Top 10 Tips for Perfect Tacos
1. The Perfect Tortilla — The freshest tortillas are the best tortillas. And the best tortillas have to be the right size for your tacos. Whether you make them yourself or buy them from the local taqueria or at your local grocery store, they need to be fresh. For flour tortillas, make them on or one day before serving. Corn tortillas must be made the same day. Find out when tortillas are made or delivered locally.
2. Know Your Tortilla Press — If you choose to make your own homemade tortillas, test your recipes ahead of time. Homemade tortillas do take practice. Select a simple hand tortilla press. You can find them in kitchen supply stores or online. Look for one with an easy-to-clean round disk area and simple lever. Tortilla presses are generally used for corn tortillas because the round disks are about 6-inches (15 cm) in diameter. In this book, I also recommend making 6-inch (15 cm) flour tortillas so the tortilla press is ideal for making them as well. To avoid stressful situations, find a recipe that works for you by testing several. Then practise that recipe a couple of times until you feel confident in making it. My family loves having extra tortillas around to snack on.
3. Know What and When — Look at each recipe and analyze the time and resources you need to put your meal together. Do the same for the fillings and salsas. If you are making a grilled taco recipe chances are you will be grilling close to the serving time. Can all other elements of the meal be prepared around that?
4. Oh My, Oil — Use a good-quality oil. I like olive oil for sauteing with herbs and garlic. However, some fillings do not need added flavor, so vegetable or canola oil will do. For deep-frying, I prefer to use peanut oil because it has a higher smoke point. Canola oil and vegetable oil are good oils to use as well.
5. Fabulous Fillings — These taco filling recipes do not use a lot of ingredients, therefore cooking is quick. Use the highest quality meats, poultry, and vegetables. Select the best spices and be sure to measure accurately. Taste your fillings as you go and season your fillings toward the end of the cooking process.
6. Don’t Overstuff — The best taco is a taco balanced in flavor. A 6-inch (15 cm) tortilla with 2 to 3 tbsp (30 to 45 mL) of filling leaves just the right amount of room for fresh garnish and salsas, which results in the perfect folded taco. A rolled taco, using a 6-inch (15 cm) tortilla commands about 2 tbsp (30 mL) of filling. You want to taste all of the elements in your taco, creating the perfect balance in flavor and texture. Don’t overfill your tortilla and overwhelm your taste buds.
7. Cheese to Please — There are so many varieties of cheese on the market. Be adventurous. Cheese adds yet another layer of flavor to the taco experience. You do not need to pile it on. Just a hint of a high-quality cheese adds intense creamy flavor. The Mexican cheeses are worth a taste (see page 26). They are fresh cheeses that need no aging and are available in most Latin American markets or online. Not all tacos need cheese; many can stand with only garnish and salsa. However, additions of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, and hints of blue cheese and feta add unmatched flavor to the perfect taco.
8. Fresh Garnish — Taste, texture and freshness are again the key elements of topping the perfect taco. Be knowledgeable about the shelf life of your produce. Don’t slice, tear or dice until the last minute, ensuring freshness from the field to the table. Be creative; texture and flavor can create a whole new twist on a traditional taco. Don’ be afraid to try new types of vegetables and greens.
9. Simply Salsas and Sassy Sauces — Some salsas take a lot of time, others do not. Made fresh is best, but some may need to sit and infuse in flavor. Try the different varieties paying attention to the prep time and task. Freshen leftover salsas by pulsing in the blender with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Try sweet salsas with savory meats. Spicy salsas add intense flavor to vegetarian tacos. Experiment and enjoy your salsas but don’t forget sauces. Many of my taco recipes use additional sauces that are layered for extra flavor. Occasionally, I will add a creamy sauce instead of cheese to a taco recipe, then top with a flavorful salsa. They are delicious and really heighten the flavors of the fillings, salsas, garnish and cheeses. Make these a day ahead so the herbs and chiles will infuse with the sauce mixture. This will ensure the best-tasting sauces.
10. Let’s Eat! — Timing and presentation are critical when serving tacos. Every element has to be ready at the same time — tortillas, filling, garnishes and cheese, along with the salsas and/or sauces. Get your timing down. Make your salsas ahead, prep your garnishes and shred your cheese, warm your tortillas, make sure your fillings are hot. Now whip up a taco in seconds and become known as a Master Taquero!