August 14, 2011

Beef Tacos

I was in a mood for tacos one evening last week, so I decided to make some, and to use my own mix of seasoning instead of one of the store-bought seasoning packets. 

In designing my own recipe, I first checked out an old one from Cook's Illustrated back in 2002.   The basics of that recipe gave me something to start from in designing my own recipe.  I also found something else good in Cook's Illustrated:  how to make home-fried taco shells.

The taco shell method is pretty straightforward, really.   Heat 3/4 cup oil (I used canola oil) in a small skillet to 350 degrees.  When the oil is ready, use tongs to slip half of a tortilla into the oil, folding it partway over and using a spatula to keep the frying part of the tortilla flat.  When the first half of the tortilla starts to stiffen, flip the tortilla, holding it open a bit.

Fry the second side until it is lightly browned, then flip again until that side is lightly browned, then transfer the shell upside-down on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.  Continue with as many shells as desired.  

I used store-bought (Mission brand medium-sized) tortillas.  They worked great, although they did have something of a tendency to puff up sort of like fry bread.   This made for a nice change of pace from the hard shells one gets in a store, or from going the soft-shell route.

I decided to make a large batch of taco meat, even though I was cooking for just Juli and me, since I had an idea what to do with the leftover meat.   The recipe below is for a large batch; if you want less taco meat, just halve the recipe. 

The tacos were really, really good.  Juicy, nicely-seasoned meat, crisp lettuce, garden-fresh tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese (as usual, we grated up some Cabot extra-sharp cheddar) inside a crisp (but not crunchy) shell... they were well worth the effort of going the do-it-yourself route instead of relying so much on store-prepared ingredients.  Juli used some of what was left to make a taco salad for work the next day, and I had plans for the rest of the meat.  Stay tuned!

Beef Tacos

yield = enough meat for 16 tacos (serves 8)

3                   tablespoons canola oil
1                   large yellow onion, diced
2                   teaspoons minced garlic
4                   tablespoons chili powder
2 1/2             teaspoons ground cumin
2                   teaspoons coriander
1 1/2             teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, crushed
1/2                teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4                teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4                teaspoon table salt
2                   pounds 90% lean ground beef
1                   cup tomato sauce
3/4                cup low-sodium chicken broth
2                   teaspoons light brown sugar
2                   teaspoons cider vinegar
8                   taco shells
2                   cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2                   cups shredded lettuce
4-5               small tomatoes
                     sour cream (if desired)

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.  Stir in the garlic and spices and cook, continuing to stir, for 1 minute.  Add the ground beef and cook until the meat is no longer pink (about 5 minutes), using the wooden spoon to break up large pieces of meat and to scrape the bottom of the skillet to prevent burning. 

Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar and vinegar.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has cooked off (about 10 minutes). 

To serve, spoon portions of the meat mixture into each taco shell, then top with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream (if desired).


  1. I use a modified version of this ATK recipe. I no longer do the chicken broth. I didn't think it added much and it took me a long time to boil it off.

  2. That's good feedback. I changed some other things in customizing the recipe above from the CI one, but I carried over the chicken broth. I'm also not sure it added anything, though, and it seems to me the tomato sauce should add plenty of moisture on its own. So next time I make this, I think I may also delete the broth and see if I think it makes a difference.

    Thanks for the idea!