Chilies spice up this easy-to-make Mexican dish
We can’t say no to tacos. Who can resist their luscious combination of corn tortillas, spicy chilies, savory meat, and cheese?
In the US, most people seem to favor ground beef for taco filling. But we prefer to use Mexican-style braised beef that’s been shredded. The flavor is deeper, plus the shredded meat has a more interesting texture.
And what about the tortillas? Well, we love the crispy Hard-Shelled Tacos that are a tradition in many Tex-Mex restaurants. But given a choice, we’ll take soft tacos any day of the week.
With soft tortillas, you don’t have to worry about the taco shell shattering when you take your first bite (there’s nothing messier than a taco that disintegrates in your hands). More important, when making soft tacos, you can use your own Homemade Tortillas. Freshly baked tortillas are amazing, and we grab any opportunity to use them.
So soft tacos give you wonderful flavor and loads of zip in an easy-to-eat package. Don’t you love the taste of Mexico?
Recipe: Shredded-Beef Soft Tacos
Tacos are endlessly versatile, and you can use almost any ingredient as the filling. If it sounds good to you, it probably will be. We have a special fondness for beef tacos, so that’s what we’re featuring here (but we give some alternative suggestions in the Notes).
There are two parts to this recipe. First, you need to prepare the shredded beef. Then you assemble the tacos. For that you’ll need corn tortillas, preferably homemade. But if you don’t have those on hand, store-bought tortillas will work fine. BTW, homemade tortillas are thicker and sturdier than the commercially made variety. So if you’re using thin store-bought tortillas, you may want to use two for each taco to make sure everything holds together.
Cooking time for the shredded beef is about 1½ hours, and you can do much of the cooking ahead of time (see Notes). Assembly time for the tacos is a few minutes.
This recipe yields about a dozen tacos. Leftover shredded beef will keep in the fridge for a few days if stored in an airtight container.
For the shredded beef:
- ~1 pound chuck roast (we often double or triple the recipe, then freeze the extra; see Notes)
- 1 medium onion, divided (white onions are traditional in Mexican cooking, though yellow ones work fine)
- 2 cloves garlic
- water or beef broth
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons lard or olive oil
- additional salt to taste
- ~12 corn tortillas (if using thin store-bought ones, you may want to double this number; see head note)
- the shredded beef (prepared according to Procedure below)
- 2 to 3 handfuls of greens (such as spinach or arugula)
- 3 to 4 jalapeño and/or serrano pepper chilies, diced or sliced (to taste)
- 2 to 3 tomatoes, chopped; or about a cup of Fresh Salsa
- additional ½ onion, chopped (white is our preference, but yellow work too)
- 3 to 4 ounces shredded queso fresco or Monterrey Jack; and/or cheddar cheese
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (or to taste; optional)
For the shredded beef:
- Cut the chuck roast into squares of 1 inch or so. Add the beef pieces to a 3- or 4-quart cooking pot.
- Peel the onion, then cut it in half. Slice half the onion thinly, then add it to the cooking pot (reserve the other half for Step 6).
- Peel the garlic cloves, then slice them thinly. Add the garlic slices to the cooking pot.
- Add enough water or beef broth to the cooking pot to just cover the beef (see Notes). Add salt. Bring the cooking pot to a simmer on the stovetop, then gently simmer for 1½ hours (until meat is tender).
- When done, allow the meat to cool in the cooking broth. When cool, remove the beef from the broth and shred it with two forks. (If you’re preparing the beef ahead of time, you can stop at this point and store the beef until you’re ready to use it—see Notes).
- Heat the lard or olive oil in a large frying pan. While it’s heating, chop the reserved ½ onion. Add the onion to the frying pan and cook until it’s soft but not yet translucent—3 to 5 minutes. Add the shredded beef and sauté until it’s brown and crispy (a few minutes). Taste, then add salt if necessary. At this point, the beef is ready to be used in tacos.
- Gather the tortillas and other ingredients, then complete the prep work: Chop the chilies, tomatoes, and onions. Shred the cheese. Chop the cilantro (if using).
- Unless the tortillas you’re using are freshly made, you’ll need to warm them (so they’ll soften). The easiest way to do this is to sprinkle a clean towel with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water. Wrap the tortillas in the towel, then microwave them for 2 or 3 minutes until soft.
- To assemble each taco: Lay a softened tortilla (or two) out on your kitchen counter. Then add a tablespoon or so of each filling ingredient—shredded beef, greens, chile peppers, tomatoes or salsa, onions, and shredded cheese. Sprinkle on a little cilantro, if using. Repeat until you’ve used all the tortillas.
- When assembling the tacos, feel free to pick and choose the ingredients you want as the filling. We usually make each taco a bit differently—some without tomato, some without salsa, some with more greens, etc.
- You can serve the tacos flat on plates or rolled up. Or you can serve them in taco holders, which can accommodate several assembled tacos (see top picture).
- If you want to prepare the beef ahead of time, just pause after Step 5 of the Shredded Beef Procedure. Place the cooked beef in an airtight container, then cover it with the cooking liquid (to keep the meat moist). Refrigerate the beef if you’re not planning to use it immediately. When you’re ready to prepare the tacos, drain the beef (and warm it briefly if necessary). Then continue with Step 6 of the Procedure.
- BTW, you can also freeze the shredded beef (in its cooking liquid, to keep it moist). In fact, we like to double or triple this recipe, then do exactly that with the extra beef.
- You can use this shredded beef in enchiladas, quesadillas, gorditas—almost any Mexican dish that requires beef.
- We’ll be using the same basic shredded meat preparation next week for an enchilada recipe, although we’ll finish the meat (Step 6) in a different manner.
- If you prefer pork in tacos, just substitute pork for beef in this recipe—and prepare it exactly the same way.
- For an alternative filling, you could try shredded grilled chicken (or rotisserie chicken) or fish. Both make wonderful tacos.
- For a vegetarian taco, use Mexican-style beans as a filling.
- If you want to serve soft tacos for breakfast, just fill them with scrambled eggs and sausage.
- Lard is the traditional fat for Mexican cooking. But if you don’t want to use it, olive oil makes a good substitute.
- We like to use Kosher salt in our cooking. Because it’s coarser than table salt, it’s less salty by volume. So if you use table salt, reduce the amount by about half.
- The level of water or beef broth you use (see Step 4 of the Procedure for shredded beef) isn’t critical. You want to cover the beef while it’s cooking, but it’s OK if the tops of some pieces aren’t completely submerged. The meat will have better flavor if you use beef broth, but water works OK.
- Tacos originated in Mexico, and traditionally were made with soft tortillas. Hard-shelled tacos were developed in the US during the 20th century. They were put on the culinary map by businessman Glenn Bell, who eventually founded Taco Bell—a fast-food chain found throughout the US.
“I’ve always loved hard-shelled tacos,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “But the soft ones are even better.”
“I can see you like them,” I said. “But then, you’ve always been a taco belle.”
“Holy guacamole, that was a terrible joke,” said Mrs K R.
“Yeah, my sense of humor is cheesy,” I said. “But I guess that’s nacho problem.”
“Stop it,” said Mrs K R. “I don’t wanna taco ‘bout it.”
Guess now is not a good time for enchilada puns.
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