Tacos, taquitos and more about how to make tacos Mexican Style

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I love Tacos. I need to eat them at least once a week, otherwise I start getting crabby. Sounds sort of like an addiction, don't you think? This week we're going to make all kinds of tacos and taquitos: beef, chicken, turkey, fish, lobster and shrimp. I have short cuts for making the filling quick and easy. I have the long cuts for those of you who don't like to cheat and used canned meat! You can choose to fry your corn tortillas to make fried tacos (I prefer them this way for beef, chicken and turkey tacos only) or you can go the low fat route and just warm the tortillas to make soft tacos. I even give you the option of using fried or grilled fish in your fish tacos!

So many choices. So many options! What's a chef to do?! Well, my suggestion would be to read on and decide just which type of tacos you'll be making for dinner tonight. And tomorrow night. And next Tuesday night. By then, I bet you too will be a taco addict!

THE BASICS ON HOW TO MAKE TACOS

It seems like tacos are everyone's first introduction to Mexican food. Initially, the only kind of tacos to be found this side of the border were made from ground beef. (Boring!) Now there is a myriad of meat, poultry and seafood fillings for tacos, all of which follow in this section.

I've also listed two ways to serve tacos: using fried tortilla shells or hot, soft tortillas. You're probably more familiar with fried tacos, but soft tacos are served curbside all over Mexico. Aside from being authentic, they're lower in fat and calories. They taste just as good, though and are actually preferable if you're making fish, carne asada or carnitas tacos. The recipe below serves four to six and takes about 20 minutes to prepare-after you've gotten your filling together.

2 cups shredded beef or other filling (all recipes for fillings follow)
12 corn tortillas
1/2 cup corn or canola oil (optional - soft tacos aren't fried)
2 cups Chihuahua or Jack cheese, grated
1 tomato, diced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 head lettuce or cabbage, shredded
1 cup salsa fresca and/or salsa verde

Fried tacos:
In small frying pan, heat oil until a drop of water sizzles immediately when added to it. Fry tortilla lightly on one side. Turn and fry lightly on the other side. Before tortilla becomes crisp, bend it in half, using tongs and a fork to hold it steady and crisp the folded end. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel. Repeat with all 12 tortillas.

Heat filling until steaming. Place one to two tablespoons filling mixture inside taco shell. Add shredded lettuce, onions, tomatoes and top with cheese. Repeat for all tacos. Serve immediately.

Street tacos (soft tacos):
The difference here is that soft tacos are not fried. Heat tortillas in the oven or microwave until hot and pliable. Fold and fill in the same way as fried tacos. If your tacos seem inclined to fall apart, try using two tortillas for double the strength. Serve immediately. Soft tacos are served street side in Baja. I include corn tortillas, along with flour tortillas at all fiestas where people build their own tacos and burritos.

Quesa-tacos (aMexican street taco extravaganza):
One of my all-time favorite tacos are carne asada quesa-tacos. The only difference between soft street tacos and these are that after you fill the corn tortilla with meat, you add some grated Jack cheese and flip it back onto the grill (or frying pan) until the cheese is melted. Then add the rest of the goodies. They are beyond delicious!

SHREDDED BEEF FILLING For TACOS

There are two ways to make shredded beef. The lightening-fast way uses canned roast beef and only takes about 10 minutes, while the traditional way takes at least 4 to 5 hours. Whether you're a purist and take the longer pot roast route, or if you're a hurried cook or short-cut seeking sort (like me most of the time) and opt for the quick way-your beef will end up savory, tender and delicious! And no one will ever know if you cheat (unless you feel the necessity to confess, of course).

THE CHEATER'S WAY-SUPER EASY Shredded Beef:
2 12 ounce cans roast beef in gravy, rinsed
1/2 cup salsa fresca
salt and pepper to taste

Place rinsed and drained roast beef in medium sized bowl. Add salsa fresca, salt and pepper. Shred the beef while mixing in the other ingredients until it has a stringy texture. Heat in small saucepan on medium low heat until hot. This makes about 1 1/2 cups shredded beef, or enough for at least a dozen tacos.

THE PURIST'S WAY-TRADITIONAL Shredded Beef:
1 4 - 5 pound pot roast
1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp corn or canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can pureed tomatoes
1 cup salsa fresca
1 tbsp beef bouillon
1 tsp each cayenne pepper, chili powder and oregano

Dredge pot roast in flour. In a Dutch oven, heat oil until sizzling. Brown pot roast on all sides in oil. Remove roast from pot, add onions and cook until translucent. Put roast back in pot. Add water, garlic and all other ingredients. Stir well. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for at least four hours, until meat is fork tender. Remove from heat and cool until you are able to comfortably handle meat. Place meat on cutting board and using two forks, shred the beef. Return meat to pan and mix in spices.

You have enough shredded beef for two dozen tacos. Any unused meat can be frozen for future use.

Hint: I like these best with fried tortillas.

CHICKEN FILLING FOR TACOS:

The Cheater Way AND the Purist's Way

You can cheat on this one and use canned white meat chicken just as you did with the beef tacos, or you can bake the chicken breasts. The cheater way will take you about 10 minutes, while the purist's way will take about 40. You'll have enough chicken filling to make 12super yummy tacos.

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts -or-
2 - 12 ounce cans white meat chicken
1/2 to 1 cup salsa fresca
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste


Purists: Bake chicken breasts in oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and cool. Using two forks, shred the chicken. In a medium sized bowl, mix shredded chicken with salsa and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cheaters: If you're using canned chicken, drain off excess liquid, place in bowl and shred. In a medium sized bowl, mix shredded chicken with salsa and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Hint: I prefer these with fried tortillas.

TURKEY FILLING For TACOS

This filling is lean and light, yet delicious. Thanks to the cumin you'll never taste anything that compares to this turkey filling. It's delectable! It takes about 40 minutes and makes enough filling to make 12 tacos. Hint: This is also a great way to use up leftover turkey after Thanksgiving and Christmas!

2 pounds white turkey meat
1/2 cup salsa fresca
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
Pico Pica sauce or any red pepper sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Bake turkey in oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and cool. Using two forks, shred the turkey. In a medium sized bowl, mix shredded turkey with salsa, garlic, cumin, Pico Pica sauce, salt and pepper. Serve.

Hint: These are best served with fried tortillas.

BAJA STYLE FISH TACOS

This Baja original has been around longer than I have. According to local legend, fish tacos originated in San Felipe (well, the folks in Ensenada claim it was invented there too-but no one really knows for sure!) where they have always been the street taco of choice. In the early '80s, they were discovered by a young Baja aficionado who begged the recipe off a street taco vendor and brought it northwest to San Diego. He opened a tiny taco shop named Rubio's down by Mission Bay that specialized in authentic Baja-style fish tacos. By the year 2000 there were over 100 Rubio's restaurants in Southern California and Nevada-so I guess I don't really need to tell you that the popularity of those fish tacos has skyrocketed.

For the best fish tacos south of the border these days, you have to travel to San Felipe (on the Sea of Cortez) or Ensenada (directly to the west on the Pacific). My favorite tacos can be found at the fish market in Ensenada, right on the waterfront. When you first drive into town, you'll make a aright turn just past the ship repair yards and immediately you'll see the outdoor fish market. There's a huge palapa on the right, at dockside, where vendors sell an incredible array of just-caught seafood, fresh shrimp cocktails and the most awesome fish tacos around.

This recipe does its best to bring Baja Fish Tacos to you. The recipe makes enough for a dozen tacos. Depending on their appetites, this will serve three to four people. But then again-if your friends are anything like mine-they may be so enamored with your fish tacos that you'll have to double the recipe next time around. (You could have worse problems, huh?!

HINT: Oh, and if you don't want to use fried fish, you can lightly season and broil or grill the fish filets instead. You won't sacrifice either the taste or the inherent air of festivity generated by these colorful, incredible tacos. Recipe takes about 20 minutes.

12 filets of white fish, cut into strips of about 1 1/2" x 4" each
1/2 cup corn flake crumbs
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup corn or canola oil
1 cup sour cream, thinned with 1 tbsp water to make a sauce
Pico Pica sauce or any red pepper sauce to taste
6 radishes, minced
1 cup shredded cabbage for garnish (use a mixture of purple and green)
1/2 bunch cilantro, in sprigs
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup Cheddar, Chihuahua or Jack cheese, shredded
salsa fresca to taste

Dredge each fish filet in beaten egg. Coat thoroughly with mixture of corn flake crumbs and Italian bread crumbs. In a frying pan, heat oil until a drop of water sizzles when put in the pan.

Cook each fish filet for three to four minutes on each side. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Place filets in oven on warm until you are ready to serve.

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream sauce and Pico Pica with the radishes. Put a fish filet on one half of a hot corn tortilla. Place one to two tablespoons of sauce on top of filet as you are serving it. Garnish with shredded cabbage and serve immediately with salsa fresca on the side.

Use heated corn tortillas-soft taco style.

BAY OF L.A. LOBSTER TACOS

The first time I ever heard of lobster tacos was at Mama Diaz' restaurant in Bahía de Los Angeles. (Bay of L.A., as we gringos call it, is a remote but spectacularly scenic fishing village on the Sea of Cortez, a third of the way down the Baja peninsula.) That trip was about thirty years ago, before there was even a paved road south of El Rosario (barely the other side of Ensenada).

We flew in with Francisco (Pancho) Muñoz, a World War II ace who ran Baja Airlines and was a great buddy of both my Pappy and Erle Stanley Gardner (the creator of the Perry Mason series AND the author of several books on Baja). Pancho's leaflets advertised the Bay of L.A. as, ... the Fabulous Fishing Resort in Baja. A flight left Tijuana every Friday morning at 11:00 and returned every Saturday at 2:00 pm. Round trip tickets went for $47.52. Flying time was a little over two hours in one of his two Douglas B-18's (World War II bombers similar to DC-3's). After we'd traveled with Muñoz a few times, he and my dad (who are both in their late 70s now!) became great amigos in their own right. Often, over the years, when we flew with him, one of my folks would sit up in the cockpit and hang out with him. Sometimes my sister Nina and I got to also, but our favorite jobs were when we got to serve canned drinks, sack lunches and other snacks to the passengers-which to two girls under 12 was-in today's gringo lingo-way cool.

I still think of Pancho Muñoz whenever I pass the airport in Ensenada and see a pair of old, dilapidated Douglas B-18's sitting beside the runway there, just rusting away. Every single time I fantasize that those are his planes, the same planes I flew all over Baja in when I was a kid.

A few years ago I went back to the Bay of L.A. Sure enough, the Casa Diaz was still there, even though Mama and Antero had both passed away. And sure enough, they still served lobster tacos, even though they weren't on the menu. Some things don't ever change and one of those facts of life is that the best things in Mexico are not always on the menu! Especially in the obscure, off-the-beaten track kind of places. I like that. Lobster tacos are best served as soft tacos in fresh corn tortillas. Once you cook the lobster meat, these only take a couple of minutes to make enough filling for 12 tacos.

2 pounds cooked, diced lobster meat
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, minced (hot)
1 tbsp fresh Mexican lime juice

Heat all ingredients in medium sized saucepan. Serve as you would any tacos with a variety of condiments.

SHRIMPLY DELICIOUS-SHRIMP TACOS

These days, in Mexico and in California, Shrimp Tacos are a favorite item on any menu. The shrimp here is spicy and lightly sautéed in butter, garlic, chiles and lime juice. Regarding the heat of those chiles-actually, you can make the shrima as hot or mild as you like, depending on how many chiles you use. If you hate it hot, leave the chiles out. If you like it medium-hot, be sure to remove all seeds from the chiles-that's where the heat is. If you like your food really hot and spicy-then leave those seeds in!

This recipe is for soft tacos, which are not fried. Shrimp tacos are best served with fresh corn tortillas and a variety of condiments and salsas. You can have this meal ready in a half hour. Heat up a can of refried beans to go with it, make a quick salad and Voila! You're happening! Makes 12 tacos, enough for four to six people-depending on how hungry they are.

2 pounds cooked, deveined shrimp
4 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, minced (hot)
1 tbsp fresh Mexican lime juice
1 cup salsa fresca
1 cup salsa verde
an array of toppings such as:
shredded cabbage, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, grated cheese

Heat all ingredients in medium sized saucepan. Heat tortillas in the oven or microwave until hot and pliable. Fold and fill in the same way as you would fried tacos. If your tacos seem inclined to fall apart, try using two tortillas for double the strength. Serve immediately, with a variety of condiments. Yum! Yum!

Video How to Make Tacos with Tortillas made with MASECA Corn Flour



 


Recipe and tips provided by Ann Hazard.

Join author Ann Hazard, as she leads you through four generations of historic Baja culinary adventure. She shares not only her family's favorite travel tales, but also the delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes she has collected and created. By the time you've cooked a meal or two and finished reading the book, you're guaranteed a lasting dose of Baja Magic. The book may even turn your perspective slightly to the South, lighten your heart and forever transform your outlook on life!




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