Monday, March 21, 2011

Taco Bell . . . What’s the Beef?

Recently there has been ‘noise’ in the food world regarding the components of the beef in tacos from Taco Bell. The company has responded by saying their meat is 88% premium USDA inspected ground beef. The remaining 12% is seasonings, spices, and water to provide taste, texture, moisture and quality. Okay, that’s fair enough.

I have a few problems with this whole issue. First of all, is the food at Taco Bell so great that we need to spend time worrying about how much beef is in the beef? I mean, do Americans really know what a ‘real taco’ is? The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that we would be better off if we would just cook. And finally, have you looked at the nutritional value of Taco Bell food? A crunchy taco contains 150 calories and 350 grams of sodium. But do you eat just one? A DOUBLE DECKER® Taco Supreme® contains 360 calories and 780 mg of sodium. Need I say more?

This issue got me to thinking about what tacos were originally. Tacos started as Mexican street food. They are eaten out of hand. From what I can determine, tacos are to Mexican culture what sandwiches are to American culture. In Mexico, tortillas are primarily made from corn. The most interesting information I have gathered from this project is that tacos can be filled with anything, beef, pork, seafood, mutton. Vegetables and salsa and a variety of toppings, such as avocadoes and onion are often added. Basically, anything that can be put into a tortilla can be made into a taco. My student, Rachel told me that her grandmother (better known as Nana) just uses whatever meat she has on hand. She often uses leftover roast. According to Rachel, in Mexico, there are hundreds of different tacos.

Rachel and I are off to the kitchen to make tacos, the right way. We are doing beef and fish tacos. I am including the recipes as Rachel taught them to me. Please feel free to add your own creative touches.  See also the video below about our taco making experience.

Shredded Beef Tacos


2 pounds chuck roast, (you can also use top or bottom round)
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 can (7 ounces) el pato sauce, not the jalapeno one

16-20 corn tortillas (6 inches)
2-3 cups vegetable oil


1. Add meat, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and el pato sauce to a Dutch oven. Add water to cover, about ½ inch over the top of the meat and simmer covered for about 2 hours stirring occasionally. (Note: El pato is a type of Mexican tomato sauce. It can be purchased in the Mexican food section of most grocery stores. You may want to consider reducing the salt to no more than ½ tablespoon.)

2. Continue to boil uncovered until the liquid has evaporated and continue to shred the meat with the wooden spoon or spatula. The meat should be completely shredded after about 4 hours. Set aside and let cool to warm or room temperature.

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet or frying pan. Never fill pan more than ½ full of oil, it may bubble over during cooking. Heat to 350°F. It is very important to reach 350°F or the tortillas will not cook properly. With a pair of tongs place 1 tortilla into the oil and fry for about 3-5 seconds, just long enough to make the tortillas pliable and easy to work with. Repeat process until all tortillas are cooked, stack them on a plate, flip the entire stack over and get ready for assembly.

Assembling Tacos:
Take about 2 to 3ounces of shredded beef and place on upper half of the tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and insert 2 toothpicks to keep the two halves together. Repeat until all of the tacos are done. You might want to turn the heat down on the oil while doing this.

Take 2 to 3 tacos at a time and place in oil heated to 350°F. Cook for about 1 to 3 minutes a side, or until crispy. Remove tacos and let stand for 1 minute. Remove toothpicks, open and add shredded lettuce, cheese and diced tomatoes. You can add whatever toppings you like, such as pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce, and salsa.

Fish Tacos


1 pound white fish, such as flounder, cod, or tilapia
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt


1. Arrange fish in a baking dish; set aside. In a small bowl combine lime juice, olive oil, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Pour over fish. Turn fish to coat with marinade. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

2. Grill or broil fish until the fish flakes.

3. Transfer fish to a cutting board. Cut or flake fish into 1-inch piece. Serve in warmed tortillas with desired toppings.

Fish Sauce:
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup plain yogurt

Stir to combine. Serve with fish tacos.

Salsa (Beef and Fish):
1 garlic clove, minced
6 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
1 small red onion, diced
2 Tablespoons cilantro, minced
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped finely
1½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Serve with tacos.

Toppings (Beef):
Cheese, queso fresco
Tomatoes, diced
Avocados, diced
Romaine lettuce

Toppings (Fish):
Red and Green Cabbage, shredded
Onion, diced