This recipe comes from Josef Centeno, chef-owner of Bar Amá in downtown Los Angeles and author of Amá: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen. These puffy, deep-fried tacos will change everything you thought you knew about your favorite tacos.
You can find what everyone calls “puffy tacos”—tacos made with souffléed masa cooked in hot oil—all over San Antonio. They’re probably the city’s most iconic taco, with deep-fried shells that are as light as air. I grew up with the Lopez family’s version, served at Ray’s Drive Inn, which to me is the originator with the best shells—the crispiest without being greasy. We make our own version at Bar Amá—puffed tacos that fry up quickly and can be filled with anything—picadillo, chorizo, beans and rice, fried potatoes, or just avocado. The fluffy, crispy shells make everything taste delicious.
One filling option here is picadillo, a Tex-Mex standby made with ground beef, potatoes, onion, tomatoes, and spices. My tía Mona cooked this all the time and liked to serve it in tacos with chopped tomatoes, or on top of enchiladas. You can also serve it simply with rice or use it in taquitos, chalupas, or queso. When served along with eggs in a flour tortilla, it makes a great breakfast taco.
Note: At Bar Amá, we buy fresh masa (from nixtamal) for tortillas. It’s key: The freshest masa is lighter and helps the puffed tacos keep their shape. Puffed tacos made with prepackaged masa or masa harina don’t work, so don’t bother. Use fresh masa—available at many specialty Mexican markets or tortillerias—within twenty-four hours so that it is soft and pliable. (Keep in mind it might take practice to properly form taco shells while deep frying.)
Reprinted from Amá: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen by Josef Centeno and Betty Hallock with permission from Chronicle Books, 2019. Photographs © Ren Fuller.
+ Vegetable oil (such as avocado or grapeseed) or peanut oil for frying
14 ounces fresh masa
2 avocados, sliced
½ head iceberg lettuce, cut into thin slices
¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups Tía Mona’s picadillo (recipe follows), or protein or vegetable of your choice
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons finely diced onion
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, grated with a rasp-style grater or thinly sliced
¼ jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
½ russet potato, peeled and cut into a ¼-inch dice
1 pound ground beef
1 ripe tomato, grated on the largest holes of a box grater, or 2 teaspoons tomato paste and ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chile powder
¼ cup chopped green onions (white and green parts)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Margarita, who? This mezcal pineapple cocktail is so easy-drinking and refreshing.
Cheese on tacos is great, but you know what's better? Taco shells MADE of crispy cheese!