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Old 02-11-2012, 08:42 PM   #1
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Taco shells: Soft, Fried Crisp, or Store Bought?

Which do you prefer and if you make your own how do you make them?
  • Soft shells: Steamed, heated over a direct flame, or what?
  • Fried crisp: What oil do you use and what is your method?
  • Store bought: What brand and do you heat them?
And let's not forget to express preferences, corn, flour or what?

Please comment on anything else bearing on the tortillas you serve tacos in, and how you prepare them.


I have mixed opinions. I like soft shells because I think they're healthier not being coated with oil. I prefer flour tortillas for soft tacos. I heat them one at a time over an open gas burner flame, using tongs to flip it a few times until there's some browned spots. Corn can be used too but flour tortillas are more flexible when fresh while corn tortillas tend to split when you bend them.

I like fried shells because they taste so good! I usually prefer corn tortillas when I fry them. I heat about a 1/2 or 3/4 inch of oil in a skillet. This is a three step process. I place a tortilla in the oil and push it down with my tongs until it's completely submerged and then let it fry until it's just barely losing its flexibility. Then I pick up one edge and lift it out of the oil until a bit more than half is out of the oil, and continue cooking. When the submerged part is starting to crisp I reverse the place I'm holding the tortilla and continue cooking the opposite end. Important: I leave a spot in the middle that isn't cooked yet! When the second end is cooked I pick up the tortilla with both ends held together and put the bottom uncooked part in the oil and finish cooking, so that the shell has the classic "U" shape. I place the completed shells in a warm oven, on a cookie sheet with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

I usually use Canola oil although I'd probably use anything else I had on hand. I usually stock only Olive, Canola and Peanut oil. I think it would be great to cook taco shells in lard!!!

Sometimes I cook the shell part way (until it's just beginning to stiffen) and then add the meat and return to frying the stuffed taco. Use minimum depth oil if you try this. They are somewhat greasy even after draining but they are so good!!! When using this method I usually use corn tortillas but sometimes flour tortillas are amazing! They get a delicate crispy texture rather than the chewy texture you get from corn tortillas.

I never use store bought shells. I imagine it would be a good idea to warm them in the oven if you use them.


I've made my own corn tortillas a few times, with varying results. Sometimes they came out great, sometimes didn't keep together very well. I used masa harina, lard and IIRC some water. It's been a long time since I've made home made tortillas.

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Old 02-11-2012, 08:46 PM   #2
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Generally store bought. Always soft. Hard, store bought - blech.
Preferences -
Tacos - corn
Burritos - flour
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Old 02-11-2012, 09:26 PM   #3
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Generally store bought. Always soft. Hard, store bought - blech.
Just to clarify, by "store bought" I was referring to prepared hard or crispy shells purchased in packages in the store, already formed into taco shells and ready to use.

I presume most people will buy fresh tortillas at the market for making tacos, and then heat them in some way.
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Old 02-11-2012, 10:14 PM   #4
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We have a local place that makes corn tortillas and taco shells on site and will sell them by the dozen, they also do flour tortillas. So I buy them pre-made because I can't make them better. Time saver for me and I don't have to do the frying in my non-ventilated apartment. I buy regular corn tortillas for enchiladas, tostada shells, taco shells and flour tortillas for soft shells and burritos...if I call early enough (6am) they will make taco salad bowls out of flour or corn tortillas for me. They will also fry up fresh tortilla chips anytime of the day.
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Old 02-11-2012, 10:23 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Gourmet Greg View Post
Just to clarify, by "store bought" I was referring to prepared hard or crispy shells purchased in packages in the store, already formed into taco shells and ready to use.

I presume most people will buy fresh tortillas at the market for making tacos, and then heat them in some way.
Grocery stores in San Diego always have soft corn tortillas so I don't even look at the hard ones. We just don't care for those cardboardy hard shells available at the grocery store.
Flour tortillas get toasted directly on the grate over the gas flame.
Corn tortillas get microwaved, usually wrapped in moist paper (or cloth) towels. Unless I'm making enchiladas then the corn tortillas get dipped in the warm enchilada sauce before filling and rolling.
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Old 02-11-2012, 10:28 PM   #6
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Wow PF, I'm amazed that you have so many Latino options in a place (MT) where I would presume would have none of these options. If I could buy freshly fried taco shells maybe I would totally reconsider using pre-made. The freshly made taco salad bowls and fresh tortilla chips sound delicious too! Maybe I should look around more. If you can find that stuff in MT then it would be astounding if I couldn't find them in my part of Los Angeles.

We have plenty of Latinos here. That's probably why I cook so much Mexican food. It's impossible to grow up in L.A. without learning to enjoy Mexican cuisine, or at least unlikely.

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Unless I'm making enchiladas then the corn tortillas get dipped in the warm enchilada sauce before filling and rolling.
I'm curious if you've cooked your enchiladas "Mexican style"? You dip them in enchilada sauce and then fry them. Then fill with stuffing, cover with sauce and bake. It's very messy but very good. Too messy for me to do that very often.
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Old 02-11-2012, 10:32 PM   #7
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You just have to make friends with the folks who own the restaurants.
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Old 02-11-2012, 10:55 PM   #8
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Yes. Corn for tacos. I prefer soft, briefly frying corn tortillas of the coarser variety to soften them. (If you're worried about fat, shouldn't be eating Tex-Mex anyway.) Soft tacos are not nearly the exercise in trying to keep the fillings under control as crisp. Store bought crisp shells are an abomination. For those who like crisp shells, at least buy a good corn tortilla and fry it yourself. (Lay the tortilla in a shallow layer of hot oil. As it starts to stiffen, lift on half to form the fold and roll the shell back over to do the other side.)

If I am making tortillas, I want a not very fine masa, if I have any choice. Strictly masa and water, pressed, unless you are practiced in the Mexican mama hand jive method of patting them out. Cooked on a seasoned steel or cast iron griddle of comal without oil or fat.

I know you see lard and shortening regularly listed and used, but when you see an old time Mexican girl making tortillas, you'll see them working limed corn (hominy) wet on the metate, scraping up a ball of properly ground dough from the low end of the metate, hand forming the tortilla and putting it directly on the comal. It's a rare and special thing to get a chance to eat tortillas that were made from corn processed at home, worked to masa on a metate, and cooked on an iron plate over a wood fire. It's on my list before I die to start with dried field corn and do all the steps to a traditional tortilla. But a real metate is dang expensive.

Now freshly made fried chips are infinitely better than commercial chips, although a few commercial makers do a good job. But what's a "good" commercial chip can be argued according to tastes. I think that the thinnest of thin chips serves the purpose best.

The tortilla was the measure of the old rural Mexican hospitality, no matter how poor. The saying was that, if there's tortillas enough for one, there's enough for two. And if there's enough for two, there's enough for three.
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Old 02-11-2012, 11:12 PM   #9
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All of the above!
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Old 02-11-2012, 11:14 PM   #10
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I may have misremembered the lard in my homemade tortillas. It's been years since I've made them. Maybe the lard was for my homemade tamales. Those are good too, and I'm sure you use lard. I still think it's a great idea to fry taco shells in lard and I hope to try it some day. I bet they'll be great!

I think I erred in my OP regarding the depth of oil. Probably more like 1/4". Maybe less if you are cooking them already stuffed. Am I the only one who has done that?

I'm not worried about fat. I'm near the middle of the recommended BMI. I just don't like food when it gets too greasy. Well except for greasy but good tacos, and greasy but good hamburgers. You understand love/hate, right?
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Old 02-11-2012, 11:30 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gourmet Greg View Post
We have plenty of Latinos here. That's probably why I cook so much Mexican food. It's impossible to grow up in L.A. without learning to enjoy Mexican cuisine, or at least unlikely.



I'm curious if you've cooked your enchiladas "Mexican style"? You dip them in enchilada sauce and then fry them. Then fill with stuffing, cover with sauce and bake. It's very messy but very good. Too messy for me to do that very often.
We also grew up in LA area. Norwalk, to be exact.
I have dipped and then fried them, and it's way messy. In trying to cut down on fats so I don't fry them after dipping any more.
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Old 02-11-2012, 11:39 PM   #12
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Way messy! I'd do it except for the mess.

I'm trying to cut down on worrying about fats, unless they appear on the kitchen wall!
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Old 02-12-2012, 03:46 AM   #13
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Soft, corn or wheat, heated in the oven.
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Old 02-12-2012, 05:23 AM   #14
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Both flour tortilla and crispy taco shells. Flour for wraps and burritos, shells for tacos.
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Old 02-12-2012, 07:28 AM   #15
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Both corn and flour here. DH likes the corn best and I love the flour.

Soften the corn in just a touch of canola oil .. drain the fill like a burrito.

The flour tortilla is done a bit different. Spread raw ground beef on the tortilla like you would peanut butter .. spread to the edges. Lay it in a pan of hot canola oil folding it in half. Cook until crispy on one side, turn and crisp on the other side. Place on paper towel lined plate and let it drain. The meat is completely cooked, the tortilla is crispy, filled with your favorite toppings it is very yummy!
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Old 02-12-2012, 08:23 AM   #16
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Wow PF, I'm amazed that you have so many Latino options in a place (MT) where I would presume would have none of these options.
You'd be amazed, Greg, at places that have Latino populations enough to support real Mexican restaurants and Latino markets. I live in a town of about 3000 in the mostly rural farmlands of the Midwest. It is, though, a tourist town with a sizable Hispanic population to support the restaurant industry. So, to support them we have an ESL program, and many of the larger businesses sponsor basic Spanish classes for their employees. We have a Latino market where you can get all things Mexican and a lot of other Central/South American products. The local Catholic churches get in a Spanish-speaking priest monthly for masses & confessions. The Asian market in Dubuque (about a half-hour away) has, along with Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, etc, foods; a Mexican department.

In many rural farm towns across the country you'll find pockets of immigrants where you'd (or at least I'd) least suspect it. It wasn't like this when I was young (because of my dad's, then my, then my husband's work I've cris-crossed this country by car more times than I can count), when you were lucky to find anything edible in small rural towns at all, much less the rich variety of ethnic enclaves you can find now. In Garden City, KS we found great Vietnamese food/markets. In Waycross, GA some of the best Mexican food ever. Be it the restaurant industry, farming, or in the case of Garden City, the beef industry, or churches that sponsor groups of immigrants, you'd be surprised. I was.
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Old 02-12-2012, 09:04 AM   #17
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I may have misremembered the lard in my homemade tortillas. It's been years since I've made them. Maybe the lard was for my homemade tamales. Those are good too, and I'm sure you use lard. I still think it's a great idea to fry taco shells in lard and I hope to try it some day. I bet they'll be great!
No, you probably remember right. It's very, very common to see it in recipes. In fact, you see fat in nearly all of them posted on the Internet. But it's just not necessary and, at least around here, not done by those who make them as they learned from their grandmothers and beyond. Like a lot of traditional flat breads, they happened because they suited conditions and needs. Life in rural northern Mexico (and Texas for that matter) was always very basic. Corn was available, cheap, and reasonably useful as a staple alone, IF you treated it with lime. You could keep or carry a quantity of meal or flour, and presumably water was at hand, or you wouldn't be worrying about food. A fire and a flat rock or a piece of sheet iron sufficed for a comal. Fat was a less practical thing to keep or carry in a very hot climate for people who had little opportunity for much meat. (Although Texians of the mid-1800's largely lived on corn - as pretty wretched corn "bread" - and salt pork, much to the dismay of Frederick Law Olmsted who boarded nights with them on his 1855 trip across Texas and didn't get anything else to eat until he got to Austin.)

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I think I erred in my OP regarding the depth of oil. Probably more like 1/4". Maybe less if you are cooking them already stuffed. Am I the only one who has done that?
That's more a flauta, a filed, rolled, and fried corn tortilla, or a chimichanga, fillings wrapped in a flour tortilla and deep fried. Neither is very old or a traditional food of the people. Old rural Mexican kitchens weren't often equipped or provisioned for true deep frying.

I found a video of the real deal. She's in a restaurante, but in a home, someone would be making tortillas for the family for the whole day, and it would be her job every day of her life. No doubt, if I made a few dozen every day, I'd get that hand technique down.

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Old 02-12-2012, 12:06 PM   #18
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he flour tortilla is done a bit different. Spread raw ground beef on the tortilla like you would peanut butter .. spread to the edges. Lay it in a pan of hot canola oil folding it in half. Cook until crispy on one side, turn and crisp on the other side. Place on paper towel lined plate and let it drain. The meat is completely cooked, the tortilla is crispy, filled with your favorite toppings it is very yummy!
That's interesting! I never thought of cooking the filling at the same time.

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A fire and a flat rock or a piece of sheet iron sufficed for a comal.
I've seen tortillas made over a "stove" made from a 55 gallon drum, south of Tijuana on the way to Rosarito Beach. Cut off one end, cut holes in the side to feed coals, place it over the coals and start a fire, cook on what used to be the bottom of the drum.

Quote:
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That's more a flauta, a filed, rolled, and fried corn tortilla, or a chimichanga, fillings wrapped in a flour tortilla and deep fried. Neither is very old or a traditional food of the people. Old rural Mexican kitchens weren't often equipped or provisioned for true deep frying.
My version could have been a flauta if I had rolled it it up. But it was just taco shaped with the meat thrown in at the bottom of the "U".
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Old 02-12-2012, 12:33 PM   #19
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You'd be amazed, Greg, at places that have Latino populations enough to support real Mexican restaurants and Latino markets. I live in a town of about 3000 in the mostly rural farmlands of the Midwest. It is, though, a tourist town with a sizable Hispanic population to support the restaurant industry. So, to support them we have an ESL program, and many of the larger businesses sponsor basic Spanish classes for their employees. We have a Latino market where you can get all things Mexican and a lot of other Central/South American products. The local Catholic churches get in a Spanish-speaking priest monthly for masses & confessions. The Asian market in Dubuque (about a half-hour away) has, along with Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, etc, foods; a Mexican department.

In many rural farm towns across the country you'll find pockets of immigrants where you'd (or at least I'd) least suspect it. It wasn't like this when I was young (because of my dad's, then my, then my husband's work I've cris-crossed this country by car more times than I can count), when you were lucky to find anything edible in small rural towns at all, much less the rich variety of ethnic enclaves you can find now. In Garden City, KS we found great Vietnamese food/markets. In Waycross, GA some of the best Mexican food ever. Be it the restaurant industry, farming, or in the case of Garden City, the beef industry, or churches that sponsor groups of immigrants, you'd be surprised. I was.
My Campfire group in grade school (Laramie, WY) was created by combining the students from a public school on the East side of town and a school on the west side. Half of our members were Mexican, their families worked on the railroad. We had a fantastic mingling of cultures. They were able to learn better English and attend events that their families could not afford and we were able to eat the most fantastic food. (we also learned Mexican) Their mothers would happily teach us how to cook anything. My SIL is Mexican and I learned from her, too.

Here in Missoula we have Hmong immigrants, Italian Immigrants, Mexican immigrants, Russian immigrants and at work we have immigrants from the Philippines. I know how to say Good Morning and Merry Christmas in many languages and I have a huge International variety of friends and neighbors. Big cities are NOT the only places to encounter other cultures. Even out here in the sticks we have the Internet and good food...along with Dueling Banjos.

Also of note...I spent several years as a dependent traveling with the Air Force...Dad was stationed in Okinawa and Korea.
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Old 02-12-2012, 12:42 PM   #20
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Always Corn....heated on an oiled griddle ~~ Better yet.. thrown on bed of hot coals and flipped a time or two.....
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