- There is nothing like going out for tacos, but with some help, your at-home tacos can also taste great.
- Heat your tortillas.
- Don’t forget the citrus.
If you’re a taco fan (and honestly, who isn’t?), you’ve likely noticed a distinct difference between homemade tacos and the restaurant versions with fresh salsas, grilled meats, and tortillas shaped and pressed in-house.
Both incarnations of the taco have their own special kind of charm, but if you find yourself craving professional-level eats on Taco Tuesday, it’s helpful to learn how to recreate them in your own kitchen. We decided to ask a group of chefs specializing in Mexican cuisine for their tips on how to make restaurant-grade tacos at home, and we’re bringing you 10 key pieces of advice.
If you have the time and the inclination, consider making your own tortillas.
According to Chef Joe Martinez of ChaCha’s Latin Kitchen in Brea and Irvine, California, “most people think the filling [of a taco] is the most important part, and while it is crucial, the authenticity of a taco comes from the tortilla.” Because tortillas provide the external structure of the taco, you can’t settle for anything less than excellence if you want your at-home tacos to taste like the ones from an awesome restaurant or taco truck.
Making tortillas seems like a complicated endeavor, but it’s actually not as tough as you might expect. Many pro chefs prefer their tacos on soft corn tortillas, and while a special tortilla pan (known as a comal) is an ideal tool for tortilla-making, any cast-iron skillet can do the job. Chef Brian Riggenbach of The Mockingbird in Nashville, Tennessee talked us through the process:
“Something that I like to do is roll out my own corn tortillas. Don’t be afraid — it’s easier than you think. Masa Harina instant corn flour is a readily available product (and a fine substitute) for freshly ground masa.
“The process is unabashedly simple; it is just liquid (typically water or stock) added to the masa flour. Then you form a dough and press it or roll it out.
“The next step after the dough is formed is to roll it out thinly and then cut out rounded shapes 4 or 6 inches wide. Over a medium-heat (not too hot or they’ll burn) dry cast iron [skillet], place your tortilla down, making sure to flip on both sides until the tortilla is slightly puffed up and cooked through. Wrap the tortillas in a towel and store on a plate until you are done cooking all of them and ready to serve.”
Should you choose to use store-bought tortillas, opt for refrigerated or frozen versions rather than shelf-stable ones.
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While freshly-made tortillas give you the best possible product, time constraints can remove this possibility. Luckily, high-quality, pre-made tortillas can be found in Latin markets and even at well-appointed supermarkets, but you need to know what to avoid. Specifically, shelf-stable tortillas aren’t doing your tacos any favors.
Chef Richard Sandoval of Richard Sandoval Hospitality, a group of 45 restaurants worldwide focusing on Mexican flavors, suggests looking to the refrigerated section of your market for better tortilla choices. “Whenever possible, choose refrigerated tortillas over the shelf-stable ones – they simply taste better and have better texture. There’s a huge difference between brands, so experiment until you find one that you like (the tortillas should be flavorful and chewy and not dissolve easily on contact with sauce),” Sandoval advised.
If you can’t find a refrigerated store-bought tortilla to fit the bill, check the frozen section, suggests Chef Bernie Matz of Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami Beach, Florida: “To make a great taco, you need a great tortilla. Avoid any tortillas off the shelf in a Supermarket. They are full of preservatives and [often] have a weird smell. Go to the nearest Central American market (bodega) and look for a refrigerated or ‘better’ frozen homemade corn tortilla. Yes, it has to be corn. If frozen, let the tortillas defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Now you’re ready to fill them with deliciousness and make a killer taco.”
When using pre-prepared tortillas — whether homemade or store-bought — be sure to re-heat them correctly.
An ideal taco involves a properly-heated tortilla with just the right amount of char. To achieve this standard, Chef Todd Nash of The Blind Burro in San Diego, California, recommends this technique:
“To re-heat your tortillas, use either a comal or [put the tortillas] directly over the flame on your stove. Also, if using store-bought tortillas, dip the edges in some water [combined with] a couple of tablespoons of oil. The oil and water help to steam the tortillas a bit, and the oil [also] helps keep the texture [consistent] and retain heat. To store your warmed tortillas, use a kitchen towel that is very slightly dampened and wrap your pre-warmed tortillas in it. You can put them all in a bowl with a lid, and they will stay warm for a long time. Also, a little char on your tortilla is a good thing. It adds another layer of complexity to the flavor.”
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