Why It Works
- Using gentle heat helps ensure even cooking and avoids burning the cheese.
- Placing the tortilla on the cheese after it has melted ensures the cheese adheres without overcooking the tortilla.
- Letting the cheese cool in the skillet makes it easier to remove with a spatula.
I love a good grilled cheese sandwich, but what I love even more is when the cheese leaks out, hits the skillet, and turns into a cheese crisp. I overstuff my grilled cheeses on purpose, just to guarantee I get a cheese crisp every time. Recently, I started to wonder, what if I tried to do the same thing with tacos? The answer is this—the crispy cheese taco—and it's a glorious thing.
To make them, I start with grated cheese. In these step-by-step photos, it's Cheddar, though I've also had good success with Manchego, Parmesan, and Pepper Jack.
The goal is to get the cheese to stick to part of each tortilla, while also extending beyond its edge. That way, you get soft melted cheese (the part stuck to the tortilla) and really crispy bits (the part that overflows the edge). To get that effect, I put the cheese in a cold nonstick skillet, forming a rectangle the size of the tortilla's diameter in one dimension and half that of the other (about 5- by 3-inches for the tortillas I was using).
Then I turn the heat to medium-low to start melting the cheese.
Once the cheese is almost completely melted, I place a tortilla on top so that roughly half the cheese is under the tortilla and half is not.
I let the cheese slowly cook, turning up the heat slightly, to ensure it browns evenly. Once the cheese stops bubbling and begins to darken, there's only a small window of time between perfectly crisp and burnt, so as soon as I notice that the cheese is browned on the bottom, I remove the pan from the heat to allow the cheese to cool and firm just a little, which makes it easier to slide a spatula underneath and remove it from the pan.
This should be just enough time to also warm and soften the tortilla without it burning in the pan.
The result: a soft, pliable tortilla with a cheese crisp that sticks to the shell but also overhangs it, making for one impressive looking frico-taco fusion.
To serve this one, I piled on scrambled eggs, pico de gallo, and hot sauce. It's a killer breakfast taco with an intensely sharp cheddar flavor and awesome crackling crunch.
For another breakfast taco variation, I used Manchego as the cheese.
Then I added scrambled eggs and topped it with salsa verde, diced onion, and cilantro.
For a version with parmesan, I abandoned the breakfast taco theme.
Instead, I filled it with meaty carnitas, topping it with salsa verde, onions, and cilantro.
Truth is, you don't even need to make fillings, a fact I learned when I ate the above pepper jack version all by itself and felt thoroughly satisfied.
Beyond the four cheeses I worked with, I imagine many other hard or semi-hard cheeses would also work here, so the variations of cheeses and fillings could be endless—I'm imagining a world filled with crispy cheese tacos stuffed with just about anything. Personally, my crispy cheese taco to-do list includes esquites, chile verde, chicken tinga, ground beef, beef barbacoa, lamb barbacoa, skirt steak, and...well, I could go on, but I think that'll keep me busy for a while.
4 ounces grated parmesan, Manchego, Cheddar, or other hard or semi-hard cheese
8 corn tortillas
Arrange 1/2 ounce of cheese on one side of a nonstick skillet in a 5- by 2-inch rectangle. Turn heat to medium-low. When cheese begins to melt, place 1 tortilla on top of cheese so that roughly half the cheese is covered by the tortilla.
Let cheese cook until it turns an even golden brown color. Remove pan from heat and let stand until cheese cools and firms up slightly.
Carefully slide a thin spatula under cheese and remove tortilla from pan. Fill as desired (see notes) and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining cheese and tortillas.
Crispy cheese tacos can be filled with all sorts of fillings. Some taco variations include carnitas; chile verde; chicken tinga; seasoned ground beef; beef barbacoa; or making a breakfast taco with scrambled eggs and either pico de gallo or salsa verde.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 5g||6%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||12%|
|Total Carbohydrate 15g||6%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|