I tried my first taco in kindergarten at my school’s cafeteria. I loved it. At the time I was a really fussy eater and so my mom was happy to hear that there was a new food I was willing to eat. Unfortunately, my Polish family knew nothing about Mexican (Tex-mex?) food or cooking. My mom didn’t really even know what a taco was. I described it to her and she went out and bought some packaged taco shells, ground beef and a can of tomato sauce. She cooked it up with no seasoning, just a little salt and pepper. They were disgusting. I cried. Eventually my mom figured out that you could buy the seasoning package and whip up a gringo version of tacos with relative ease and soon taco night became an important event in our house.


While that packaged taco seasoning still holds a nostalgic attraction, you know me well enough to know that I am not going to be satisfied with a seasoning packet in my kitchen. I was looking for a recipe for spicy, flavorful ground beef tacos that did not start by opening a package. This recipe from a recent Martha Stewart Living was exactly what I was looking for. It smelled like the tacos of my youth but tasted even better; and with natural ingredients and organic, pasture-raised beef, I felt better about what I was eating. I also used this meal as an opportunity to try frying my own taco shells. Like many of you, I had mentioned frying as a kitchen phobia and this seemed as good a place as any to start dealing with hot oil. I cursed a lot and am still not entirely sure how to get the shells to form in the way I want- but they were good, real good.


Crisp Tacos Picadillo (from Martha Stewart Living, June 2009)


  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 large white onion, finely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 pound ground chuck (80 percent lean)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (1 to 2 cloves)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped (2 3/4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons white vinegar


  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 20 corn tortillas
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving
  • Chopped white onion, for serving
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Salsa Picante, for serving

Make the picadillo: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until just starting to turn translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add beef, and cook, breaking up pieces with the back of a wooden spoon, until beef has browned, about 4 minutes. Spoon out excess fat so that 1 tablespoon remains. Stir in garlic, tomatoes, paprika, chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, and cumin. Add water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until thick and very little liquid remains, about 18 minutes. Stir in vinegar.

Make the tacos: Heat 1 inch oil in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided skillet until a deep-fry thermometer registers 325 degrees. Fry tortillas, one at a time, by folding in half and laying one half flat in oil while holding other half with tongs, and repeating with the other half to form a half moon shell, until golden and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes per half. Meanwhile, let finished taco shells rest on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.

Spoon picadillo into each taco shell, and garnish with lettuce, onion, shredded cheese, and salsa picante. Enjoy with some rice (recipe here) and a cold margarita!

10 comments to “Picadillo”

  1. I have to say, my fear of frying is more to do with wasting all that delicious oil that you need for frying. I’ve heard you can reuse it a couple of times, but I always burn something in there, and you can never get the burn smell/taste out of it

  2. Wow, first taco — and in kindergarten, of all places! I love it! :)

  3. Mmm…tacos. These look wonderful. My mom has been making taco shells just like this since I was tiny. You’ll never go back to store-bought shells again! To get the shape right takes a little practice with the tongs- dipping one half of the tortilla in the oil first and once that side has firmed a bit, dipping in the other side while you grab the crisped side with the tongs and hold down any air bubbles that may have formed.

  4. i love that your mom made tacos for you though she’d never have one. lovely!
    also lovely, is the Orechiette al Forno recipe. i’ve been meaning to tell you i made it and, really, who needs sausage? yummy.


  5. A freshly fried shell of dough will never be turned away. Sounds so good.

  6. For a novice fryer, those shells certainly look fantastic! They’re bubbly and crisp. Nicely done!

  7. Maura! Glad you liked the orchiette, I love that recipe. Fennel seeds are a real miracle.

  8. Looks like you made what we here in Texas call Puffy Tacos… I think technically you use uncooked corn tortilla dough for those, but they’re very similar. I have to agree… that makes an amazing taco shell!

  9. Frying tortillas was amazingly satisfying.

  10. Hahaha…. you had me at “gringo”….. :)

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