Introduction: Crispy Beef Tacos

About: I'm a writer, computer geek, photographer, game designer, foodie, glassblower, gemstone cutter, synth nerd, musician, woodworker and wannabe jeweler.

The humble beef taco is a Tex-Mex staple. Even when we lived in Texas, where we could throw a rock and hit a good taco joint, this is a 2-3 times/month regular on the make-at-home dinner menu. Now that we're in New England, making them myself has become a ritual that reminds me of home. They're also an easy way to feed a large group, this recipe scales up perfectly fine.

Step 1: Prep

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (177 C).

Spice Mix Ingredients

  • 1 dried chipotle pepper, ground (or 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed, toasted and ground (or 1 tablespoon dried cumin)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder (or generic)
  • 2 tablespoons generic chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan to medium heat, add cumin seeds. Agitate pan periodically for 3-5 minutes, until the seeds start to smell toasty. If they start exploding, you got them too hot. Add to a spice grinder with the chipotle, grind fine.

Add the remaining ingredients to the mix.

Vegetable Mix Ingredients

  • 1 small onion (or half of a huge one)
  • 2 fresh serrano peppers
  • 6 cloves garlic (not pictured, oops)
  • 1/2 small can green chiles*
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes*

Keep the ingredients separate. Finely dice the onion, garlic, and cayenne peppers.

*Note - If you can find the canned diced tomatoes with green chilis already in it, use a half can of it. They were out at the store, so I went with separate cans, then combined the leftovers into a baggie and stuck it in the freezer for next time.

Additional Ingredients

  • 10 large stand and stuff taco shells
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, still on stem
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano, still on stem
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar (or Mexican 4-cheese blend)
  • 1 avacado (not pictured, no decent ones at the store this week)
  • 1 lime, cut into small wedges
  • fresh lettuce
  • fresh tomato

Step 2: Browning the Meat

Heat a pan to medium. If I'm cooking more than 1 pound of this, I use a large heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan. For one pound, this nonstick one works fine. If you're using a steel pan, hit it with non-stick cooking spray before adding the meat.

Add the ground beef to the hot pan, and sprinkle with about a third of the spice mixture. As the meat browns, about 15-20 minutes, continue to break it up using a spatula.

When browned, use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to a colander set into a bowl where it can drain.

Step 3: The Veg Mix

Pour off most of the grease and juices from browning the meat, saving a few tablespoons in the pan. Return the pan to the heat.

Add the onions to the pan, along with a spoonful of the spice mix and cook for 5 minutes for so until slightly browned. Add the chilis (if you used a combined can, then you'll be adding the tomatoes now as well). Let it all cook down another 5 minutes (15 minutes if the tomato is already in). Add the tomatoes, another spoonful of the spice mix, and continue to cook for 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and serrano pepper. Drop the heat a bit, and let this cook until most of the moisture is out, stirring every 5 minutes or so. This will take 10-20 minutes probably.

Step 4: Bringing It Together

Raise the heat back to medium.

Add the drained ground beef back to the pan. Mix with the vegetables and add the remainder of the spice mix to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the beef stock along with the cilantro and oregano sprigs. Cook for a couple of minutes and start tasting. After you've made it a few times, you can start to smell when the mixture is right -- if it smells like hamburger cooking, add another tablespoon of generic chili powder. I ended up adding two more tablespoons of generic chili powder. When it is right, it has a distinctly reddish shade to it.

Drop the heat to a simmer, and let it sit and bubble, cooking off the liquid from the broth.

Step 5: Assemble!

Shred the lettuce and dice the tomato. If you have an avocado, section it and slice.

Put the shells in the oven standing up. If you put them on their side, they close up like a clam, and then break in half when you try to fill them. Cook for 5 minutes.

Step 6: Eat!

Although most of the liquid should be cooked off from the meat mixture at this point, I still suggest using a slotted spoon to add the meat to the shell. Top with cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado and a squeeze of lime juice!