by Lazarus Lynch
Tacos are indefinitely the ultimate Mexican street food. The messiness, the meatiness, and the crunchiness of any taco are just some of the noteworthy things that come to mind when I think about the perfect taco. In my New York City hometown, there are a plethora of family-owned taco food trucks, and street vendors serving up hundreds of tacos each day. I've had my share of late-night tacos when I get the munchies, and I've taken notes on what makes great tacos great tacos.
This Cinco de Mayo, I've attempted to answer the question of what makes for the perfect taco. I get it, building a taco isn't rocket science, yet, few seem to do it right these days. I'm sure there are many who would disagree with me, but having my fair share of tacos, I've come to the conclusion that perhaps building a taco isn't as simple as one thinks.
What Is a Taco?
Though tacos are universally loved, its origins are largely unknown. Taco expert Jeffrey M. Pilcher explains that a taco "... dates from the 18th century and the silver mines in Mexico, because in those mines the word “taco” referred to the little charges they would use to excavate the ore," according to an online article in Smithsonianmag.com. That sort of helps us, but generally speaking, tacos are native to Mexico, and a popularized street food that's made its way around the globe.
A modern take interpretation on the taco is essentially a tortilla (fried or steamed) filled with assorted mixtures of meat, beans, rice, cheese, herbs, and salsa. Many tacos also include sour cream and guacamole. If you really want to break it down and get technical, a taco is a corn tortilla filled with "stuff." Tacos come in all sizes and kinds, but the best are the ones done right.
The Right Tortilla: The shell/tortilla/or vessel is arguably the most important part of every taco. The tortilla is the package that must perfectly encase every part of the filling. Traditionally, yellow or white corn tortillas are used for tacos and are often steamed or fried. Steaming or warming the tortillas allows them to be more pliable and prevents them from cracking when folded. Different varieties of corn tortillas have different textures; some being more dominant in corn flavor and dryer (typically yellow corn tortillas) while others are more neutral and moist in flavor (typically white corn tortillas). Sometimes, two tortillas are necessary to support a taco depending on how the portion and wetness of the filling.
I love a fried corn tortilla taco shell for its crunchy quality. If you use taco pre-cooked taco shells, I suggest placing them in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 10 minutes to warm them before filling. The heat will awaken the corn flavor.
The Filling: The second most important aspect of the taco is the filling. Typically the filling would consist of a protein (beans, poultry, meat or fish), rice, and some medley of toppings. It's important that the filling is not overstuffed. Filling overload will result in a sloppy taco that could only be eaten with a knife and fork. Using a combination of meat and beans are classic and adds richness to the taco.
Use Acid & Herbs: My favorite part of a taco is the acidic punch you get from biting into a pickled red onion, or a tangy salsa with bright citrusy notes running throughout. I love pickled items (radish, fennel, onions, grated carrots, etc.) to add both texture and acidity to the taco. The acid also works well to balance the sometimes overwhelming flavors of the filling. Using herbs such as cilantro (or coriander leaves) as a beautiful freshness to the taco. If one has aversions to cilantro, parsley is a great substitute.
The Toppings: The toppings are sort of like the decorations you put on Christmas tree once it's all set up and ready to go. The toppings should vary in texture, flavor, spice, and temperature. Toppings usually consists of something creamy like cheese, sour cream or greek yogurt, avocado slices or guacamole, something spicy and tangy like salsas, tomatoes, or tomatillos, and something crunchy like iceberg lettuce. I like to have guest assemble their own tacos and serve themselves toppings as desired. Toppings are best when stored at appropriate temperatures to give great contrast between the filling and tortilla.
Remember TEAM TEXTURE is everything! Use the right tortilla(s), don't overstuff, and have your acid, herb, and toppings game on lock. Now that you have some tips for making a great taco this Cinco de Mayo, get yo taco game on!
Try two of my taco recipes below:
Jerk Chicken Caribbean Tacos
Margarita Shrimp Tacos with Pineapple Salsa
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/where-did-the-taco-come-from-81228162/#SVro2XSpBWr3iOij.99