Making A Better Taco


A couple weeks ago I posted a picture of my favorite homemade tacos.  It was part of a post called A Financially Independent Life Is A Good Life.  In the comments, I briefly mentioned that if there was enough demand I would post the recipe.

Well, the internet ended-up going absolutely wild over this suggestion — Every single one of my readers (all three of you) wrote-in asking me to share my famous bacon-shrimp-avocado tacos.  Sheesh….OK!

So strap yourselves in folks — Today, by popular demand I’ll post this recipe along with some of my favorite taco-making techniques.

We’re going to make a truly first-class taco for economy class prices.

 

Cheap Isn’t Everything

The thing about tacos is, everybody’s had one before.  They’re enormously popular “cheap eats” that have expanded well beyond the humble origins of Mexican street food.  Tacos are food that went viral even before the internet.

Part of the appeal of tacos is their affordability.  I can wander over to my nearest food truck and pick-up a taco for about $1.  That’s super cheap!  But cheap isn’t everything — those $1 food tacos are only marginally better than something you’d find at Taco Bell.  (Sorry Mr. 1500 — Taco Bell isn’t proper food)

taco bell
They don’t actually sell real tacos here — I’ve checked.

So what’s the difference between ‘just a taco’ and a really delicious mind-alteringly good taco?

About a thousand little things.  The most important of which is that you’re willing to go that extra mile for something that tastes WAY better.

 

Mr. Tako’s Bacon-Shrimp-Avocado Tacos

This recipe I like to call “Mr. Tako’s Bacon-Shrimp-Avocado Tacos”.  (Yes, I know I should be charging money for my incredible naming abilities.)

The recipe is a holy trinity of flavors combined that elevate a humble taco into something truly wonderful.

tacos
Like the suitcase from Pulp Fiction, these tacos glow with their own inner light… from the amazing flavors contained within.

To make this recipe, we must master the four main pillars of taco awesomeness: Meat, TortillasToppings, and Salsa.

 

Meat

All great tacos begin with some kind of spiced meat.  For my recipe I use one pound of Hickory Smoked bacon, and one pound of raw 31-40 shrimp (tail-on).  This will make enough for four adults.

taco meats

The bacon is already flavored, but our shrimp need a little extra assistance to reach flavor town. We marinate them first.

The shrimp marinade consists of salted butter (4 tablespoons), canola oil (2 tablespoons), and some finely chopped garlic (roughly 2 tablespoons).

marinade

The butter marinade is then melted in the microwave for about 45 seconds until all the butter solids have liquified.  Mix thoroughly.  It should look something like this:

melted marinade

Next, the shrimp will need to be coated with spices.  I like to use Kirkland Sweet Mesquite Seasoning for this dish.

mesquite seasoning
Seriously, I love this stuff. I put it on everything. I bathe in it. I use it for deodorant. Heck, I even use it as a body-wash in the shower… Everything!

If you don’t have a Costco near you, Amazon has several alternative mesquite seasonings.  Or, you can just recreate the seasoning using the following ingredients: salt, black pepper, chili pepper, red pepper, oregano and smoked mesquite.

Coat the shrimp thoroughly with mesquite seasoning, and pour on the butter-garlic marinade.  Yum!

pouring taco marinade

Mix the spices, shrimp, and marinade together.  This should look (and smell) pretty fantastic at this point.  Marinate as long as you’d like.  A minimum of one hour is best.

uncooked shrimp

While that’s marinating, work on prepping the other ingredients.  I usually light the grill at this point and start grilling the bacon.  Yes, we grill the bacon!

When grilling bacon, low temperatures are your friend.  Low and slow is how you get grilled bacon to turn out fantastic on the grill.  Meanwhile, all that fantastic bacon grease is going to drip onto the grill and make the shrimp taste amazing later.  Don’t clean it!  Our shrimp are going to soak up that bacony goodness.

bacon on grill

After getting a nice crisp on the bacon, pull it off the grill.  I usually slice the bacon in half — it’s a good ‘taco’ size.

cooked bacon

Once the shrimp have marinated we can then toss carefully place them on the grill.  If you have wide gaps in your grill surface, take care that the shrimp don’t fall through.

shrimp on grill

The shrimp will cook incredibly fast on the grill.  Do not leave them unattended.  Two minutes per side is usually sufficient.  Again, low temperatures and slow cooking are how I get good results on the grill.

When they’re ready, the shrimp will develop a kind of ‘crust’ from cooking on the grill.  That’s a good time to flip the shrimp.

shrimp with crust

Meanwhile if there’s any of the marinade left, cook the remaining sauce in the microwave.  A couple minutes works in my microwave.

After the shrimp have cooked on both sides, remove them from the grill.  Place the shrimp in the remaining sauce, and stir until everything is evenly coated.  It should look delicious… try to stop yourself from eating one.

cooked shrimp

 

Tortillas

Next-up are the tortillas.  I would love to have the time to hand-make tortillas, but with two little kids running around the house… there’s not a chance in hell it’s happening!  I buy pre-made corn tortillas.

If your tortilla is made from wheat, that’s actually bread.

The problem is, pre-made corn tortillas don’t taste very good.  Don’t believe me?  Go try one… pop it in your mouth and give it a chew.

Not very good is it?  The taste and texture of a tortilla isn’t fantastic by itself.  Once again we must elevate a humble ingredient into a taste sensation with a little extra work.

Again, the grill comes to our rescue — we toast the tortillas on the grill.  This will improve both the texture and the taste.

corn tortillas

While we’re at it, I usually put down some cheese on the tortillas.  There’s not a flavor problem cheese can’t fix.

tortillas and cheese

Tortillas are all about texture.  The idea here is to gently toast the tortillas, not to burn them.  When you bite into a correctly toasted tortilla it should still be flexible, but have a very slight ‘crunch’.  Texture is everything when it comes to mastering tortillas.

When they’re done, the cheese looks all melted and bubbly.  The edges of the tortilla will have just started to brown… that’s when you know you’ve hit flavor town.

toasted tortillas

Here’s a closeup of a nicely done tortilla on the grill…

toasted tortilla closeup

 

Toppings

How people ‘top’ their tacos is a very personal affair.  For me at least, fresh is always best when it comes to toppings.  I love having fresh toppings available — fresh onions, fresh cilantro, fresh jalapenos, etc.

I usually chop the toppings for my tacos before I cook anything on the grill.

cilatro
Not everyone likes cilantro, but it’s a great fresh ingredient for tacos.

Since these are “bacon-shrimp-avocado” tacos, we need a really nice avocado.  It’s worth paying a little extra for a nice avocado — it’s one of the main flavors for the dish.

advocado
My avocado wasn’t only OK this time around. Good avocados are worth it.

Onions go really well on tacos, but can often be too ‘hot’ for most people.  If you can, find a sweet white onion.   Sweet onions tend to have less of that sulfurous ‘hot’ flavor.  I chop mine into thin 1″-1.5″ pieces.

sliced sweet onion

If you can’t find a sweet onion, try soaking a ‘spicy’ onion in water after chopping.  Drain the water after 20 minutes and you’ll find the onion loses a lot of its ‘heat’.

Ultimately, what toppings people like on their tacos is a very personal thing.  I don’t try to pretend I understand what everyone wants, so I set-out a topping buffet like in the photo below.  This way, everyone can choose their favorites.

topping buffet
The topping buffet: Shredded cheese, onions, mild salsa, avocado, green onions, cilantro, jalapeno, and my habanero salsa.

 

Salsa

When it comes to Salsa, I’m admit I’m a salsa snob very opinionated, but for good reason — If spiced-meats are the heart of a good taco, then salsa is the soul of a good taco.

Salsa is extremely important to making a delicious taco, but unfortunately the stuff you find in the grocery store is almost universally garbage.

In The Store
Overpriced grocery store salsa — it’s expensive garbage. Don’t bother buying this stuff.

The solution?  Make your own.  If you haven’t already, take a look at my roasted salsa recipe.  Not only is it cheaper, but making your own salsa really does make tacos taste better.

salsa

 

Conclusion

We cover a lot of different ground on this blog, and despite it mainly being about personal finance, I’m not afraid of posting my favorite recipes.  I mean, just look at this taco — how could you not want to make this and eat it?

tacos
I’ve traveled the world and eaten tacos in half a dozen different countries — nobody sells a taco this good.

For me, financial independence is about living the good life.  Really good food is a big part of living that good life.  Unfortunately too many people now leave the making of food to so-called “experts”.  It’s a damn shame.

Restaurants and eateries, and even the food supply-chain care mostly about making profits, not making food as delicious as possible.  Who else is going to slow cook the bacon, and toast a tortilla to just the right texture?

Only home-cooked food can attain this level of awesomeness — which is exactly why I recommend that people on the Road To FI stop eating-out entirely.

tacos
Fair warning: Once you’ve had this tacos you won’t want to go back to a “lesser taco”.

You’ll eat far better, and become far wealthier as a result of the incredible savings.  Given time, your culinary skills will improve and taste buds will sing arias about the incredible flavors you produce.

Now, who wants to eat some tacos?

 

[Image Credit: Flickr1]

29 thoughts on “Making A Better Taco

  • September 13, 2017 at 3:48 AM
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    Mr.Tako!
    Wait, Taco Bell doesn’t sell tacos? Seriously, thanks for the recipe. I have not yet made a good taco so I’m really looking forward to this. I agree…if home-cooked meals taste great, we shouldn’t have to eat out. The reason won’t be about money anymore. It’ll be about expectations of taste.

    Reply
    • September 13, 2017 at 1:58 PM
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      I honestly have very little desire to eat-out anymore when I can easily make better food at home!

      Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 4:03 AM
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    Yum yum. Your family must bring so happy to try your delicious food every day. I think you have a new title: A FIRE Master Chef!

    Reply
    • September 13, 2017 at 1:54 PM
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      They seem to like my food. It’s the first thing they ask me when they get home at night — what’s for dinner.

      Not “Hi Dad” or “Good to see you”…I get “What’s for dinner”. 🙂

      Reply
      • September 13, 2017 at 5:12 PM
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        Mr. Tako…wait tell the boys become teenagers…it then become more a a grunt..I need food or I am going to eat you kind of noise.

        Those look Taco’s look fantastic. These days if we wind up eating out for some random reason, like out of town…the food is never as good as it tastes as home.

        Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 4:59 AM
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    Taaaaaacooooooossss. I agree; sometimes you have to spend a little more on nice ingredients to make a truly badass homemade meal. After all, a taco like this at a restaurant would easily cost double what you pay for ingredients. I’ll have to share this recipe with shrimp and bacon-loving Mr. Picky Pincher. 🙂

    Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 6:02 AM
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    I’m a vegan and don’t eat garlic and onions, but still have to admit that this looks pretty tasty. Well done.

    Do you have any signature vegan dishes you can share 🙂

    -Mike

    Reply
    • September 13, 2017 at 1:52 PM
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      Wait…what? A vegan that doesn’t eat garlic and onions? That’s a new kind of vegan to me!

      How does one live without garlic or onions? I’d starve. 🙂

      Reply
      • September 13, 2017 at 8:05 PM
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        Actually if you look up Jainism they follow this diet, but they are even more strict and avoid root vegetables too!. In my case I find that onions and garlic don’t quite agree with me, especially after cutting them out for some time. I don’t like the body smell / breath, etc that remains after ingesting these foods. There are still plenty of other yummy stuff to take- the world has a wide variety of delicious foods, fortunately!

        -Mike

        Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 6:07 AM
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    Tostadas por pulpo. Mui Bueno.

    Reply
    • September 13, 2017 at 1:44 PM
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      Thanks Jim! Bacon and Shrimp was a random combination I made one day, and it turned out absolutely fantastic. We’ve been making them ever since!

      Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 9:44 AM
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    Noooooooooo. We cut out meat a little while ago, but this looks SO good! I might have to cheat for this. I don’t think I’ll have to twist the husband’s arm too much either :o)

    Reply
    • September 13, 2017 at 1:42 PM
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      I promise not to tell. We’re not big meat eaters either, but I’m a sucker for a good taco!

      Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 12:10 PM
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    Shrimp and bacon don’t belong on tacos – either shredded beef or carnitas.

    And avocado is gross.

    That’s said thanks for the recipe – the rest all sounds great. Love the cheesy tortilla picture. Yummy.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 7:49 PM
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    Salty bacon, cool creamy avocado, sweet shrimp, tangy bbq rub and salsa, heat and crispness (jalapeno and onion) all on a comforting cheesy corn tortilla AND grilled! Sheesh. You don’t do anything half-assed. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 8:11 PM
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    Now, that’s a taco! Great recipe. Our shrimp tacos are a lot simpler. They are our fallback meals and it only takes about 10 minutes to make. Your tacos probably takes a lot more time. I’ll try adding bacon someday.
    Good stuff.

    Reply
  • September 14, 2017 at 6:12 AM
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    Looks delish! I’m on the avocado craze these days….trying to get the healthy fats in. Our tacos end up being quesadillas just because there a bit easier to eat and use salsa on the side for dipping. Need to try this grilling method though 🙂

    Reply
  • September 15, 2017 at 7:43 AM
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    I’m making my grocery list now for the ingredients. Thanks for the inspiration…looks absolutely delicious!

    Reply
  • September 15, 2017 at 6:25 PM
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    That looks amazing! My mom went pescatarian earlier this year so if we skip the bacon for her…everyone can be happy. 🙂

    I’m not ready to give up restaurants when on the road yet. I did pass up going out last night in favor of what I had at home. 🙂

    Reply
  • September 16, 2017 at 3:28 PM
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    Wasn’t hungry before reading your post and now I’m starving! Love tacos, bacon, shrimp, avos, cheese, cilantro, jalapeños, salsa… ok I love it all! I always make my own salsa and it is so much better and way cheaper. Definitely gonna try this recipe and the salsa one too. Gotta love having food in your name, have to admit that our waffle recipe is spot on as well.

    Reply

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