Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Passion for Puffy Tacos

Puffy Tacos are a specialty on San Antonio’s menus.

Another San Antonio invention, like the breakfast taco, they are a permanent part of timeless Tex-Mex cuisine.
Owner of San Antonio restaurant’s La Hacienda and Los Barrios, Diana Barrios Trevino cooked them at the White House back in 2010. Here is Diana’s original recipe for the puffy shells:

Puffy Taco Shell Recipe
Makes 12-15 tacos
3 cups corn masa mix
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ¼ cups warm water
Vegetable oil for frying

Combine the masa mix, salt and warm water in a large bowl and mix until a smooth dough forms. Pull off pieces of dough and roll them into balls about the size of Ping-Pong ball.

Cut a quart-size re-sealable plastic bag open down both sides, to form a rectangle.

Use the bag to line a tortilla press as you shape the tortillas, so they do not stick: Lay one side of the plastic over the bottom of the press, place a ball of dough in the center, and fold the other side of the plastic over the dough. Shut the top of the tortilla press firmly down on the dough to shape the tortilla.

Meanwhile, pour 2 inches of vegetable oil into large deep pot and heat to 250 degrees.

Drop a tortilla into the hot oil and, using a metal spatula; repeatedly douse the tortilla with the hot oil until it begins to puff up.

Flip it over and, using the spatula, make an indentation in the center of the tortilla to form a taco shape. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Fill each taco with your favorite fillings.

This recipe is Saveur’s take on the puffy tacos that are served at Rolando’s Super Tacos in San Antonio. For over 24 years, this tiny place has cranked out some of the biggest and best Mexican bites. I ate there 16 years ago and the food continues to have a very enthusiastic following.

Changes: I didn’t mash the avocado but diced it instead. I also made a miniature version to serve as an appetizer rather than an entrée.

Bon Appetit!

¼ cup olive oil
2½ lb. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
2 avocados, pitted, peeled, and mashed
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Canola oil, for frying
3 cups masa harina
1½ tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
Shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomato, and shredded cheddar cheese, to garnish
Heat oil in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and add to pan, skin side down; cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate; set aside. Add garlic, onion, celery, carrot, and bell pepper; cook, stirring, until soft, about 20 minutes. Add stock and tomatoes, and return chicken to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until chicken is very tender, about 1½ hours. Remove chicken from sauce, and let cool; reserve sauce for another use. Discard skin and bones, and shred chicken; set aside. Meanwhile, combine avocados, garlic, lime juice, and salt and pepper in a bowl; chill guacamole until ready to use, covering to avoid browning.

Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 6-qt. Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375°. Stir together masa, butter, and 214 cups warm water in a bowl until dough forms; divide dough into 12 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Using a tortilla press or rolling pin, flatten each ball into a 6½″ disk. Place 1 disk in oil. When it begins to puff, press the end of a metal spatula into the middle of the tortilla so that tortilla bends into a taco shape; hold spatula within tortilla until taco is golden brown and crisp, about 1½ minutes. Transfer taco to paper towels to drain; repeat with remaining tortillas. Divide chicken and guacamole among tacos; top with lettuce, tomato, and cheese.

Afterthought: With the leftover chicken, I made Eggs Benedict for breakfast the next morning. So good with the biscuits and a beautiful green heirloom tomato I was surprised to find at the Fresh market yesterday.