from the store's carne asada, although not cooked over the fire that great carne asada demands.
But on weekends, El Caney also serves very decent tacos al vapor, stuffed with huge amounts of barbacoa and cabeza and finished over a perforated steam griddle. The tacos are slippery, slimy and primal; there is no doubt that you are wrestling with hot, wet animal. Grab a bottle of Peñafiel from a cooler, pay at the store's cash register, and either take the tacos to go or sit at one of the tables plopped down in the middle of the store.
El Caney, 9869 Garvey Ave., El Monte, (626) 401-2020.
-- Jonathan Gold
Photo credit: Jonathan Gold / Los Angeles Times