Taco Cleanse enthusiast Abbey Bean asked an important question on a previous post and I would like to address it here because this is a crucial topic that I feel remiss for not addressing as of yet. She said “do you prefer flour or corn tortillas?” and I will try to answer this as best I can.
If you have ever wondered “how could eat tacos all day” my guess is that you have never had a deliciously fresh perfectly made tortilla. They are the most critical element of the taco both for enfolding the delicious components within and for creating a way to bring the taco from your plate to your mouth. They are also a vital element when it comes to the taste of the taco. You hear a lot that you can tell how good a taco stand is going to be by it’s salsa and I would have to disagree. Fresh homemade tortillas are the hallmark of any great taco stand. And they aren’t even hard to make.
I choose my taco’s tortilla based on what is going to be inside. Usually it works out that if it’s going to be more of a Tex-Mex taco like fajitas or a scramble-sausage-cheese breakfast taco I will use a flour tortilla. If my taco is more Mexican inspired like Al Pastor, Carnitas, or my standard breakfast taco of refried beans, nopales, and potatoes, then I will chose a corn tortilla. This is most of the time and I do really love a good corn tortilla. A bad one can ruin a taco however. I’ve never really been a fan of whole wheat tortillas because I’ve never had one that wasn’t tough but maybe I would enjoy a really fresh one. I do like Margarita’s spelt tortillas and get them occasionally for breakfast. On the taco cleanse it can be a little harder to figure out what tortilla goes with what filling. For the Pad Thai-co I was trying to think of some rice based or mung bean based tortilla, like a Vietnamese crepe, but in the end I just used flour because flour is kind of a neutral and it worked great.
Choosing a flour vs a corn tortilla isn’t even the real issue. I used to be kind of a corn tortilla snob but I’ve gotten over it as I’ve gotten older and learned to try and embrace every kind of taco. Quality, I assure you, is what makes the real difference. I don’t think I can really explain it through pictures because you can’t always tell a good tortilla by looking at it. Just the other day, I was at the Mexican meat market looking for five inch flour tortillas and I tried the first brand I found that was vegan. I didn’t have very high hopes – I usually don’t go for flour tortillas unless they just came off the comal- but they ended up being fluffy and delicious. Generally you want to either make tortillas yourself or go somewhere where they are still warm when you purchase them. In Austin, Fiesta, HEB, Central Market, and many taquerias make their tortillas fresh all day so they are easy to find. Tortillas don’t last long, that’s why dishes like migas, chilaquiles, and nachos were invented, to use up the tortillas past their prime. If you aren’t making fresh tortillas you always want to heat them up, before you add the filling. I used to always wrap them in foil and stick them in the oven but ever since I got my tortilla warmer I have been using the microwave instead. Tortillas should always be small, six inches or less, you should be able to finish a taco in a few bites.
If there aren’t Mexican grocery stores in your neighborhood and you do decide to make tortillas yourself, I recommend getting a tortilla press to make the job super easy. They aren’t expensive and you can use them to flatten gluten cutlets too if you make your own seitan.
I would also recommend watching a video, here is one from Hilah Cooking, to get the technique right and try corn first, I find them easier than flour. They are similar to making pancakes except there is no measuring, only a couple ingredients, and they are done in about a minute. If you can’t get masa in your area, there are even recipes for how to make them yourself, here is a great video.
Now there are, of course, a range of other vehicles for holding your taco but these are always secondary to the standard fresh tortilla. Crispy tacos, puffy tacos, pancake tacos, waffle tacos, romaine leaf tacos, and even raw corn tortilla tacos all have their place on the taco cleanse but they aren’t “standard” tacos, I would call them specialty tacos. I see a lot of folks calling their tacos “soft tacos” and I think that term is an invention from Taco Bell that is rather redundant. Any taco is a soft taco unless it’s otherwise stated.
I hope that clears things up. Please let me know if you have any questions.
My tortilla press is one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. It works for pressing empanada dough too. I even have one of those big wooden ones for making wrap / burrito size tortillas.
Thank you for stating what I thought was obvious: if it’s not in a tortilla, it’s not a “real” taco. I know you said “standard”, but “real” is more accurate. 😉
YOU HAVE A TORTILLA WARMER? You, my friend, are not messing around. I had no idea that there was so much tortilla paraphernalia available or that tortillas are ultimately to blame for my nacho addiction. Good eats, questions answered, and a lesson; this is a full-service blog!
PS “crispy” tacos are my favorite; I’m so happy to now know they are “specialty,” as you have surely saved me the embarrassment of one day suggesting otherwise and offending someone (possibly you).
I have to agree…fresh tortillas are the best. I used to always go straight for the flour tortillas because I loved the texture, but now that I am trying to do the gluten-free thing I have come to love corn tortillas as well. Thank you for all the amazing information.
I am a huge fan of homemade corn tortillas – and have even used my tortilla press to flatten out dumpling dough! Genius?*
*not actually my own idea, I read it in a book. Not the internet, can you imagine?
Huh, learn something new every day! I just started making my own corn tortillas with that exact same press (pictured). I can’t believe how easy they are. My only problem is that they split really easily, even when they’re fresh out of the pan. But it’s good to know the tortilla press is multi-purpose!
I think if they split to easy you might want to add more water to your masa. I hate splitting tortillas!
In addition to more water (I made this mistake last night) it helps to wrap the finished tortillas in a towel or a tortilla warmer and let them “rest” a little bit. They steam on their own and it helps.
I found this most very informative, and I was nodding along in respectful agreement and taking everything you said to heart. And then you said ‘waffle taco’ and now my brain is a puddle of breakfast-flavored excitement at such an idea.
I’m going to post about it tomorrow!
Thanks for a useful and informative post on making tacos. However, as a newbie taco eater, I have to ask: what is the best method for eating a taco? All my efforts so far have involved significant spillage and the sore temptation to burritify my taco and thereby lose all the inherent health benefits specific to eating tacos.
You have to cock your head to the side, maybe I’ll make a video…..
I’m always so bummed that none of the taquerias here make their own tortillas–that I’ve found at least. Of course I’ve been too lazy to make my own too…so there’s that 🙂 I’m pro any kind of tortilla as long as it’s tasty! But I hate hard taco shells. They just hurt and get messy. Blech.
Last year, when I wrote my Tarahumara posts I made my own tortillas for the first time. My life changed forever. They taste absolutely amazing, nothing like what you get in the store or even many Mexican restaurants. They’re not even that hard to make, although a little practice helps. As for flour vs corn, for me, corn is always more authentic especially if the letters m-e-x are anywhere near the recipe. But I agree that the neutral taste of flour makes it ideal for avante garde tacos. Cleanse on!