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~ Store-Bought Corn Tortillas & the Perfect Taco Shell ~

IMG_3734An over-fried corn tortilla can be like eating broken glass.  That super-crispy-crunchy state is best left for frying tortilla wedges or wisps to serve as tortilla chips with dips, or wisps to garnish various Mexican-style soups or main-dishes.  No one wants to pick up a taco only to take a bite and have the taco shell shatter all over the plate.  This is not a blog post I ever intended to write, but, based on the number of times I get asked how I fry my taco shells, in order to achieve the perfect crisp-yet-pliable texture, I guess I should.  While it will be short and sweet, here goes.

IMG_3833When it comes to corn tortillas, nothing is as good as made-from-scratch tortillas, hand-mixed (using a mixture of masa harina and water) and hand-pressed.  That said, store-bought fresh corn tortillas are, in fact, a high-quality convenience product.  On the other hand, nothing is quite as bad as a taco shell that comes out of a box -- just don't do it. While making tortillas from scratch is not hard (not to mention fun), it is messy and time consuming, and, for as many tacos as my family eat, that is simply not a task I am willing to undertake on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, so, we are focusing on deep-frying taco shells using store-bought, fresh corn tortillas. 

IMG_4265 2The best taco shells are deep-fried. Period.  End of discussion.  Yes, they can be baked in the oven, I know, I've done it, but, BIG but, they're not as good, so, there's no time like the present to get over your fear of frying.  My grandmother and mother used to deep-fry foods in a 4-quart stockpot filled half-way with corn oil and a candy thermometer clipped to the side to control the temperature.  It's an option that works but it's smelly and messy.  

IMG_3839To avoid that, a small investment (about $60.00) will buy a deep-fryer that controls the heat perfectly, and, has a filter to catch all spatter and control any smell.  There's more. Presentation is everything, so, for evenly shaped tacos, I recommend spending a bit more (about $10.00) on a taco former, which shapes the soft tortilla until it crisps up, and, one or two taco holders (about $20 ) which hold the taco shells in place for super-easy assembly and a pretty as a picture presentation.

To deep-fry the perfect crisp-yet-pliable corn tortilla:

IMG_3711 IMG_3846 IMG_3846 IMG_3846 IMG_3846 IMG_3846~Step 1.  Remove the fryer-basket from the deep-fryer -- it's just in the way when frying taco shells. Preheat a deep-fryer that has been filled (according to manufacturer's specifications) with corn or peanut oil, to 375º.  Place a wire rack atop a few layers of paper towels and ready a grinder of sea salt.  Place one fresh corn tortilla in the taco former and lower it into the hot oil.  Without losing your grip on the taco former, close the fryer lid and continue to fry the tortilla for exactly 45 seconds.  Lift the fryer lid, remove the taco former, and release the taco shell onto  the wire rack.  Sprinkle the inside of the taco shell with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Wait 5-6 seconds, no longer, and fit the taco shell into the taco rack. Repeat this process until desired number of taco shells have been fried and cooled.  

Taco shells made from fresh corn tortillas are a perfect vessel for many cultures, or any cuisine, to rest its food.

IMG_3720Store-Bought Corn Tortillas & the Perfect Taco Shell:  Recipe yields instructions to form and deep-fry the perfect crisp-yet-pliable taco shells.

Special Equipment List:  electric deep-fryer or a 4-quart saucepan and a candy thermometer; taco former; taco rack; wire cooling rack; paper towels

IMG_3792 2Cook's Note: Mexican food is a favorite of mine, but I often wish it wasn't.  Don't misunderstand me -- I can and will gobble up all its flavor-packed goodness with the best of 'em.  It's next to impossible for anyone me to resist the melty or crumbly cheeses along with the creamy-rich refried beans, guacamole and crema.  That said, more often than not, when dinner is done, I find myself wishing I'd exercised (pun intended) even a modicum of restraint.  Hence, my recipe for ~ Light & Easy Tex-Mex-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


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