In Australia, we find it very hard to get authentic Mexican food. What we know as children was actually the American version of “Tex Mex” which really has hard taco shells and lots of sour cream, lettuce and minced beef. A real taco however is deceptively simple… a freshly made soft corn tortilla topped with a beautifully slow cooked meat such as beef brisket, grilled or confit pork and some simple toppings of white onion and coriander. You then lash with lots of salsa.
In 2016 my wife and I were lucky to travel to Mexico to experience the real thing and what an eye opener it was! Tacos from street vendors that came out at night were exciting! Lots of smoke, sizzle and the aromas of grilled meat and the amazing tap tap tap of cleavers chopping meat into small pieces. Watching an authentic Taqueria and seeing them plate up meet on tortillas at dazzling speed, then choosing a bunch of salsas to drizzle on your taco. Heaven! These are perfect late night meals – sinful food with full helpings of fat and grease cut through your late night beer with tangy hot salsas.
If you have some time – watch the amazing Taco Chronicles on Netflix shows you the many and varied types of tacos unique to each region of Mexico.
Corn is a revered staple in Mexico. The Mayan natives used a variety of white corn that needs to be soaked in calcified lime in order to break down the hard outer husk to become digestible. They grind it into fresh masa flour using a stone grinder that then can be used to make a variety of dishes. The version I have below uses dry corn masa harina. You can find these at your speciality grocery stores. You can use white corn, yellow or blue corn masa. Do not mistake normal corn flour which is a thickening agent for masa harina. The corn must have been steeped in calcified lime to get the right texture.
It starts with a freshly made corn tortilla.
2 cups of White corn Masa Harina flour (Maseca brand or Bob’s Flour mill yellow corn masa flour)
1 tsp salt
1 cup of water.
Makes 8-10 small tortillas. I usually cater for 3-4 tortillas per person eating.
1 Tortilla press (If you dont’ have one just use your kitchen counter and the bottom of a heavy book or a large heavy saucepan)
A plastic bag or freezer bag to line the tortilla press.
Tea towels to keep the tortillas warm.
You can prepare tortillas in advance then reheat them for a minute on a hot pan just before use. Store in the refrigerator for around a week or freeze, thaw and reheat before use.
- Mix the masa flour salt and water in by hand. Add about 50% of the water first then gradually add the rest. Mix well into a dough. The dough should feel like soft plasticine, it should come clean from the bowl and should be not sticky. If its too sticky add a tsp of masa. If its too dry add a tsp of water.
- Rest covered for 30 minutes to allow to hydrate.
- Roll out by hand a small golf ball sized piece of dough
- Heat a dry non stick pan to medium-high heat
- Line the tortilla press with the plastic bag. So that the dough ball can be put inside the bag between the layers of plastic
- Press the tortilla press down firmly but not too hard. (You could also use your kitchen bench and a large heavy book or saucepan and just press straight down.)
- Remove the fresh flat tortilla carefully from the plastic and place on to the hot pan.
- Cook for 1 minute on 1 side, flip and cook for 30 seconds then flip back and cook for another 30. The trapped water in the tortilla should cause the tortilla to puff up.
- Place and wrap in some tea towels to keep warm. Repeat until all is done.
What else can you make with your tortillas?
Tortillas start to go dry and lose their freshness after a week. Mexicans deep fry them or add them to soups.
If you want to make to make a tostada (tostada = toasted), deep fry the tortilla in some hot oil at 180 degrees C for 2 minutes until crisp and drain on kitchen paper.
If you want to make corn chips / eg Totopos – cut them into pie shaped slices and deep fry them as above.
Taco fillings are many and varied. From meat tortillas to fish, refried beans, eggs or vegetables, they are a staple of all Mexican food. See my next posts for some great fillings for tacos.