Really, the dare here is for you to make your own corn tortillas. I totally dare you. OK, and maybe the dare for you might also be eating pickled jalapeños. DO IT. Santana will arrive and hold a party in your mouth that you won’t regret. (“Black magic woman…”)
The Tortilla Press
No, you don’t have to have a tortilla press to make those earthy-charred, warm, soft discs of heaven (aka corn tortillas). In fact, we had no idea what we were doing when we first got ours – yeah, they don’t go on the stove. What a mess.
We’ve made El Salvadoran pupusas without the press, and I have since learned how helpful it would have been to have the press for that. But it’s not necessary, not one bit. Here’s a quick recipe for corn tortillas, necessary on the road to your perfect shredded beef tacos.
2 cups masa harina corn flour (make sure it says "masa" on the packaging)
1/2 tps kosher salt
1 1/2 - 2 cups boiling hot water
In a medium bowl, mix the salt into the masa harina. Slowly pour the hot water into the dough using a wood spoon at first until the temperature drops a bit, then use your hand to mix to get a good consistency. Knead well until the dough is firm and springy when touched, not dry or sticky. Think of the texture and feel of new play dough. Let the dough rest for an hour, covered with a tea towel.
Preheat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Divide the dough into 12 2-inch balls. Press dough between two pieces of parchment paper and press the back of a small pan down to flatten the ball out until it makes a flat, round disc. Alternatively, flatten the ball according to your tortilla press directions to make the 6-inch tortillas.
Place flattened dough on the hot cast iron skillet and cook until the top of the tortilla starts to look cooked, about 1-2 minutes (I like them a bit charred, and if you do too, go a bit longer). Flip the tortilla to the other side and heat for a minute longer.
Shredded fall-apart beef with hot dripping juices, is where it’s at for this taco party. Keeping all the jalapeño seeds in with the cooking gives a good kind of heat, and probably won’t bring tears to your eyes. Whatever method you use, braising, slow-cooker, dutch oven stove top for hours… make sure you make the meat with passion, preferably with some sort of latin-based music playing, or thinking of your family and friends who will be there tonight to enjoy this with you. It will reflect in your meal.
2 jalapeños, sliced into coins (seeded if you want less heat)
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 bay leaves
1 cup beef stock
Season all sides of the beef with a good amount of salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, or other heavy pot that has a tight cover, heat 2 tablespoons of Achiote oil over medium high heat. Add the the beef to the pot, browning the meat on all sides, taking the time to get a nice crust on the outside. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeños and allow to lightly brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the spices and stock and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and transfer everything to a slow cooker. Cook on high for 3 hours or until the meat easily shreds. Let meat cool in the liquid, remove bay leaves, then shred meat and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add the seeds and toast for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the oil, reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. The oil will become bright orange. Immediately remove from the heat, cool and strain. Store the oil in a glass container in the refrigerator. The oil will keep for several months. Yield: 1/2 cup (Achiote oil recipe found here.)
To make a true Mexican-American “street” taco party, you have to have interesting toppings. It could be like a food truck pulled up to your house, and now you can’t decide between the kimchi, or the medjool dates and goat cheese to dress up your taco. Well these two toppings we recommend are definitely closer to the latin roots of the taco. You can make both for your party, and then people can have tacos two ways.
The first topping we recommend, is the traditional pickled jalapeño and carrots. There are many, many, many pickled jalapeño and carrots recipes, so do a Google search and pick your favorite one.
The second topping is more of a salad (minus lettuce or cabbage). It’s a number of vegetables that party well together in a light vinaigrette.
1 cup seeded chopped cucumber (from 1/2 English or hothouse cucumber)
1 cup seeded chopped tomatoes (from 2 tomatoes)
1/2 cup capers, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 radishes, finely chopped
Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking the olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl until well combined. Add the lime juice, red onion and oregano and whisk again. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.
In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, tomatoes, capers, cilantro and radishes and toss to combine. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.(Adapted from here.)
Both toppings will taste better on the second day, but I made and enjoyed these same day and it worked just fine.
Take a warm corn tortilla, add meat vertically down the center, then add a topping. Add any cheese if you’d like. Then pick up the taco, pinching the two free ends together. Taking care to hold the taco over your plate, turn your head, and bite in. The sauce from the meat and toppings will certainly fall onto your plate (maybe there’s a bed of spanish rice to catch the fall?). There may be splash-zone spray on your neighbors’ arm. Smile and laugh. Then turn up Santana (“Oye como va”) and have another taco.