build that taco, start with filling, then salsa, then
finishing toppings, such as the cilantro and slivered
almonds in our zucchini, chorizo and almond tacos.
age 25, I realized I loved tacos more than any other food. Iíd
like to believe that the innate glory of the taco revealed
itself to me, like some kind of divine tortilla-wrapped
vision, and that a couple of trips to Mexico broadened my
horizons. But who really knows.
years and a literal thousand nights of tacos later, Iíve
come up with some helpful tricks to improve your taco game
at home. Because all most people want is to eat better tacos
more often, right?
a strict definition: tacos equals tortilla + filling +
salsa. Any so-called taco missing one of these components is
are temporal. Donít sit around and idly chat while hot
tacos sit in front of you ready to be devoured. Eat them
taste better standing up. I donít know why.
let inflexible ideas of authenticity get in the way of
letís break this down:
are the soul of the taco. You canít have a great taco with
a terrible tortilla.
battle of sturdiness, flour tortillas beat corn tortillas
every time. Use flour tortillas for larger, messier tacos.
slight structural deficiency of corn tortillas pales in
comparison to the superior flavor and fragrance they lend to
each bite. I use corn tortillas 99 percent of the time.
tortillas are simple to make at home, but frustratingly hard
to master. Feel no shame in purchasing top-quality corn
tortillas for most of your taco needs. Buy them the same day
you plan to use them.
the main reasons I live in Chicago is the concentration of
quality tortilla factories. (I am only partly joking.)
corn tortillas until soft, supple and fragrant. Place
tortillas in a heavy skillet set over medium-high until you
notice steam wafting off. Flip and wait until you spot steam
again. At this point, the tortilla should be very soft. If
not, continue heating for a few more seconds. Wrap warmed
tortillas in a towel when done, and let them hang out for a
few minutes to further steam.
tortillas on top of the grate over an open flame of a gas
stove is also a great idea.
tortilla is usually enough. Some saucier taco fillings will
soak through one, thus requiring two, but there is nothing
automatically better about doubling up. If anything, two
tortillas make it harder to appreciate the filling.
your mind of what constitutes a taco filling.
tacos are a thing, and they are exceptional. If I can
advance one, ahem, opinion here, it is that vegetables make
incredible taco fillings.
vegetables for tacos: zucchini, mushrooms, kale, squash
blossoms, potatoes, Swiss chard, huitlacoche (a prized corn
fungus), refried black beans, poblanos, butternut squash and
griddled steak tacos, too, but you can braise beef shoulder
for barbacoa or cure round for cecina. Heck, you can eat
tongue, intestines, brains and all kinds of other fun parts
of the cow. And thatís just one kind of animal!
is the bacon of the taco world; it makes everything taste
better, but it needs a partner. A taco with only chorizo is
like a cake made entirely out of frosting.
fish tacos are almost always mushy. Fried fish tacos are
great but messy to make on a weeknight. Donít forget about
rice is almost always a terrible idea.
isnít optional. Salsa separates tacos from wraps and other
requires chilies. Chilies bring excitement and vibrancy to
our dull, drab lives.
roasted tomatillo salsa. Iíve got nothing against fresh
pico de gallo (made with plump summer tomatoes, of course),
but tomatillo salsa is what I usually make, because itís
acidic and flavorful, and tomatillos are available
year-round. (See recipe.)
broiler and blender are your best salsa friends. If you want
to go hardcore authentic, you could toast all the
ingredients on a comal and then grind them by hand using a
stone molcajete. Or you could replicate this process in a
10th of the time by broiling the vegetables and then
processing them in a blender.
can combine salsa and the filling into one dish. If you
braise chicken and tomatillos together (which you should),
thereís no need to waste time making a completely
counts as a salsa.
canned salsas suck. Rick Baylessí Frontera brand does not.
sauce is different from salsa. Its main purpose is to add a
final flash of intense heat, which is quite convenient if
youíre serving tacos to a group of people with varying
levels of spice tolerance.
and biased hot-sauce guide: Valencia > Cholula > El
Yucateco > Tapatio > Tabasco
tacos are usually better than large tacos. Itís tempting
to stuff each tortilla with as much as possible, but always
consider proportion. You want to get a bite with all the
components, which is hard if you can barely fold the
tortilla over the mass of fillings and toppings. Better to
make a slim and satisfying taco, and eat more of them.
toppings are completely optional but can separate a good
taco from an exceptional one.
toppings: pickled red onions, pickled jalapenos, shredded
cabbage, radishes, queso fresco.
toppings: lettuce, chopped tomatoes, pre-shredded
"Mexican" cheese, canned black olives.
white onions and cilantro are great toppings but unnecessary
if youíve included both in your salsa.
problem with the pre-fried U-shaped shells ó the kind made
famous by Taco Bell and Old El Paso ó is that when you
bite in, the filling slides out the side too easily. Plus,
they are usually structurally unsound, crumbling apart after
fried tacos can be amazing. You just need to fry the
tortilla with the filling already inside. Try fried potato
tacos (see recipe).
any of these rules if you want. The goal is not to adhere
strictly to these tips but simply to eat more tacos.
Experiment. Cook. Repeat.
about 1 cup
ounces tomatillos, husked, rinsed
1 to 2
cloves garlic, unpeeled
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
white onion, chopped
tomatillos, serranos and garlic cloves on a foil-lined
baking sheet. Cover garlic with an additional layer of foil.
Place under a hot broiler and cook until tomatillos are
blackened on top, about 6 minutes. Flip tomatillos and
serranos; blacken on the other side, about 5 minutes. Remove
baking sheet from oven; allow everything to cool. Stem
serranos and peel garlic. Transfer tomatillos, serranos
garlic and salt to a blender. Process until almost smooth.
Taste, and season with more salt if necessary. Transfer to a
bowl; stir in cilantro and onion.
information per serving: 9 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated
fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 0 g
protein, 73 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cubed into 1/2-inch
tomatillo salsa, see recipe
head red cabbage, thinly sliced
cup queso fresco
medium saucepan of water over high heat until boiling. Add
cubed potatoes; reduce heat to a strong simmer. Cook until
tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander. Transfer
to a bowl, add salt and use a fork to mash until smooth.
large skillet over medium. Warm the tortillas for a few
seconds on each side until pliable. Spoon 2 tablespoons of
mashed potato into each tortilla. Fold each tortilla over,
pressing firmly to close.
the oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add as
many tortillas as will fit in one layer, usually three. Cook
until lightly browned on the bottom, 1-2 minutes; flip and
brown on the other side, 1-2 minutes. Transfer tacos to a
plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining
tacos topped with salsa, a handful of sliced cabbage, queso
fresco and a wedge of lime.
information per taco: 141 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated
fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 3 g
protein, 251 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
CHORIZO AND ALMOND TACOS
ounces fresh Mexican chorizo
large white onion, sliced
pound zucchini, ends trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise
cloves garlic, minced
teaspoon ground cinnamon
teaspoon ground cumin
cup slivered almonds
fresh cilantro, chopped
tomatillo salsa, see recipe
chorizo and onion to a large skillet set over medium heat.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and
translucent and chorizo is starting to brown, 8-10 minutes.
Add zucchini, garlic, cinnamon and cumin; stir well. Cook,
stirring often, until zucchini softens, about 5 minutes.
Taste, and season with salt, if necessary ó usually about
1/2 teaspoon ó and pepper to taste.
toast almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cook,
stirring often, until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Transfer
to a bowl.
skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tortilla; warm until
you notice steam rising off, 5-10 seconds. Flip and warm
until very soft, another 10 seconds. Wrap in a towel and
repeat with remaining tortillas.
some of the filling into the tortilla; top with a sprinkle
of almonds, cilantro, a squeeze of lime and roasted
information per serving: 180 calories, 10 g fat, 3 g
saturated fat, 17 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 1 g
sugar, 7 g protein, 440 mg sodium, 3 g fiber