Are you looking to turn your taco night up a notch? To dial down the flavour of the Old El Paso fajita mix, drown out the discontent surfacing from those new born baby sized burritos, and most importantly, to once and for all dispense with those novelty sombreros?
Yep, Taco night at home can be elegant, delicious and different with just a few simple tweaks to the usual formula. With that in mind, here are 5 IDEAL ways to make your next taco night the best you’ve ever had.
MAKE YOUR OWN TORTILLAS
First things first; a mistake so many of us Brits make on taco night is to disregard the actual tortilla – the base of the taco – itself. We’re all guilty of placing too much emphasis on the filling, particularly the protein, and neglecting the heart and soul of the dish. And the cuisine. And the country, come to think of it.
Yep, the best tacos are built on a solid foundation of homemade, proper tortilla. It should be warm, pliable, and tasting like corn. For the full Mexican experience, make your own; the only ingredient you need is Masa Harina (fine corn flour treated with a little calcium hydroxide lime water) which you can buy online from specialist suppliers and Latin American grocery shops. We use the reliable mexgrocer.co.uk or esoteric ingredients specialist Sous Chef.
All you need to do is incrementally add warm water to the Masa Harina (you’ll need roughly a 3:2 ratio), let it sit for a few minutes then knead until you have a pliable small dough. After that, form small balls from that dough, place them between cling film or in a sandwich bag, and flatten thinly, either using a dedicated tortilla press or a rolling pin. Bear in mind that the perfect taco should be gone in two or three bites, so aim for the size of a small American pancake, roughly.
Then, you just grill them on a hot grill pan for 30 seconds or so each side. Keep your homemade tortillas warm in the oven so they don’t turn dry and crisp. That, my friends, is a tostada, and not what we’re going for here. Should that occur, or you’re preparing your tortilla in advance, warm them through on a griddle pan once again before serving, to ensure your tortilla is pliable.
As many a chef will tell you, the soul of Mexican cooking is found in its sauces. God, those sauces; we love them and we’re getting a bit hot under the collar just thinking about salsa. Or, maybe that’s the chilli sweats coming on.
Anyway, the importance of salsa, and the attention you give them in the preparation, can’t be overstated. In a quality taqueria, they’re the first item brought to the table, the first thing you taste, and the first sign to discerning palates of whether the restaurant knows what’s what they’re doing.
The ideal Taco night will have, at the very least, a salsa verde and a salsa roja (green and red) at the table, with spice levels, colour and aromatic qualities defined by the type of chilli you go for, whether you’re using green or red tomatillos, and the amounts of onion, garlic and fresh herbs added.
Experiment with a wide range of Mexican chillis; serrano is ubiquitous but shouldn’t be used indiscriminately, and make sure you stock up your larder with plenty of dried variants, too. Lots of salsas have smoky notes, garnered by charring your ingredients, so experiment with this too.
Most importantly, do endeavour to pair your salsas thoughtfully with the other components of your taco. If you’re doing crispy fish tacos, for instance, an assertive, smokey salsa roja will likely overpower the subtly of the fish. Instead, a fresh and light pico de gallo is just perfect here.
For inspiration, we absolutely love the nuanced, thoughtful salsa recipes from acclaimed London restaurant Breddos Tacos, available on the Great British Chefs website. Check them out!
We realise we said taco night, and guac usually stands alone on the Mexican dining table, but we just love this most famous of Mexican dishes. When enjoying a feast ‘family style’, part of the fun is the hands on approach; dipping, swapping, personalising, and experimenting. As any visitor to Mexico will tell you, this adds real character and joy to eating in the country.
A side of guacamole, then, with fresh tortilla chips (deep fry some hand-cut triangles from your earlier batch of Masa Harina) just completes taco night for us. It’s essential you use ripe, room temperature avocados – some chefs swear by peeling off the stem and checking that it’s dark green beneath, but we think giving the fruit a good squeeze is more reliable – and practice a less is more approach with the seasoning.
After breaking down the avocado in a pestle and mortar, we think a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt is all you need, but many also add serrano chilli and coriander, and that’s lovely, too!
Should you not be able to get your hands on any ripe avocados, be discerning about the shop bought stuff; many supermarket varieties are incredibly smooth, like baby food, and tend to be way too sour. While you can’t beat freshly homemade guacamole, the next best thing for us has got to be Holy Moly’s Original Guacamole, which we find delicious. The company work with Mexican farmers to ethically source handpicked Hass avocados, and the final product uses no preservatives, sulfites or any other nasty additives. As a result, the dip tastes like it’s been freshly made – you really wouldn’t believe this stuff comes out of a packet. Moreover, the smashed avocado texture is spot on – the way good guacamole should be. Lovely stuff.
BEAN THERE, DONE THAT
Beans are a way of life in Mexico, an ever-present in the kitchen of every family in the nation, and part of the holy trinity of the country’s cuisine; chilli, corn and beans.
Indeed, top chef Enrique Olvera says that Mexicans are ‘in touch with the lifecycle that beans have. We always make a big batch….and know that they will evolve day-by-day. The first day, they are brothy and firm. The next day, the broth gets cloudier and the beans softer and so on until you have a homogenous paste later in the week. Then you start again with a fresh pot’.
We just love that idea that the progression of the bean pot charts the week’s succession. Therefore, on taco night, it’s essential you have a bowl of beans on your table. Refried beans are the absolute classic here, and marry beautifully in between bites of zesty, spicy salsas and reassuring guacamole.
To make refried beans (frijoles) you only need a couple of ingredients; pinto beans (available in some UK supermarkets), garlic, onion and salt, as well as cooking fat of your using; lard is the most traditional and, might we add, the most delicious. Check out the recipe for perfect refried beans from Serious Eats over here; faithful to the finest versions we’ve tried in Mexico.
ASSEMBLE WITH A LIGHTNESS OF TOUCH
Tacos the size of a pizza with the multi-meat filling landing in your lap when you lift it to your mouth…this ain’t it. The ideal taco should take a couple of bites only, and be lightly appointed, rather than collapsing under the weight of expectation. That way, the focus can fall more firmly on your delightful homemade tortillas, which are, after all, the heart of the meal.
A tortilla measuring around 15 centimetres across is traditional for tacos (roughly the length from the wrist to the tip of your middle finger) though making them slightly smaller works well for keeping the ingredients you add focused and compact. When assembling your taco, make sure there’s a decent border around the filling before you fold or roll, to avoid all the good stuff spilling out. And as we already mentioned, think carefully and thoughtfully about what flavours and textures work together as you assemble.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our deep dive into our IDEAL tacos. So, see you next Tuesday for Taco night?
If you want to read even more on tacos, check out our tips on the 5 IDEAL places for the tastiest tacos in London.