February 1, 2011 7:26 AM   Subscribe

How do you prepare crunchy taco shells so they don't shatter after the first bite?

So our new tradition is Totally Taco Tuesdays, and that's tonight - yay! But although we have the soft taco pretty well mastered, crunchy tacos always make us sad - you take one bite and the whole rest of the thing shatters, and then I'm yelling at the remains of the taco, which is nobody's finest moment.

We've followed the directions on the package to the letter about warming them, but it doesn't help. By contrast, when we get tacos up the road at El Nopal, they never ever shatter. What are we doing wrong?
posted by jbickers to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Normally, you heat up hard taco shells in an oven before serving, right?
Well, if you put some beef in the shell first, then put them in the oven, it really helps to keep the shell together on first bite.
posted by Flood at 7:30 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

We make our own crunchy taco shells by frying corn tortillas (which is what I’m guessing your local taco joint also does). Put the tortilla in a frying pan with hot oil, let it sit for a few seconds to soften up and then use a pair of tongs to fold the tortilla in half. Then just fry until golden brown on each side. They taste way better than the ones you buy off the shelf and they are crunchy, but not brittle so they don’t fall apart on you. This works best with fresh corn tortillas, if they are stale they tend to break when you fold them in half.
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 7:38 AM on February 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

Palmcorder has the key here. If you really like crunchy shell tacos, do them the way all the Mexican mothers I knew growing up do it: fry them yourself (and I often fill then fry)
posted by kaszeta at 7:44 AM on February 1, 2011

This isn't the healthiest solution, but I taco Double Decker-style, like those geniuses at Taco Bell: make a taco in a hard taco shell, then wrap with a tortilla spread with refried beans. BAM.
posted by teragram at 7:53 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

You may be interested my this prior AskMe: Why do restaurants, even sit-down Mexican food restaurants, in the American South/Mid-Atlantic region, use preformed taco shells?

Palmcorder Yajna has the answer to your woes. That's the correct way to make a taco shell. Those preformed taco shells are just terrible.

Now, you can also use corn tortillas and rather than fry them, you can steam them, assuming you're not doing that already.
posted by artlung at 8:00 AM on February 1, 2011

I have found, through a lot of trial and even more error, that the oil has to be very hot. Canola oil or peanut oil, and if you have an electric burner, it needs to be set to around 60 % of maximum, and then wait for the oil to get that hot.

This way, the tortilla will be crunchy yet easily bitten into.
posted by Danf at 8:01 AM on February 1, 2011

similar to teragram's solution, and possibly the tastiest thing ever (and of course, calorie-free):

cut/rip a flour tortilla to be the same size as your hard shell; cover with shredded cheese, microwave until cheese melts, then wrap around the outside of the taco shell. Yum!
posted by angab at 8:10 AM on February 1, 2011

I heat up my oven to low heat and then I place the filled shells on a cookie sheet in the oven for a few minutes. This softens the bottom of the shell enough so that they don't crack.
posted by Ostara at 8:15 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best way we've found to keep those confounded store bought hard shell tacos from shattering is to put the hard shell inside a soft shell. It doesn't hurt that it tastes seriously awesome this way. If you want to glue the two shells together, the recommended adhesive is guacamole. Good bye shattered taco.

BTW- there's a great scene in King of the Hill where Peggy Hill serves up Ortega Taco Kit-style hard shell tacos to here family for dinner and every single family member's tacos shatter on the first bite.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:53 AM on February 1, 2011

I can't recall where I heard this tip, but I hear to use a whole leaf of lettuce against the taco shell. It may still crack, but the innards won't spill out since it'll be contained by the lettuce. I must admit I totalllllly want a double decker taco now, but this at least won't add extra calories.
posted by elliss at 8:57 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, what Palmcorder said. I grew up eating the fried version of taco shells, never got them from a box. They taste so much better. Just make sure to drain the oil off them, they are deep fried after all. (I also like to eat them cold, yum).
posted by shinyshiny at 9:20 AM on February 1, 2011

Yes, frying tortillas at home means they won't break as easily, and they aren't as reminiscent of Taco Bell. That is to say: they taste much better. You can also do delicious things like mix up chorizo and spicy mashed potato, add cheese, put in a corn tortilla, toothpick shut and fry. Yum.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:09 AM on February 1, 2011

First, you cook the meat (ground beef for me, maybe you like turkey (I'm not a fan) or maybe you're like my GF and prefer some soy thing). While that's finishing up, you pre-heat the oven. You take out the number of shells you want (it's just the two of us, so we don't cook them all) and you line the bottom with some shredded cheddar cheese. Then load in your meat/soy. Now put them in the oven.

Your tacos will be done in a few minutes. Load up the lettuce, salsa and tomato (I do it in that order). The melted cheese will hold everything in when it snaps.
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

It helps if you hold them correctly. Wrap your hand around the end, with your little finger under the open part to keep stuff from falling out.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2011

Palmcorder Yajna, we did what you suggested and they were awesome. Thank you!
posted by jbickers at 7:40 AM on February 2, 2011

Okay, first off this thread changed my life because holy god, corn taco shells wrapped in flour tortillas (and glued there with a little cheese) are simply amazing.

But Palmcorder Yajna, I tried your way of making my own hard shells and I have a question: how do you keep the folded corn tortilla open enough to put anything in there? When I tried it, the two halves nearly fused together.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:40 PM on February 9, 2011

CunningLinguist - lots of good videos are found with searching for "how to fry tortilla shell". You can fry to super crispy, and when you do that you have less leeway in opening the taco, or you can fry to slightly softer and have more flexibility. I would do a few and see soft, and see stiff, and see what gives you the right mix. I like them to have a little floppiness, so I can load them up with meat or less if I want.

In m family we also grew up with tostadas, which basically takes out any folding of the tortilla, and you slather on refried beans, then add lettuce, tomato, cheese, and salsa, another great delicacy.
posted by artlung at 8:00 PM on February 9, 2011

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