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 in 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.