Let’s Talk Tacos
With Cinco de Mayo hanging heavy over the May air, we’re taking a moment to cast our attention to one of our most beloved Mexican culinary exports: tacos. Simple, exploding with flavor and texture, tacos are everything right in the world, wrapped in a handmade tortilla and smothered in fresh salsa. In fact, as a society, we’ve come to love tacos so much we’ve given them an entire day. (We’re looking at you, Tuesday.) Analysts estimate that the Taco Tuesday trend has not only injected billions of dollars into the economy through Mexican and Latin-American restaurants from sea to shining sea, but it’s also helped introduce legions of Americans to a more authentic representation of Mexican food than one they might find at Taco Bell.
Although the exact origins of tacos remain shrouded in mystery, food historians believe the modern iteration dates back to some time in the 19th century, which actually makes the dish a relatively new addition compared to many of the other Aztec-based recipes that continue to dominate the contemporary Mexican palate. In fact, it’s thought that silver miners are credited with inventing the dish just a few hundred years ago and the word “taco” is thought to be a reference the paper gunpowder holsters used to blow holes in quarries. The first known recipe is known was for taco de minero, or miner’s taco. The ward “taco” didn’t officially enter the American lexicon until 1905.
Fast-forward to the taqueria-lined streets of Mexico city, Los Angeles, and Oaxaca today and it’s clear that the beloved staple is here to stay. Up until recently, the taco was commonly served within street stalls in marketplaces and cities in Mexico. Traditionally, the tortilla was soft (hard shell tacos are an American invention) small in size, and topped with simmered beef, chicken, or pork, and slathered in a spicy salsa before being crowned with cilantro or other fresh herbs. It was also most commonly eaten at lunch, not dinner. Today, it’s estimated that Americans alone eat around 4.5 billion tacos a year.
However, there’s so much more to this dynamic cuisine than meets the eye. If you peel back the layers behind the staple latin dishes so many of us are familiar with, you’ll find a host of flavors, techniques, and storylines that rival anything in Europe or Asia. In recent years, under the careful eyes of famed chefs like Cosme Aguilar of New York City’s Casa Enrique, Mexican cuisine has undergone a tremendous renaissance among foodies. In fact, you’ll now find a host Michelin-starred Mexican restaurants in the U.S., including the aforementioned Case Enrique in NYC and Val Cantu’s two star Californios in San Francisco.
An array of restaurants offering inspired takes on tacos can also be found right here at Ward Village. At Scratch Kitchen and Meatery you’ll find them serving up an out-of-this world beer-battered fish taco, and their taco board, featuring three different taco preparations and accoutrements, is truly next-level delicious. Of course there’s Wahoos, famous for bringing their love of healthy California-style Mexican to the world. Perfect for post-surf pig out or a sunset taco and live music session, Wahoo’s has been a mainstay in the city for more than a decade.
If you’re keen to host your own taco night, you might find that a build-your-own taco bar is a smart way to go. Because everyone loves tacos—and that’s an actual fact—you’re practically destined for success. Especially when you’re noshing on fresh fish tacos with a spicy slaw and pickled onions, washed down with a frosty margarita or a salt-rimmed glass of Tecate sporting a salted rim and a zesty lime wedge. Now that’s the kind of Cinco de Mayo dinner party we can get behind.
Baja Fish Taco Recipe, from The New York Times
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
- 1 jalapeño, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut crosswise into half moons (optional)
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream
- 2 limes, 1 halved and 1 cut into wedges
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon canned chipotle pepper, finely chopped (optional)
- ½ cup flour, preferably Wondra or other fine-milled flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup peanut oil, plus a splash more for greasing pan
- Pat of butter
- 1 pound flounder or any firm white-fleshed fish, cut across the grain of the flesh into strips about 1/2 inch wide by 3 inches long
- 12 6-inch fresh corn tortillas
- 2 cups shredded green cabbage
- A saucy hot sauce, like Tapatio or Frank’s
- In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeño (if using).
- In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise and sour cream until combined. Season to taste with the halved lime, salt, pepper and chipotle (if using).
- In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, chili powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons each of kosher salt and black pepper. Pour the milk into another medium bowl, and place the fish into it.
- Pour 1/4 cup of the peanut oil into a 12-inch frying pan and place over medium-high heat until it shimmers and is about to smoke. Remove the fish pieces from the milk bath and dredge them lightly through the flour mixture, shaking to remove excess. Add the butter to the pan. Place some fish pieces in the oil, without crowding them, and cook until deep golden brown on one side, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn carefully and cook for 1 minute more. Remove to a warmed, paper-towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the remaining fish.
- Meanwhile, lightly grease a skillet with a drizzle of oil and set over medium heat. Heat the tortillas, one or two at a time, until they are soft and hot. Keep them warm, wrapped in a dish towel.
- Fill each tortilla with 3 pieces of fish, browned side up, followed by tomato salsa and a pinch of cabbage. Drizzle with the cream sauce. Serve 2 to 3 tacos per person, with lime wedges and hot sauce on the side.