Bring Back Taco Night

BYLINE- Delia Loveless, Blue Door Communications.

There is nothing quite as reminiscent of childhood dinners as taco night. The smell of browning ground beef seasoned with a packet of spicy taco seasoning, the crunch of a hard taco shell with topping spilling out from being overstuffed.

As adults, taco night has become a night with friends, filled with sour margaritas rimmed with salt, and tacos bursting with a delicate balance of citrusy lime, spicy chilies and mellowing avocado. It’s a complexity of flavours that when made at home, are often missed in the name of convenience.

So, how can the home cook bring some of these flavours to their own taco nights?

Elia Herrera, Executive Chef of Los Colibris, El Caballito, and Colibri in Toronto, and current Top Chef Canada contender, says that two crucial ingredients in a truly authentic taco night begin with the tortilla and the salsa.

“The best homemade tortillas are achieved using nixtamal, but that takes a lot of time” says Elia. Instead, Elia suggests “Maseca” — an instant corn mash flour — and adding pork fat and chicken stock for additional flavour. For real authenticity, Elia suggests picking up a tortilla press, which can be found in some mainstream supermarkets and Latin stores. She also recommends using two plastic sheets between the masa and the press to avoid sticking.

To make the tortilla dough, Elia combines a two and ¾ tablespoons of salt with an 8 ½ cups of maseca. She then works in 1 tablespoon of pork fat. In a separate bowl, she combines 4 cups of water, 4 cups of chicken stock and 1 ½ cups of vegetable oil. Adding the liquid, Elia combined the dry and we ingredients until smooth. Elia suggests freezing what you don’t use for future taco nights.

She says that if time is a factor, keeping ready-made tortillas warm and wrapped in a damp towel is the next best thing.

For the salsa’s, Elia suggests keeping it simple, with fresh, whole ingredients. For her Salsa Verde Asada, she chars 2 cups of whole tomatoes, 1 cup of peeled onion, 2 ½ tablespoons of peeled garlic and 1 ¼ tablespoons of serrano peppers in a cast iron skillet. She then places blends all ingredients until smooth, adding 1 tablespoon of coriander to the mix. She finally salts to taste and keeps everything in the fridge until ready to use.

For at home cooks, Elia says to try small batches first, adding more or less peppers depending on your preference for heat. Once you’ve found the level that fits for you, you can use the Salsa Verde as your go-to hot sauce for eggs, steak and, of course, your newly upped taco Tuesday.

Chef Elia is the executive chef of Los Colibris, El Caballito, located at 220 King St W, Toronto, ON and of Colibri, located in Assembly Chef’s Hall at 111 Richmond Street West, Toronto