It was a particularly miserable takeout order of tacos one lunchtime that compelled me to act.
As I bit into the overfilled taco, the pappy tasteless corn tortilla split apart to send another dribble of liquid running down my arm. Tacos are better than this – indeed a good taco is right up there as one of my favourite foods. Although London now has a few decent Mexican options, it can’t touch New York or California, let alone Mexico itself. So it was into the kitchen to make tacos – and to try making tortillas from scratch.
Tacos in the UK are so badly done in most cases, that it’s high time some rules were set down:
- Unless you live close to a factory churning out good tortillas, make your own.
- It’s easier to make good wheat flour tacos than good corn ones at home.
- Go for simple fillings – one filling with a herb, or a sour cream sauce, or some crumbled cheese. But don’t pile everything on top.
- Make it possible to pick up and eat without liquid dribbling down your arm – 5” or 12cm diameter is perfect. Don’t overfill them, and ensure that your fillings don’t have any liquid in them.
Making the tortillas is surprisingly easy following the method given by Richard Whittington in one of my favourite books “Cutting Edge: A Cook’s Californian Inspiration”.
For 12 tortillas of the size above: 345g of flour, 2 tablespoons of lard, 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, 175ml of hand-warm water.
Mix everything together by hand or in a food processor until you have a smooth, even dough that is a little bit springy when pressed. Divide into twelve pieces, roll each piece into a ball, and cover with cling film. Rest for at least 45 minutes (put it in the fridge if you’re keeping it longer).
When you’re ready, heat a heavy pan (I use a big non-stick frying pan) or flat griddle. You need this to be hot enough that the tacos start to bubble in seconds when you cook them. Roll out the dough to a circle (I find a rolling pin is fine, but you can pick up hand-cranked tortilla presses fairly cheaply) and trim to a circle (I used a soup bowl with the perfect diameter to cut them out). Place onto the hot pan and cook for 30-45 seconds (until there are brown blisters underneath), flip and cook for 30-45 seconds. Flip back for a few more seconds, and you’re ready. It’s one of those tasks that takes a bit of practice to know when they’re cooked, but not to cook for so long that they become too crisp. You can cook a pile and keep them warm in a thick cloth, but I like to cook one round at a time, enjoy those and then cook the next batch – it makes the evening more relaxed, and you get to each each one while it’s hot.
Four ideas for fillings:
Fish Tacos – A good fish taco takes some beating, and they are easy to do if you keep it simple. Cut a firm fleshed white fish into strips, dust it with flour and fry it in butter.
This version is topped with a smoky chipotle sour cream made by soaking one chipotle chilli and then blitzing it with 200ml of sour cream. A little coriander and some lime wedges served alongside to squeeze on top complete the dish.
I’ve also done fish tacos with guacamole on top:
In this case the tortillas were wholewheat tortillas – which works but they’re not quite as delicious as the normal wheat ones, and they are not as flexible when cooked.
Broad Bean: this is perfect for this time of year when the broad beans are at their delicious best. Shallots were finely chopped and sautéed until soft, with a splash of white wine added and reduced down until there was no liquid left. Broad beans were podded, blanched, peeled and then chopped and added to the shallot.
The tacos were finished off with crumbly sharp cheese (I used a Wensleydale) and some pea shoots. A squeeze of lime or lemon finishes these perfectly.
Roasted Cauliflower and Red Onions: Red onions are slowly sautéed until sweet and meltingly soft, and then combined with roasted cauliflower.
These were finished with a small scatter of parsley and chipotle cream.
Sweet Potato and Chorizo: The smoky flavour of chorizo combines brilliantly with sweet potato and red onion.
Cubes of chorizo were slowly cooked until the fat starts running, and then removed with a slotted spoon. A red onion and diced sweet potato were then slowly cooked until soft and a bit brown around the edges. The chorizo was added back in and stirred. These tacos were finished with a little parsley and sour cream and a squeeze of lime.