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Tacos, Knives, Sea Salt: Culinary 'Bests Of The Year' From Chef Kathy Gunst

Chef Kathy Gunst loves these kitchen knives from New West Knife Works. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Chef Kathy Gunst loves these kitchen knives from New West Knife Works. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst joins hosts Jeremy Hobson and Robin Young with some of her choices for “bests of the year” — best equipment, best spice and best bite.

Best Equipment

New West Knifeworks

Why do I love these knives? Let me count the ways.

First of all, they are gorgeous: The Technicolor fiberglass handles are simply stunning. Second (and more important) is the way these knives feel in your hand. Chopping, slicing, dicing — it all feels like a breeze. They’re not too heavy and not too light. Made of steel right here in the USA, they are the knives I turn to over and over again.

Best Spice

Maldon Sea Salt

Maldon Sea Salt is a “finishing salt” — the kind of salt you want to sprinkle onto food just before serving. It’s available in grocery stores and specialty food shops.

Hailing from the coastal town of Maldon in the county Essex, southeast England, Maldon Sea Salt has been made the same way since 1882. The pyramid-shaped crystals add texture to food as well as salinity and flavor. Sprinkle on grilled meats, fish, an avocado slice, eggs and more. This is my go-to salt for nearly everything.

Best Bite

El Parian tacos, from Loncheria El Parian in Detroit

The tacos at El Parian are juicy and bursting with flavor. I learned about these amazing tacos from Serena Maria Daniels, the creator of Tostada, an online magazine about food, culture and community in Detroit.

My Attempt To Re-Create El Parian Tacos

The meat for the El Parian tacos is cooked in a bubbling vat of braising liquid seasoned with onions and spices. Just before serving, the meat is removed from the liquid, finely chopped on a cutting board and then fried over high heat on a griddle to give it a crispy texture. Use braised pork, chicken or beef, or tofu braised in vegetable broth. Select fatty cuts of meat like beef short ribs, or pork butt or shoulder, not the tenderloin, or chicken thighs, not breasts.

You can quick-pickle the onions and radishes for about 45 minutes before making the tacos.

Serves 2 to 4.


  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded or chopped cooked pork, beef or chicken (see note above)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pickled nopales, thinly sliced (cactus leaves)
  • Pickled radishes
  • Pickled red onions
  • Cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped raw white onion
  • About 1/4 cup shredded or grated queso fresco (Mexican farmer’s crumbling cheese — if not available, use moist crumbled feta)


  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a griddle or cast-iron skillet. Add the meat and cook until it gets crispy around the edges (about 2 to 3 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. In a separate frying pan, heat the tortillas until warmed OR warm for 5 to 10 minutes, wrapped in a slightly moistened tea towel, in a 225-degree oven.
  2. Place 2 hot tortillas on a plate, layering one on top of the other. Add 1/4 of the hot meat. Top with the queso, pickled onions, pickled nopales (optional) pickled radishes, cilantro and diced raw onions.

Pickled Red Onions

Makes about 1 cup.


  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water


Place the onions in a jar or bowl and cover with the salt, sugar, garlic cilantro, vinegar and water and stir well. Let pickle at least 45 minutes or refrigerated overnight.

Pickled Radishes

Makes about 1 cup.


  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 red chile peppers, crumbled
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 6 peppercorns


In a glass jar or bowl, place the radishes, cilantro, sugar, salt, chile pepper, vinegar, water and peppercorns and stir well. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes or overnight.

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