A taco is a beautiful thing.
One of the most satisfying, versatile, exciting, and downright honest foods I can think of.
Plus, there is no need or mood a taco can’t tackle.
You are hungry and have but one peso in your pocket? Eat a Taco de Nada. You pass a tortillería on your way home? A Taco de Sal will hold you off until you get there. A deep hangover ails you? Go for Tacos de Barbacoa with Salsa Borracha. Did you say you have a broken heart? A pair of fully stocked Tacos al Pastor will be your most effective rebound. You are home with a cold? Soft chicken tacos dipped in fresh crema will make you all better, no doubt about that. Need to feed your teen kid and his buddies before they head out? Crispy Potato and Chorizo Tacos dressed with shredded lettuce, crumbled queso fresco and Salsa Verde will make them happy and fill them up. It’s lunchtime and you are on the road? If you are in Mexico (or somewhere with a large Mexican community), you will find someone with a huge basket selling Tacos Sudados to go. Planning a backyard party? Tacos de Carnitas will kick it off, without you even saying a word.
I could write an endless post on all sorts of tacos and all they can do for you… But, if you want to feed your family a generous, satiating, and super tasty weeknight meal, make them bricklayer tacos. Step by step instructions follow below. But as I cook, let me quickly reflect on The Taco.
Whenever I teach Mexican cooking, I never fail to say that the food of a country resembles its people. The taco, the most emblematic of Mexican foods, fully embodies Mexico and its people. Through the gazillion different kinds of tacos that have existed, we can explore the evolution of Mexico and the identity of Mexicans. The stories told by each taco, linked to one another, holds us Mexicans (and Mexican food lovers) together. I am getting a tad too philosophical about tacos, I know… but just think about the possibilities.
There is no exact date on when the taco came to be. It existed before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, in pre-Hispanic times, for sure. There is anthropological evidence that it was thousands, not hundreds of years, before the Spanish conquest that people in Mexico were eating tacos (even if they weren’t called that). Indigenous people had domesticated corn and found a way to make it fully nutritious by way of the nixtamalization process (where corn is shucked, dried, cooked in slaked lime or ashes, hulled and ground) and turned into a malleable dough to be used in a thousand different ways, including tamales, drinks, all sorts of patties and that flat bread we call tortilla.
Now, how long since has the tortilla been used as an edible plate, or torn into pieces to scoop up food as an edible spoon, or held in hand to wrap a filling to munch on? I am guessing more years than you probably are. The filling could have been cactus paddle or iguana, who knows.
The first documented tacos appeared in the “Truthful History of the Conquest of New Spain” (1520), by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a conquistador. He reported a taco feast, enjoyed by Hernán Cortes and many of his commanders, where many kinds of fillings were eaten wrapped in tortillas. Friar Bernardino de Sahagún, a Spanish ethnographer, also wrote about many different kinds of tortillas based on corn (different colors including yellow, blue and white; small and large; thin and thick) during the time of the conquest, in his “General History of the Things in new Spain.” It wasn’t until the Spanish arrived that the flour tortilla came to be, as they are the ones who introduced wheat.
According to Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Mexican silver miners invented the taco, but he is most likely referring to the word… The word taco also refers to any small piece of material that can fit into a hole or gap, such as the pieces of paper wrapped around gun powder that were used to extract precious metals from ore, in that same shape. Workers in Mexican silver mines in the 18th century called their meals Tacos Mineros. Though there may be a link to the shape of the other kind of “tacos,” we know for a fact that edible tacos have existed for thousands of years before those…
So yes, indeed, there are Tacos Mineros, but there are also tacos for and of absolutely EVERYTHING else, including the Tacos de Albañíl, or Bricklayer-style Tacos, that I am here showing you how to make. They’ve been baptized as such, for they are quick to prepare, very filling and need nothing else to be added on the side or on top.
They can also be prepared on site in a comal and can use any kind of available meat, as long as it is cut in small bite size pieces. Tacos de albañíl sellers an also be found near construction sites. Just walk around Mexico City, or come over on a weeknight: It is also one of my family’s favorite fast meals. And you get to pick what kind of tortilla you want, flour or corn.
Soft taco, crispy taco, hard shell taco (wish I didn’t have to say Taco Bell taco but we can’t ignore they have in a way helped to spread the word), puffy taco… I hope you add these Bricklayer-style Tacos to your collection of taco recipes.
Wait, you don’t have a taco recipe collection? Make this your first one!
- 8 ounces bacon, sliced
- 2 pounds beef sirloin or tenderloin, cut into 1-inch pieces
- To taste kosher or sea salt
- To taste freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups white onion, slivered or sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 jalapeno chile, sliced, seeding optional, or to taste
- 1 pound ripe Roma tomatoes
- Flour or corn tortillas
- Place tomatoes in a baking dish and under the broiler for 6 to 9 minutes, until charred, mushy and juices have begun to run. Once cool, roughly chop, but don’t discard the juices.
- Heat the skillet, add the bacon and cook until it is crisp and browned, about 5 minutes. Add the meat and season with salt and pepper and sear for about 2 minutes per side.
- Add in the onion and jalapeño and let them soften for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and before it browns, in less than a minute, add the chopped tomatoes. Stir here and there and let it all season for about 4 to 5 minutes.
- In a skillet or comal, set over medium-low heat, heat the tortillas. It will take about 1 minute per side. Place the tortillas in a tortilla warmer or wrap them in a clean kitchen towel or cloth napkin.
- Serve along with the tenderloin tips; guests can fill the tortillas with the amount of filling they desire.