Puffy tacos, a San Antonio specialty, are made from fresh masa that puffs and crisps in hot oil. The shells end up crisp outside and soft within, and full of robust corn flavor. They can be stuffed with your favorite variety of taco-night fillings—this recipe uses a flavorful ground beef mixture that's earthy, spicy, and slightly smoky.
Why this recipe works:
- Fresh masa makes the most flavorful and puffiest tacos, although masa harina can be used with decent results.
- Hot oil at 375°F results in the puffiest shell with little greasiness.
- Adding chicken stock and canned fire-roasted tomatoes to the ground beef mixture and letting it simmer down until thickened creates an intensely flavored filling.
Note: Fresh masa can be purchased at local tortillerias, if you are lucky enough to live near one. If not, masa harina, such as Maseca (available at most well stocked supermarkets) can be used, though it won't puff as well or offer the same intensity of flavor.
- For the Shells:
- 1 pound fresh masa for tortillas or 1 1/2 cups of masa harina mixed with 1 cup warm water and left to rest, covered, for 15 minutes (see note)
- Peanut or canola oil, for frying
- Kosher salt
- For the Filling:
- 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 1 cup finely chopped white onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped seeded fresh jalapeños (about 2 medium peppers)
- 1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 2 pounds ground beef chuck
- 1 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 cup finely chopped fire-roasted tomatoes from 1 (15-ounce) can
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lime
- For Serving:
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 6 ounces grated Longhorn cheddar, mild cheddar, or Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 small white onion, finely diced
- 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
- Sour cream, for serving
For the Shells: Fill a wok or Dutch oven with 2-3 inches oil and heat to 375°F over high heat. Pull off a 2-tablespoon-sized piece of masa and form into a ball. Press dough into a thin round between two sheets of plastic in a tortilla press or roll out using a rolling pin.
Place masa in hot oil and let cook until it floats and puffs, about 10 seconds. Using a metal spatula carefully press middle of tortilla down to create a taco-shell shape and hold until form sets, about 10 seconds longer. Using the spatula, gently submerge one side of shell into oil and cook until crisp, 10-15 seconds. Repeat with other side. Remove shell from oil and allow to drain, then transfer to a paper towel lined sheet pan, season with salt to taste, and repeat with remaining masa.
For the Filling: Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until softened and beginning to brown around the edges, 5-7 minutes. Add jalapeños and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander, and chipotle powder and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add ground chuck and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon or potato masher, until browned throughout, about 5 minutes.
Stir in chicken stock and diced tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until liquid thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro and lime juice and season with salt to taste.
Spoon meat mixture into taco shells and top with lettuce, grated cheese, onion, tomato, and/or sour cream. Serve immediately.
Tortilla press or rolling pin, wok or Dutch oven