I’ve had two great leaps in my understanding of the best way to build a taco.
The first came in 1999, when I was on Semester at Sea and the cafeteria had a taco day for either lunch or dinner pretty much every 2-3 weeks. It was one of the most popular menus that they produced, and people would line up around 2 corners for it. You’d brace yourself against the wall if the seas were rough, or just rock with your knees against the gentle swells if they weren’t, and look forward to getting your tacos. But when you got to the front, you realized what the hold up had been: everyone was trying to assemble their tacos at the buffet line. And because, of course, everyone has their own understanding of what order the ingredients ought to be stacked and why, traffic jams could develop as everyone tried to get the cheese or the tomatoes or what have you all at the same time.
After going through this ordeal once or twice, I realized how to circumvent the log jam and still be particular about how I built my tacos. When I got to the front of the line, I’d fill several small dishes each with one of the components. Then, I’d have a miniature version of the taco bar at my seat, where I could build each taco to order. Not only that, but I eliminated the problem of taco-spillage: an inevitability if you set a finished taco on your plate. It was a two-fer: shorter wait and better tacos, all in one blow!
My second epiphany came today as I finished my 4-taco lunch.
My order of taco assemblage has been the same for years: meat first, then cheese so it might melt over the hot meat. Lettuce next, with sour cream following if it’s available; the two of them serve as an insulator layer to keep the liquid from the tomatoes (if they look good) and/or salsa from draining through the meat and making it chill too quickly. Olives, avocados, and any other nice-to-have ingredients also go in the top layer. They might be crowned with a second layer of cheese, on occasion.
Today, though, as I polished off my fourth taco, I started thinking: the delay between putting the meat into the shell and adding the cheese causes some inevitable cooling of the taco meat. And I thought, what if the meat didn’t have to go in the shell first? I mean, seriously…we all do it without even thinking about it. But what if we put the cheese in first? Then, the meat would be at its hottest possible temperature when it hit the cheese, and the cheese would experience a higher degree of melting. The melted cheese might even be able to serve as an insulator layer between the meat and the taco shell to help retard taco shell sogginess. We have the potential to achieve a higher level of taco quality on two levels, simply through making one small change to how we stack our layers!
This is a development that I predict could rival the development of using caulk guns as sour cream squirters….
How do you stack your tacos? Why do you follow this order? What’s need-to-have, and what’s nice-to-have when it’s taco night in your house?