For the last few months, my family has enjoyed a wonderful new tradition: Totally Taco Tuesdays. Tacos! Every Tuesday! Set your clock by it, no matter how bad things have been, if it’s Tuesday, you know there are tacos waiting for you at the end of the day. Monday? Hang in there. Tacos are less than 48 hours away. You can do this.
Tacos might just be nature’s most perfect food – a swirling confluence of corn, flour, protein, fat, cheese, some requisite vegetable and all of it tied together by the fact that you have to pick it up and eat it with your hand. It’s primal and sophisticated and carnal and, if you’ve done your job right when seasoning the filling, it tastes damn good.
But allowing myself to plummet down the Totally Taco Tuesday rabbit hole also caused me to come face to face with a hard reality: I thought I had tasted a great crunchy taco, but I hadn’t.
Soft tacos? That’s easy. Anybody can make a soft taco. You warm the tortilla just a little, you fill it, you fold it, you eat it. Relatively idiot-proof.
But what about the crunchy taco? If you’re like me, you’ve only ever had the pre-formed crispy shells, the kind you find at Taco Bell or the grocery aisle or even at the “authentic” Mexican restaurant up the road whose name starts with “El” or “Los.” You thought that was what a crispy taco tastes like.
I was wrong to think that, and so are you. But enlightenment is delicious, my brothers and sisters. This, you see, is what we think a crispy taco shell looks like:
This is what a real one looks like:
It’s uneven, it’s imperfect, it is darker in some areas than others because it touched the griddle longer there, it has air bubbles and each one is different. It tastes unspeakably good.
What you do is this. You go to the grocery store and buy the big bag of corn tortillas – usually three or four dollars for a hundred of them. You prepare your fillings the way you always would, you set the table just the same, you get the chips and the cheese and the lettuce and the tomato and you proceed the way you have every previous Tuesday night.
But tonight, once the fillings are cooked and in the bowls and on the table, you take the big bag of corn tortillas and adjourn to the stove. You put a little bit of oil in a frying pan, let it get hot, then put a single tortilla, flat, in the pan. You give it about 15 seconds so that it gets soft, then you use a pair of tongs to fold it in half. You let it fry, medium-high, until that first half is crispy. You then flip it over and fry the other side, using the tongs to hold it open just about an inch or so. Holding the tongs there, you let the second side fry to crispiness. At that point you flip it up on the seam, searing the “joint” for just a few seconds – you will be able to see the bubbling of the oil coming up on the inside of the corn.
You put that on a plate to cool and rest – the whole process takes no more than a minute or so – then you repeat until you have enough to sate everyone at your table. These shells are both more substantial and more flavorful than you are accustomed to, so you will probably need fewer shells than you think.
You know that awful feeling you get when you’re using store-bought taco shells, when you crunch into the first bite and the whole thing shatters and all of your carefully seasoned filling falls to the plate like so much unwanted detritus, and you’re holding two sorry-ass pieces of overpriced corn chips and the taco experience is ruined and your children are crying and wondering why daddy and mommy are so angry? Yeah, who doesn’t know that feeling? It’s the universal experience. But it’s a thing of the past if you fry your own taco shells, because freshly fried shells are crunchy but chewy at the same time, just pliable enough to not fall apart when you bite into them.
This is what tacos are supposed to taste like. This is how they are supposed to act when you bite into them. This, my friend, is what Tuesday nights are supposed to taste like.
(Seen here filled with grilled pork, spinach and bell peppers.)