March 27, 2018
Traditional Tacos on the Comeback
from Chef Brian Dragos
I can’t be the only Mexican-food lover who’s pretty tired of endless Taco Tuesdays and “creative” spins on street food tacos on every other menu, with all sorts of ingredients that probably don’t belong in tacos. Some of these are good and other ones, not so much. I’ve even seen dessert tacos made with waffles and filled with ice cream. What’s that about?
If you want to know what the next cool thing in tacos is, look to other forms of traditional tacos, which really haven’t even begun to be explored yet. There are all sorts of interesting, delicious things that you can do with masa harina, the “dough flour” made from slaked corn that’s used to make tortillas.
Like gorditas, for instance. The word means “chubby” in Spanish, and the carrier is a thick round masa pocket that can be griddled and wrapped around a filling like braised beef with chiles or pork carnitas. There are regional variations that are stuffed and deep fried, like an arepa. You can also make them with wheat flour, as they do in northern Mexico, close to the U.S. border. They all take well to many kinds of different fillings—cheese, braised meats, picadillo, vegetables like rajas (roasted poblano pepper strips).
• According to Datassential, gorditas have experienced four-year growth on menus of nearly 24%
Tostadas are another specialty that deserve more attention. These are crisp fried tortillas, piled high with fillings and served open-faced. You can make them Baja-style with grilled or fried fish, avocado, radishes and cilantro, or with smoked brisket, refried beans and salsa.
The sope is another traditional masa-based specialty, originally from central and southern Mexico, which consists of a thick round of dough with pinched sides that create a little lip around the edge—great as a vehicle for fillings and toppings of all kinds.
Even familiar quesadillas are more interesting than the tired appetizers you see on so many mainstream menus. Traditionally, quesadillas are made with corn tortillas (although you often see them with flour now), and two of them are layered with Oaxacan cheese and often other ingredients and then griddled—a wondrous melty-crispy thing.
All of these delicious specialties are part of a longstanding tradition of corn-based antojitos (“little cravings”) that are eaten as snacks and street food throughout Mexico. Tamales, chalupas, empanadas, and nachos are all part of this culture, with different variations all over Mexico. They’re all handheld, tasty, fun, quick to eat—perfect for today’s menus. You could spend years exploring them in the kitchen. The only thing to remember is not to overmix the masa—like any dough, it toughens when you work it too much, and that defeats the whole purpose of these next-generation tacos.
• Minor’s Fire Roasted Poblano Flavor Concentrate was developed specifically to access the Latin flavor rend. Other Minor’s products in the Latin Flavors line include Ancho, Chipotle, Cilantro Lime, Fire Roasted Jalapeno, and Red Chile Adobo
• The filling for this Braised Beef Arepa can be used in other masa carriers, such as gorditas
• Fish Tacos get flavor from both Poblano and Red Chili Adobo flavor concentrates
• Use this recipe for Tuna Tostadas with Adobo Crema as a general pattern for other tostada specialties