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The Taco- Case of the Tortilla.

I had a good taco the other night.
And it made me want to make a real good taco in the future.

Now before i jump ahead and get into sauces, toppings and the protien.. i would like to pay attention to the most important part. The tortilla.. usually undersung and neglected and usually bland.

So whats the best tortilla you have had? What makes a good tortilla for you?

And more importantly.. How do you make a amazing tortilla.

I am willing to make em by hand and get a press- if thats what it takes.

Your suggestions? techniques? recipes?

Thanks.

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  1. Anyone ?

    1 Reply
    1. re: lestblight

      I've never made them but I'd like to someday. I've seen a couple of recipes on blogs. Check out Homesick Texan.

    2. Hmmm. I am also a homesick Texan.

      Best tortillas I can remember: a mix of wheat and corn masa, light and fluffy, cooked fully through but so soft like a cloud.

      I don't make them myself, though.

      1. I think the tortilla is the last thing to be worried about....you can make a good taco even with a bad tortilla, but you can't have a good taco if your filling sucks no matter how good the tortilla.

        3 Replies
        1. re: joonjoon

          I'm getting To the filling... But first the tortilla . I don't think you can have a good taco with a bad tortilla.

          It's the first thing that meets your mouth and can heighten the anticipation to the sauce
          and meat and toppings. A dull lifeless tortilla Sounds like sadness to me.

          I ate at a tortilla factory here.. Their tacos were great. The meat wasn't topnotch ther sauce wasn't terribly intersting .. But their tortilla was tasty. Warm and savory with a hint of fat. I loved that hence this post.

          I then ate at a pricy taco spot here in NYC.. An it was the opposite protien was great and sauce delicious but tortilla was meh.

          I want a tasty first encounter and then a lovely rendezvous with the protoen and sauce.

          Speaking of.. How is lard in tortilla? I hear
          this makes it tasty?

          1. re: lestblight

            Lard is indeed incorporated into tacos ( both corn and flour ) and I personally think they are the best, taste wise, not health wise. I don't / can't make my own shells as I suck very bad at it and in my fit of a craving, will go out and buy them. My experience is to get the shells at a carniceria or a Hispanic market.

            1. re: JerryMe

              Traditionally lard ,or any fat for that matter, is not part of a corn tortilla.

        2. I like the tacos made with the small white corn tortillas - not the hard shell tacos, the soft ones where the tortilla is heated, not fried. They are only 4" - 5" diameter, and you usually get two tortillas, stacked, then the toppings on that from the taco trucks. Then you have to fold them up and try to eat them without all the toppings getting all over you and it never works and you end up smelling like tacos all day no mater how may times you wash your hands. Can you tell I'm hungry?
          I never considered making them from scratch since I can buy them so inexpensively.

          1 Reply
          1. re: pcdarnell

            Unfortunately without fresh masa it would seem that making tortillas is a losing battle, at least for me. I've used Manseca and water ala Bayless's recipe but they always just seem to be average at best. Plus it's tough to get the moisture of the dough just perfect to where it doesn't crack at the edges or stick to the plastic/press. I've heard some people add lard to their dough, I have some manteca in the fridge so I may try that next time I'm in the mood and see if it gets me better results.

          2. I share a preference for the small, soft white corn tortillas, with that tangy aroma.

            I have made them from masa harina with mediocre results. sometime I will start from scratch. This video is worth watching if you want to find out more.

            http://www.ciaprochef.com/CFA/mexico/...

            1 Reply
            1. re: andrewtree

              Most commercial corn tortillas are fine for tacos, fresher is better. I have eaten fresh off of the press corn tortillas and they are really good. But, if you really want a better tortilla, make flour, not for tacos, though, I use them for that as well, but for a real flavor treat for the effort, one that corn does not really provide.

              Tacos are all about the mix, good meat, seasoning to fit your taste seasoning, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions and the cheese that works for you. Salsa and/or hot sauce can be factored in as well.

            2. If you want a truly great taco ignore anyone who says random supermarket tortillas will do. And just slap anyone who tells you the tortilla is secondary. As you obviously know, the tortilla is the whole thing, the entire point. Anyone who says anything else has just never tried the good stuff with a bit of grated cheese and a dash of homemade salsa verde.

              That said, the making is a skill. Luckily, though, you live where you live. In the last five years I've resided in Chicago, North Carolina, and Seattle, and in each place I've found (without a car) either tortilla factories that sell to the public or restaurants/taquerieas that will make beautiful, oh-so-effing-tender tortillas by the dozen while I watch. And they're always dirt cheap. I'd research/repost on the NY board in search of people willing to make fresh tortillas to order if I were you. Otherwise? Yeah, buy a press, some masa, and a few boxes of heavy-duty Ziploc bags and start practicing: it'll be well worth it if you're patient enough to master the skill. Best of luck to you.

              13 Replies
              1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                That has not been my experience at all, fresh is usually the best, markets that cater to a Hispanic population often have great corn tortillas.

                I am in Thailand now and tortillas are fair to good, in Southern California where I used to live, they were almost always good to great.

                I have eaten home made many times and even they are not consistent. Flour on the other hand are almost always better if home made. That is just my opinion, but I would never give up tacos if all I could get were home made. Masa harina varies and the oil or lard to the cast iron skillet can cause differences. Salsas and cheeses play a role as well.

                Pretty much a taco is like a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, whatever works for you. Tacos, unlike wine, don't have much snob appeal.

                1. re: allcladrad

                  We'll have agree to disagree. The difference between a handmade, still-warm corn tortilla pressed just for you by a professional and something massed-produced that's been stiffening on a shelf for even a day (let alone days) can't really be exaggerated. Tortillas are at their best for only a few hours, and within that window they're one of the great simple eating pleasures. Snobby or not, the appeal is definitely there for many, many people.

                  If you can't get to a restaurant or factory, an excellent Mexican market that takes daily delivery---the kind of place where the tortillas are still warm in the morning---is second best. Supermarket tortillas *are* great for tortilla chips, chilaquiles and the like, but I won't even bother with tacos or quesadillas without spanking fresh tortillas.

                2. re: eight_inch_pestle

                  Agree. Find a good taqueria, tortilla factory, or mexican store. You cannot make them better than the pros. Check the NY board.

                  1. re: sancan

                    I got very upset the other day when our local (Reno) Latino store stopped making corn tortillas. They've changed hands and, according to the manager (rest assured, I spoke to the manager!) they weren't selling enough to justify the labor costs. One of the employees told me about a (gringo) store that's making them and we'll check that out. Otherwise OUR store does sell the masa so I could press my own.

                    I agree with those who say the tortilla is the key to the best taco. Now that I've got, opps had, access to fresh, the same good ingredients make a great taco. I melt lard (they render their own) over pretty high but definitely not smoking heat. I add two tortillas to the skillet, immediately turning them so both sides get coated. I fry them, turning often, til I have a little color, maybe a brown spot or two, but definitely not even close to crunchy. I drain them on paper towels and then assemble the tacos.

                    BTW, I just read on CH, LA board I believe, that the hard shelled tacos are called "gringo tacos." Makes sense.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      That does it, tacos tomorrow night in our house---unless we're invited over to your place.

                      1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                        Just had these for dinner last night and lunch today. Carnitas, canned black beans that I added poblano puree to, pico de gallo, a Diana Kennedy salsa made with tomatillos, serranos, etc, cotija and avocado. Mmm. You're welcome to come to our house but we're not home for another week or so :)

                      2. re: c oliver

                        Never heard them called gringo. Gringo might be the preformed shell? Dorado, I think it means golden, is what the hard shelled are called in Southern California now and for more years than I can count that was the only way you could find one.

                        I eat tacos where ever I can find them and will eat a soft shell, but prefer them hard and unlike many of you, I almost never add salsa, just lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese, I enjoy the spices in the meat and crisp shell along with the coolness of the veggies..

                        I have a 4 hour train ride to get to a market that sells tortillas, so fresh is not an option, just as doing without is not.

                        1. re: allcladrad

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/757945

                          I'd never heard the term either but, with their relative proximity to Mexico, I defer to them.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Wow, I have not visited California for the last two years, or lived there for the last 8, but did 40 years before that and I have never heard the term before. I Googled Gringo taco and got a Youtube on how to make them, which led to a Youtube on how to make Mexican tacos and both shells were crispy? So, confused, I will just stick with what I 'thought' I knew. Thanks for the link.

                            1. re: allcladrad

                              Seems hardly a day goes by that I don't learn something on CH. Not necessarily things I NEED to you but still.... :)

                          2. re: allcladrad

                            I also think it must be someone referring to the preformed shell, because lots of Mexicans in So Cal fry their tacos crispy. I noticed last week in the big Mexican market near me that they also sell fried flat tortillas for tostadas. I will have to try those as long as they are made using the tortillas coming out of the large machine in the far side of the store--hot off the press in bags of 36.

                      3. re: eight_inch_pestle

                        where in North Carolina did you get fresh tortillas? thanks.

                        1. re: fara

                          You know, I was afraid someone was going to ask that. ;-)

                          I think the place I had the best luck was a small little Mexican grocery on Main Street in Carrboro, on the left side of the street as you head into Chapel Hill. Googled it and couldn't find anything though----sorry! And actually, IIRC, Weaver Street Market actually had really good home-style tortillas from a local factory. If you figure out the delivery schedule you can get them still warm.

                      4. I like to make tacos with crispy-fried shells. To achieve near-perfection, get same-day tortillas from a tortilla factory and fry them in a tasty combination of oil and animal fat. If I have it, I like to use the red fat that chorizo throws off.

                        1. That is easy, Take the 7 train to Queens and go to Nixtimal by Citi Field. It is a bit of a walk, but it is the only place that uses real masa in NYC. In fact, I have a bunch in my fridge right now.

                          Note that they do not use preservatives, so you need to use them fairly quickly. Whenever we pick up shells, we always plan it around lunch so that we can eat the tacos, which are delicious.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: dynastar

                            And that is the solution to the OP needs! Fresh Masa

                          2. Fresh flour tortillas are a must: my Whole Foods recently started making them daily, and the difference in taste between the fresh ones and the pre-packaged ones is unbelievable.

                            Also, Cooks Illustrated had an article a while back about making your own crispy taco shells and rated store bought crispy taco shells. I tried making my own at home and it was slightly time consuming, but fun and I did think the result was better than store packaged. They also each look a little different when you make them yourself which is cool and makes the presentation more "authentic" looking.

                            37 Replies
                            1. re: theamusedbouche

                              I've never seen or even heard of a taco made with flour tortilla. Burrito, yep. Taco, nope. And frying one til crispy? You mean like a quesadilla? I'm trying to visualize that but failing.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Tacos are made with flour tortillas everywhere in America...(see taco bell). Not saying it's authentic, but it's very common nontheless. Same deal with the fried taco shell. (something like http://www.amazon.com/Old-El-Paso-She... )

                                1. re: joonjoon

                                  Not around here!

                                  1. re: joonjoon

                                    I just went to the Taco Bell site and was really surprised to see that some of their tacos ARE made with flour tortillas. Those Old El Paso Shells, however, are corn not flour. If I were in a Mexican restaurant, ordered a taco and it came in a flour tortilla, I'd be astounded. But I've not lived "everwhere in America." Mostly just NoCal and Oregon for the last 35 years.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      But aren't they the same people who wrap a taco in a flour tortilla, fry it and then pour enchilada sauce on it? It's all about a lot of calories for cheap, so let's not have that be the way to judge what's a real taco. I'm close to the border here and tacos are made with corn tortillas at any taco shop worth its frijoles.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        i'd be more than astounded, i'd be bummed!

                                    2. re: c oliver

                                      Guilty as charged, I have been using flour for a while. I make my meat mix from pork and usually make 3 pounds at a time, leaving plenty of leftover for burritos. A while back I also had extra cheese, lettuce and tomatoes so I fried a flour tortilla and made a taco? For a Mexican food needie, it tasted pretty good. I fry them for quesadillas and frying does kick up the taste of the flour tortilla.

                                      1. re: allcladrad

                                        So they get crispy and 'shaped' (can't think of a better word) like a hard shelled taco shell? Do you use lard? A lot of it? I'm in no way being critical. Just trying to picture this.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Yes, crispy and shaped, but I use canola oil, fry one side til brown flip it over add the meat mix, fold and fry one half , flip again and fry the other. dress it how you like, not as good as a corn taco, just different. That may be a deal gringo taco, nothing Mexican about it.

                                          Some people brown them up a little on a dry cast iron skillet or even toast them a little on an open gas burner for a soft taco style..

                                          Changes the taste a little, like toasting bread.

                                      2. re: c oliver

                                        All over the southwest, except maybe Northern Californictor, one is asked flour or corn tortillas for tacos. I prefer corn. (:0}
                                        Chck out taco journalism:
                                        http://tacojournalism.blogspot.com/

                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                          I clicked on that site but didn't find anything about the tortillas. Point me in the right direction, ok? I've never thought of any part of CA as being the SW but am willing to be proved wrong about that :)

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Search flour tortillas on the Austin site and you'll find a bunch. Here's one example:
                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/431379

                                          2. re: Passadumkeg

                                            Don't they wrap a piece of fry bread around some mutton stew and call that a (Navajo) taco?

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              Yes, Paul, fry bread, mutton and fresh green chile, very simple and incredibly good. Soul food for the Dine (Navajo).
                                              CO, I know of no written source, but only my own experiences from Austin to San Diego.
                                              I'm a taco truck junkie.
                                              As much as both Texans and Californians (Cali is in Columbia.) hate to admit it, both were part of the great Mexican land grab or the mid 1800's. Aztlan is the mythical land and time when the southwest is reunited w/ mother Mexico, dreamt by many Hispanics.

                                            2. re: Passadumkeg

                                              OOPS EDIT.

                                              Wait, i misunderstood your post, PDK. i've never been asked flour or corn for a taco. only as a side with a meal in a restaurant (where the answer is always corn), or for a quesadilla maybe....

                                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                                If they are hand making the flour tortillas your are missing a real treat. I used to go to this place where, when I ordered fajitas they hand made the flour tortillas as the order was being cooked and when I asked for extras I had to wait while they were made.

                                                1. re: mariacarmen

                                                  At a lot of taco trucks in Texas of NM (which are not common.), you'll be asked up front, corn or flour. The most common topping over the meat? Diced onion and cilantro, not lettuce, tomato and cheese. Salsas are a whole new thread.

                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                    Taco trucks here in Bay Area (and there are a lot) serve only corn, they never ask (as far as any I've been to), and the toppings are as you describe - onion, cilantro and hot sauce if you want it hot. less is more!

                                                    1. re: mariacarmen

                                                      That's what I've experienced. The taco uses 1 or 2 small corn tortillas (there is a thread about this), with 3 or more being a common meal order. Flour is used for the much larger burrito (completely wrapped around the filling), and is more common in a taqueria than truck. Trucks, though, often offer tortas, similar fillings but on a bun.

                                                      Taqueria and taco truck offerings can be influenced by migration patterns. For a while in Seattle all the taquerias seemed to have 'Guayamas' in the name (a north Pacific coast region), and offered Calilfornia mission style burritos along with Mexican seafood plates and soups. The trucks owners seem to hale from a different part of Mexico, since they have tortas, but not burritos.

                                                      The SW usage probably has its roots in adjacent north Mexico. When I stayed with a family in Piedras Negras (on the border), we ate fresh store bought corn tortillas at noon, and homemade flour ones at supper. I don't recall that we ever made 'tacos' with them, except possibly with the Sunday morning barbacoa meat.

                                                2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                  PDK, I've been all over the southwest and can't recall being offered a choice between flour and corn *for tacos*. In sit-down restos serving combo plates *cough* you may be given a choice, but IMO that's a sign of an Americanized place or perhaps border influence.
                                                  OTOH the well known Tex-Mex dish 'fajitas' always seems to be served with flour tortillas, no doubt a legacy of the northern Mexico preference for flour tortillas as accompaniment (bread) with all meals.
                                                  Fry bread is an anomaly because wheat was brought from the Old World. Anyone seen non-wheat based fry bread?
                                                  Chains are biased against corn tortillas, probably because doubling them up on tacos would cause confusion and consternation among fellow gringos. Adding insult to injury, the flour tortillas are rarely fresh.
                                                  If you must use a flour tortilla in a taco or any antojito, crisp it up first on your comal or iron skillet. Gummy tortillas are not allowed!

                                                  1. re: DiveFan

                                                    >>"PDK, I've been all over the southwest and can't recall being offered a choice between flour and corn *for tacos*."<<

                                                    It's pretty common in central and southern Texas, and not just grigofied places. Burritos are pretty much unheard of, and tacos made with flour tortillas are the rule rather than the exception.

                                                    Matter of fact, when I lived in Austin (early '90s) the "crispy taco" with its deep-fried corn tortilla shell was treated as a Tex-Mex departure from tradition. Its invention was attributed to the folks at Matt's El Rancho.

                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                      Al, why are tacos the rage in Austin and burritos, NM soul food? The tacos here are terrible! The burritos are heavenly. Austin, just the opposite. Immigration. Very little recent and illegal Mexican immigration here. Golly gee, I wonder if haveing 3 prisons in town have anything to w/ it?

                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                        I spent time along the Rio Grande, too, and tacos made with flour tortillas were popular on both sides of the border. Don't think immigration had much to do with it, since the population is and always has been predominately Hispanic. My hunch is that it's a regional Mexican thing (and I'm inclined to use the borders of Mexico as they were circa 1830 when defining those regions).

                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                          A longish article on flour tortillas, tracing them to northern Mexico (where wheat grew better than further south). The 'authentic' Mexican recipe in that article is relatively heavy with lard or beef fat. Some trace flour tortillas to Sonora, and I find references to Sonora-style flour tortillas.

                                                          http://www.lomexicano.com/flour_torti...

                                                      2. re: alanbarnes

                                                        When i was in Austin a few months ago i did note that the famous bfast tacos were mostly made with flour - as in the picture, attached. I was in Rome, so i didn't ask for corn as i normally would have. corn/flour tortillas notwithstanding, these were terrible (Juan's). I did have some good non-bfast tacos from a truck (trailer they call them there) - but they were corn.

                                                        edit: btw, it was NOT the flour tortillas that made these bad - i'm not making that argument.

                                                         
                                                        1. re: mariacarmen

                                                          @mc, My gawd, how can you even pick up and eat those 'tacos'? Oversize tortillas overstuffed with some stewlike concoction. BTW a few places here serve decent 'breakfast' tacos made with flour tortillas, but they are some combo of eggs, meat and potato (and not sloppy).

                                                          paulj is on the right track, superior flour tortillas contain a decent amount of lard. Bad 'soccer-mom friendly' low fat flour tortillas dominate in my hood.

                                                          @ab, I've seen fried tacos all over for decades so I doubt they are a Texas invention; more reason for us to say Texans are 'special' :-). OTOH 'puffy' tacos are seen in California, perhaps from Texas but maybe the BC border area. What I call a 'shell' is an premade abomination containing some corn, yellow food coloring and invented by corporate America.

                                                          1. re: DiveFan

                                                            What's wrong with sloppy stewlike concoctions? A good carne guisada taco is a thing of beauty.

                                                            I know that crispy tacos weren't invented in Texas. My point was that the local lore seems to indicate that they were introduced there fairly recently. AFAIR Matt's El Rancho has been around since the early '50s, so I'd speculate that's the timeframe we're talking about. Of course, actual information trumps speculation...

                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                              I ate my first hard shell taco in Texas, in 1957.

                                                              I think the sloppy mix would work in the small truck style tacos very well. The hard shells don;t handle the wetness well.

                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                When we have the chicharrones in salsa verde tacos it's definitely a multi-napkin affair. And just heavenly.

                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                  @ab, nothing at all is wrong with a guisada taco (or burrito for that matter).

                                                                  It is the p*** poor assembly that I object to. Too much filling can cause a tragic culinary explosion, avoided by using less in doubled 4" corn tortillas or 10" flour tortillas for a burrito.
                                                                  $1.25 taquito good, overstuffed $2.50 taco bad!

                                                                2. re: DiveFan

                                                                  DiveFan - there was no picking up to be done with these gut-bombs. the one on the right was simply awful - chorizo & eggs that tasted only of too much cumin (which i normally love) - one bite was all i could take. the other was Juan in a Million's Grande something or other. bacon eggs, cheese, potatoes. Dry. their salsa was pretty good tho. anyway. flour tortilla did not hurt nor help either of these. I just love the smokey nutty flavor that corn tortillas have.

                                                            2. re: DiveFan

                                                              A way of combining flour and corn tortillas is a chilaquilas/migas burrito. For example I fry some chorizo, onion and tomato 'jam', then add crushed unsalted corn chips, and scramble an egg into the mixture, and serve wrapped in a warm flour tortilla. Here I am using migas in the Texas sense, of eggs scrambled with corn tortillas.

                                                        2. re: theamusedbouche

                                                          I thought I would add this bit of history...
                                                          The first “taco bash” in the history of New Spain was documented by none other than Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Hernan Cortes organized this memorable banquet in Coyoacan for his captains, with pigs brought all the way from Cuba. It would, however, be a mistake to think that Cortes invented the taco, since anthropologists have discovered evidence that inhabitants of the lake region of the Valley of Mexico ate tacos filled with small fish, such as acosiles and charales. The fish were replaced by small live insects and ants in the states of Morelos and Guerrero, while locusts and snails were favorite fillings in Puebla and Oaxaca.

                                                          Reaffirming a thought I have had all along, a taco is what ever you make of it, from those eaten by millions from Taco Bell to the near art form ones described by 8" pestle. Like a sandwich, there are no rules, which is what makes tacos rule.

                                                          1. re: allcladrad

                                                            Do you weigh the same as a duck? Burn her! Burn her! (Or him.)
                                                            Nice history and thought.
                                                            I guess I need to ask my therapist why I find the "salad" taco, lettuce tomato, cheese over barely spiced ground beef so so unappealing and associated w/ American, not Mexican food.

                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                              Like these better? (Credit to Gastronomia Prehispanica.)

                                                               
                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                Thanks, Al for posting the photo. Gastronomia Prehispanica is a great site for food and food porn photos! I couldn't figure out how to post it.

                                                              2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                I like the "salad" ones because I like the meat mix flavor to be the outstanding taste. Plus I enjoy the cool of the salad with both types of hot in the meat mix.

                                                                I agree with you on the barely spiced ground beef that is why I mix my own spices and seldom use ground meat..

                                                          2. For me it has to be a con tortilla,Never encountered a flour one until I moved to the the NE with my parents. Being SW stock. that was pretty strange. Burros or burritos could be found, but easily,

                                                            1. http://www.cookingissues.com/2011/03/...

                                                              Is a good blog post about nixtamalization and making tortillas. The author even applied the process to rye.