Which really isn’t a secret at all. Um, hello? Food Network? They tour those candy plants all the time. It’s called “Unwrapped.”
But what’s better than the Caramilk secret, you ask? The secret to truly delicious tacos. And having just spent a week in the Mayan Riviera, Mexico – courtesy of Transat Holidays – I consider myself to be quite the expert on the subject.
Above, you’re looking at the trio of tacos… beef, shrimp and chicken, prepared at Azul Fives Hotel, by Karisma in the Mayan Riviera. Azul Fives is a gourmet inclusive hotel, which means – you guessed it – we had sinfully delicious food for the entire week. However, even though I was confronted with limitless options, I tended to come back to the humble taco… every. single. day.
They were THAT good.
And after a while, I began questioning, why are they so scrumptious? What makes them better than any taco I’ve had? The seasoning was on point, the fixin’s were average, and the tortillas were pretty standard fare. But there was just something about the way they all came together, in magic harmony, that set them apart. So I did what I do best: I painstakingly dissected the meal until I discovered the hidden secrets. (Okay, so maybe I dissected several meals. It’s called research!)
I have good news.
You too can create authentic-tasting Mexican tacos at home. You can even go ahead and grab your favourite dinner kit if you don’t want to start from scratch, because I’ve come to realize that it’s all in the condiments. So here’s what you need:
1. Chipotle Mayonnaise. Almost all of the tacos I enjoyed came with a chipotle mayonnaise for dipping, were pre-drizzled with the stuff, or both. Hence, I’ve decided that it’s an absolutely mandatory accompaniment to all tacos. The smoky, creamy sauce adds an additional layer of heat while smoothing out the more peppery flavours. You can purchase chipotle mayonnaise from a well-stocked specialty food store, or simply search for a recipe online (a recent search yielded about 2,270,000 results).
2. Queso Oaxaca. Stop putting shredded cheddar or Monterrey Jack on your tacos. Just stop. It’s a crime against cuisine. Don’t put any cheese at all; it’s such an American drive-thru thing to do. However, if your taco just won’t be complete without a cheesy fix, use Queso Oaxaca. Oaxaca is the Mexican name for a semi-soft, white, string-type, Hispanic-style cheese made from cow’s milk. One of the artisanal cheeses, Oaxaca has savory mellow buttery flavor and is a great melting cheese. In Canada, find it at Hispanic grocery stores.
3. Red Cabbage. The only way to get a satisfying crunch and burst of colour. I admit that I’ve prepared tacos with shredded lettuce for years, but now, I have seen the light. Red cabbage soaks up juices without wilting, and keeps its integrity even when paired with a piping hot protein. The resulting combination is gastronomic perfection.
4. Cilantro. If you don’t like it, learn to love it. Because it literally makes every Mexican food better, including tacos. The trick is to build an affinity to it in small doses; start with only half a teaspoon of the finely chopped herb, and once you’ve acclimated to the pungent flavour, add more. Soon, you’ll be consuming the leaves straight off the stalk, reveling in the unique taste profile.
5. Fresh Lime. Every taco needs a hit of acid. It balances the sweet and savoury components and intensifies the heat. And nature’s perfect acid comes via the lime; fresh, tangy and pucker-your-lips sour, it’s an essential complement to all spicy cuisine. But don’t even think of adding bottled lime juice or lime juice concentrate – only freshly squeezed lime will do. Of course, depending on the time of year, limes can be expensive, so don’t be afraid to freeze leftover juice in ice cube trays (it’s a great alternative to the bottled stuff).
So there you have it – secrets to the perfect tacos at home. Enjoy! I’ll be dreaming about my vacation, and the food we enjoyed, for the next few months… or until we take off on our next epic culinary adventure. Adios amigos!