Mercadito San Juan – In Search of a Grocery Store with Meat v2.0

A local grocery store with a real butcher is still eluding me, even after a week and a half. Mercadito was next on my list and yesterday was the time. It’s in the wrong direction, but I don’t have many choices left. I’ve been to this place before and only semi-recently have they opened up a meat counter. I was apprehensive and yet totally willing to let this be the place. In fact, I really wanted this to be the place. I’ve been feeling a little lost over the last 4 days and in need of some healing.
On today’s grocery list are house marinated chicken pieces, fresh tortillas, cheese, limes and any veggies I think the kids might eat. This would be broccoli, sigh. Man, I’m so damned tired of the brocc.
Wanna know how the best damned Thursday meal went?

I lucked out and found a place right out in front, 8 feet from the front door. Grabbed no cart and no basket, I went straight to the back and walked up and down in front of the meat cooler. Shrimp, tripe, ox tail, fishy fillets, pork portions and a few feet worth of trays holding marinated chicken and flank steak. I figured I’d go easy and start with the chicken.
The guy behind the counter smiled when our eyes met. His dark glossy hair, thick and well groomed was tousled. His skin a dark reddish brown and a chest the size of a bull gave me confidence in his butchery skill set. He was shy with his use of English, I pointed to what I wanted and put up 2 fingers and we figured out what I needed. I know about 4 words in Spanish and apparently he knows even less in English. You could tell he was proud of his trade as he spun my chicken portions in to the bag and tied off the opening. He wrote the price on a little sticker and handed me my dinner. The deal was done and we were both satisfied with a great exchange.

Whoa, hey. What’s this? It was sitting on the meat counter and almost missed it. It’s house made Jalapenos y Serrano Escabeche. I had to have it, had to. Kind Mr. Butcher Man wrapped and priced it for me. Nice Mr. Butcher Man, he does care.
It was time I went and grabbed me a basket, I needed a few more things. Found me some nice dark green limes, El Salvadorean white cheese and at the register, warm tortillas. These were about 5 to 6 inches across and quite thick at 1/4″. Something you can get your teeth in to for a blast of corny flavors.
Once home I used babel fish to figure out the name on the chicken I bought, Para Asar. Der, it’s for roasting. Hey, I can do that. As everyone knows, I’m a huge fan of roasting my meats on a trivet, something to get the meat off the bottom so the heat can circulate. But doing this with onions on board will create a pan quite a bit hotter and most likely vaporize the poor things. So I decided to let the jumble to sit directly on the bottom of a cast iron skillet. This is good too because caramelization will occur both on the meat and onions. MMMm, caramel.
Preheat oven to 350.

But first, LARD. Heat skillet and put in a scraping of good lard. Not the grocery store Armor type manteca. Get it smoking and install ONLY the chicken. Brown chicken, then install marinated onions and put in to the oven on bottom rack. Pull when done, maybe 30 to 40 minutes.

The smell in the house was that of roasting chicken and fresh, pungeant chile. Good thing warming the tortillas only take a few minutes, I was dying to try it all. Slice limes, grate cheese, dice ‘maters, slice scallions and two pieces of said chicken? A plate full of heaven on earth. How did the chicken taste? It was outstanding. The marinade was quite simple, this is truly a chile pepper marinade. No herbs or other crazy things to get in the way. It was pure, simple and not so hot you’d lose your eyeball. Plus it’s only 2.50 a pound, totally doable for a weekday meal. The Jalapenos y Serrano Escabeche was so hot you’d lose an eyeball. My scalp was sweating, a good sweat though. This batch was fresh and well done. I tasted a hint of clove in there too, worth every bit of 2 dollars. Mercadito San Juan was the breath of fresh air that I sorely needed ever since Rick’s Quality Meats closed its doors. While I don’t believe this will be an every day grocery for me, it’ll most certainly fill a gap in my daily adventures.

Mercadito San Juan
12899 San Pablo Avenue
Richmond California

28 thoughts on “Mercadito San Juan – In Search of a Grocery Store with Meat v2.0

  1. Hey,
    A pound could last a week? But does it? Really?
    I suppose if you only had it once or twice you could stretch it, between 1 tiny person, maybe.

  2. The ‘Jalepanos y Serrano Esacabeche’,”R.Crumb..ish” losing an eyeball! Sounds Good!!!

  3. O.K.–I’ve been up for an hour, done the morning 3 S’s, and fired up the old idiot box. What awaits me? My buddy Biggles with another beautiful picture of some yummy looking food. Dude, this ain’t fair. Where’s mine? I know that sounds a little selfish but, well, IT IS! Just the peppers swimming around with the little veggies Biggs. That’s all I’m asking. Throw me a frickin bone. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to dig into the leftover tri-tip that I Q’d up for din-din last night. The good folks over at Redmond Lockers and Custom Meats were kind enough to marinate if for a week or so in some darn good honey-bourbon concoction. Most of all though, congratulations. I’m glad you’ve found a little stop-gap in the Mercadito. P.S.—-If the folks at MSJ have cheese from El Salvador, you might see if they have any knowledge about any Salvadorean restaurants. Please, please, go have some Pupusas and Curtido for me. I used to live in El Salvador when I was a pup, and these things are to die for. Can’t find ’em in sunny Central Oregon though. I know you gots ’em down there. Best and Out, Chandler

  4. Hey Chandler,
    Are you sitting down? This area is filthy with Salvadorean restaurants. And whether they are or not will usually have pupusas. May have to go an extra block for the curtido. HOOYAH.

  5. Hey Greg,
    Uh, back in the day? I fried taters in it last night for dinner. Salt to start and oregano, scallions and pepper to finish. Deeelightful.

  6. Senor Biggles: If they have pupusas, they have curtido. It’s a cabbage side dish that’s served with the pupusas. Sort of a Salvo Slaw, if you will. Ay Dios Mio. B.C.

  7. Hey Chandler,
    Yeah, you’d think so wouldn’t you. The El Salvadorean place around the corner is an odd one. They don’t have the curtido at all. Some do and some don’t. Mebbe I should ask and find out what the scoop is.
    La Bamba, just down the street has some GREAT curtido. You get tons to go and it’s so fresh and crisp.

  8. i’m a huge fan, and we’ve chatted before about bolognese. but can i be honest?
    over the years, you’ve become quite a bit about prepared meats. other peoples’ stuffings, marinades, herbs, spices, etc.
    see that? OTHER peoples’.
    You clearly know meat. You clearly know what you like. You’re gonna run out of options if you limit yourself.
    My advice? Start gettin plain old good cuts of meat, and prep them the way you want to. Your own ideas, herbs, spices, etc.
    Then you won’t be relying on anyone else. And THEN you will be a master.

  9. Hey Tim,
    I’m hip and am already a master.
    When I started Meathenge I wanted to bring people to the table that didn’t necessarily know how to roast a good chicken, get something on the grill or do up a delectable beef tritip that would drop them to their knees. If you choose quality meat, watch the internal temperature and use a seasoning (homemade or something handy) that it’s easy and they can do it.
    If you’re someone that’s been at the grill for years or able to cook a holiday meal with your eyes closed you’re doing fine without me. You don’t need help, you’re doing fine on your own.
    While blogging can be a one sided spew, I’ve met many of the people who post and read here. I’m always warmed at the heart at what they have to say. Morton the Mousse and his wife bought a little grill to try out only because I inspired them. Tea from Tea and Cookies needed huge help with a hunk of beef. She grew up a vegetarian and needed guidance, she found it here. Now she walks with the strength that she can do it and do it well. Shuna, while a world class pastry chef, still needs help from time to time on the Meat Side. Meathenge cares.
    Also remember, Meathenge is about me. All about me. I do what I want. Me me me. Nyah.

  10. Let me set the record straight here. I in NO WAY intended to insult you, Biggles, or criticize the great work you’ve done here.
    In fact, I’ve read every post you’ve ever written here.
    Every. Single. Post.
    And I’ve learned from them all, immensely.
    If I came across like an arrogant dork, or a critical jerk (which I think I did), I did not intend to whatsoever. You and your postings have taught me an incredible amount and you, my good sir, are far more a master than I.
    Perhaps I was commenting from a position of having seen more FC postings in recent months that I was accustomed to. What I enjoy most (perhaps others disagree?) are your posts are step-by-step, homemade love, with photos in particular.
    Regardless, I apologize if I offended. I didn’t mean to convey that I thought I was a master.
    My honest intent? I see your obvious greatness and want you to push yourself, harder and harder, so that people like me can see what you do and continue getting inspired. Perhaps I didn’t phrase it well. For that, I apologize. You’ve given the entire community a HUGE service.
    And yes, I really HAVE read all of your posts. This response is entirely genuine and heartfelt — I feel badly that I may have come across poorly, and again, if I did, I apologize.
    At the same time, I need to address another comment here — one made with far less style and grace that your response:
    Wilbur, please take your profanity-prone, knee-jerk, trailer-park response and shove it. It’s a two-way street. If I wanna comment, I will. If you don’t like the comments here, read someone else’s. . .stuff.

  11. Hey big shooter, that’s too bad you’re so offended by the word shit. And as for knee-jerk, I’ll have you know my response was well thought out. Now the trailer park comment, that’s another story. Have you a problem with folks that might not have the means or desire to live in anything other than a manufactured home? Or are you going to have to apologize for that little remark too. Perhaps you’ll realize that it comes across as “poorly” and “offensive” as well.You know what you look like to me with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but your not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you Agent Timmy? And that accent that you’ve tried so desperately to shed. Pure West Virginia. What’s your father dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? You know how quickly the boys found you……all those tedious sticky fumlings in the back seats of cars…while you could only dream of getting out…getting anywhere…getting all the way to MEATHENGE. You fly back to school now little Timmy. Fly, fly, fly…fly, fly, fly.

  12. Dear Tim & Wilbur,
    Tim, aw you had to go poke a hornets nest didn’t you? You two knock it off or I’ll have to start removing your flame war here.
    Please stop.
    Tim, yeah man I understand. The first thing that comes to mind that since Meathenge is me, both of us are changing, clearly. While, as you surely know, I do run up a few recipes from time to time while taking pictures of each good step. But certainly not with the frequency I once did. This is due to the fact my home life has changed drastically over the last few years and I don’t have the time I once did.
    As far as the Fatted Calf posts go, there were at least a few good reasons for reposting their newsletter an junk. When FC hit the scene, it was so new, so fresh and I couldn’t reproduce what they did or do. And since I’m formally trained in nothing, I wanted to practice writing. They gave me the strength to continue on. That being said, I think the relavance is waning as well. We’ll see where that goes.
    Ya know, I think I know why I don’t post those huge recipes as often. They take an immense amount of time. Just the cooking alone usually takes no less than 4 hours. Add to that an hour or two of shopping and list making. Then another few hours or more of writing, image editing and editing the final piece … well you can see that’s more than 1 entire day and I only get 2 off per week. This gives me 1 day of rest before I go back to work. I need more than 1 day of rest at the ripe old age of 42.
    Wait until you see what’s going in to the smoker today!

  13. So sorry Bigs. I’m done on this end. Just trying to jerk the guy’s chain a little bit. All in good fun though. You shoulda said “Don’t make be pull this car over.”——Did you like the Silence of the Lambs bit? I thought if was fitting for a food blog. Hasta la vista, Baby.

  14. Hey Wilbur,
    No harm done and thanks for sticking up for me, eh.
    Just so everyone knows, there’s 3 pounds of country style pork ribs, a nice tritip and stuff waiting to go in the smoker. OH yes.

  15. That smoker today? I was there. It was AWESOME. Biggles is not just about meat love, he’s a total pro cooking it.
    My fingers still smell good.
    Aren’t we lucky to be able to read this blog? Yes. Whenever he feels like blogging.
    Let’s all be nice.
    Ha ha. Funny. πŸ™‚

  16. Hate to be a latecomer to the party, but Timmy, if Biggles were a good-looking woman like me, he’d have five shows on Food -talk-show financially backed by the big O.
    Biggles would be a vast improvement over the pretty boys (even the straight ones like Flay) on that network.
    Try out the next time they audition, dammit. Even out of your ken, you can rely on your people skills and BS, both of which you’ve honed razor-sharp in your 30’s and early 40’s. -:)
    Love the blog…I refer people here daily, especially Carolina peeps who think there’s only one way to do ‘cue (and argue about it endlessly).
    xoxoxo to the family

  17. Hey Nancy, yes, having followed Biggles for quite some time, it’s pretty clear he has the stuff to have his own show. I totally agree — Biggles, try out! It’s time! You’re due!
    Hey Wilbur, no, you didn’t pull my chain (I had no clue what you were talking about), and actually you just sorta proved my point. πŸ˜‰
    Keep up the great work, man!

  18. Hey Tim,
    There’s a guy in Berkeley who was putting together a local tv show about cooking or que or something. I haven’t met him yet, but may be making an appearance on there. Hooyah.