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!