Al Carbon Food Truck’s Prized Turkish Taco Recipe
Sydney’s food trucks are all the rage right now – which is impressive, since despite all the hoopla, only two of the 10 approved meals-on-wheelers have hit the road thus far. One of the next off the rank is Al Carbon, a Mexican taco specialist we recently covered for its Cinco de Mayo festivities.
What we love about Al Carbon is that it’s making some of the country’s best and (as far as we can tell) authentic tacos. Its secret weapon? The chef is Turkish. Yes, we know, that sounds like an odd benefit, but it makes sense once you chat to Attila Yilmaz, the former police office who has raised the barrio with his housemade tacos, meats and salsa.
Yilmez says Mexicans and Turks cook their meats in an amazingly similar way, slow-roasting them on spits over coal fires, which he says are the key to an authentic Mexican flavour. “Instead of heating the air around the meat, it’s actually the radiation from the charcoal that sears the meat, seals in the flavour and keeps it nice and juicy and tender,” he says “And the coals do impart the flavour into the meat as well; it’s a big part of it, especially in Mexico where they use mesquite.”
A mutual love of spit-roasted meats doesn’t necessarily make Yilmaz an expert; instead, it’s his overseas research that’s underwritten his street-food cred. Before launching Al Carbon, Yilmaz travelled throughout northern Mexico, tasting his way from Baha to Mexico City, Tijuana and Hermesillo to see what the real thing looked, tasted and smelled like.
The result is tacos that are light years from what we’ve previously been accustomed to in Australia. You won’t see any tasty cheese or minced meat, no pre-packaged tortilla (especially not a crunch one), no Tex Mex trimmings. “For me, the taco has always been so overcomplicated,” Yilmaz says. “I was just like why? Why sour cream? Why cheap grated cheese and lettuce? These are things that I never saw when I was in Mexico in the places I was taken to, and it’s such a shame; it’s such a great food.”
Instead you’ll be seeing marinated pork with charred pineapple; beef carne asada; and a lamb taco with throwbacks to his Turkish origins. In the spirit of The Melting Pot’s multicultural ethos, Yilmaz shares a recipe the latter – Tacos el Turko – which we recommend as a perfect replacement for any drunken visits to the local kebab shop. – story by Allie Meyer & Michael Shafran
Tacos el Turco
“You’ll notice that this recipe calls for wild oregano. That’s because the lamb in Turkey grazes on the wild oregano and thyme, imparting an amazing flavour into the meat, requiring little more than salt and lemon.
“Flour tortillas are best with this recipe. If you can make your own using beef lard, then all the better. Also, leave some fat on the lamb, as it retains moisture and adds flavour to the meat when grilling. It’s best to start marinating the meat the day before.” – Attila Yilmaz
1kg lamb shoulder or backstrap, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 3cm cubes
Squeeze of lime, diced white onion & chopped coriander, to serve
1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
4-6 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon hot Spanish paprika (pimentón)*
1 tablespoon chilli flakes
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, firmly packed
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup fresh mint, firmly packed
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) wild oregano*
Olive oil, to taste
1 onion, halved with skin on
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon hot Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)*
1 long red chilli (or more if you like it hotter)
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups Greek-style yoghurt
Squeeze of lime juice
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste
1) To make the marinade, place ingredients in a food processor and blend to form a rough paste, adding enough olive oil to give a manageable consistency. Place meat and marinade in a non-reactive container or plastic bag, and massage marinade into meat. Leave to marinate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Do not salt the meat, as it will draw out moisture.
2) One hour before cooking, remove the lamb from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature, then place onto skewers. Prepare the barbecue using natural charcoal, if possible. The skewered meat should be cooked about 6-7cm from the heat source. If using coals, they are ready when the flames die down and white ash covers them. At that distance, you are cooking with infrared heat, which sears the meat and seals in the juices. Any higher and you are using convection; the hot air tends to dry the meat out, and takes longer to cook.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a barbecue, you can heat a chargrill (griddle) pan over high heat until it is red hot. In small batches, sear the meat so it browns on all sides, but remains pink inside (it should still have some give when you poke it); overcook it and the meat will be tough. Remove meat from the pan, cover with foil and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes. Make sure the pan returns to full heat before placing more meat in pan; you don’t want to stew the meat.
3) To make the salsa roja, cook the tomatoes and onions on a chargrill over medium-high heat until skins blister and blacken. The more colour on the skins, the more charred flavour. Remove the onion skins, then pulse with the remaining ingredients in a food processor. Leave slightly chunky. Season with salt to taste.
4) For the garlic crema, combine all of the ingredients together at least 1 hour before serving. Season with salt to taste.
5) When the coals (or gas barbecue) are ready, season the lamb generously with sea salt and cook, turning the meat only when it is nicely browned and caramelised. Cook it about 5-7 minutes until medium-rare. It should still be slightly pink inside.
6) Allow meat to rest for 5 minutes, keeping warm, then slice against the grain. Meanwhile, heat flour tortillas on the barbecue. I like to char the tortillas slightly on one side, as is done in some regions of Mexico. Place the meat onto the tortillas. Less is more when it comes to tacos. Add a squeeze of lime, diced white onion, chopped coriander a small splash of salsa roja and a touch of garlic yoghurt.
* Wild oregano is available from good delis, sold on the stem and sometimes called rigani. It has an amazing taste and aroma. Substitute with standard oregano if unavailable. Pimentón is from Spanish delis, Herbie’s Spices or specialty food stores.