Shredded cheese on tacos is classic, though non-authentic. I loved when my mom would make taco meat, which was usually ground beef, using the little packet of spices, and I got to layer shredded cheddar atop a mound of zesty meat. I’d then throw on a handful of iceberg lettuce, some tomatoes, and a generous squeeze of ketchup. Because it’s what I enjoyed. The result was was a salty, spicy, sweet, sloppy mess of deliciousness that makes me want to break out the frozen ground beef and Costco bottle of McCormick taco seasoning.
Side note: I’m not ashamed to point out that a similar style of taco is still – periodically – in my rotation, though it’s got a few upgrades and substitutions. Check it out here: Less-Boring Turkey Tacos
As my palate and understanding of more authentic Mexican food matured over time, I’ve come to realize a few things, not the least of which is that most authentic tacos don’t include much – if any – cheese. If anything, most “real” tacos might have a dusting of cotija, or some other authentic white/fresh cheese, but none of that yellow or orange stuff. That’s an American thing.
That being said, the following recipe was inspired by a hurried trip to a taco place in La Jolla last summer. I can’t remember the name of the spot, though I remember rushing our family into their newly-constructed outdoor seating, ordering some quesadillas for the kids, a couple of margaritas for the adults, and a selection of nearly every taco on the menu (we avoid shrimp on account of my wife’s allergy).
In my trials (and errors) playing around with this technique, I’ve learned a few things. First, the goal of this is to make tacos more delicious, not more healthy. The crispy cheese will add a new texture, and a layer of salty, unctuous goodness to your Tuesday meal. I’ve also learned that said texture pairs best with a soft filling, making a braise or other slow-cooked goodness the perfect fit. Might I suggest some Slow Cooker Carnitas?
Another side note: Apparently some people use an oven-baked version of these crispy cheese rounds as “Keto” taco shells, forgoing the simple delight of wrapping their crispy cheese in a warm, soft corn tortilla.
- Shredded cheese, such as a “Mexican-style” blend
- Your desired taco shells (I usually use street-taco sized corn tortilla for this recipe), fillings and toppings, including some lime for squeezing
Instructions (for the crispy cheese):
- Prepare your filling, topping, and taco shells before making the crispy cheese.
- Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Don’t bother using oil or nonstick spray, as the oils from the cheese will suffice
- Place a 1/4 cup of shredded cheese in a small pile on the hot pan, and allow the cheese to melt for about a minute.
- Place a bit of taco filling on one side of the disc of melting cheese, and allow the cheese to get crispy. You’ll know this is happening as the cheese will get all bubbly and oily, and begin to brown.
- Using a spatula, fold the crispy cheese over the side with the filling, and then remove it from the pan and place it atop your taco shell.
- If you have not done so already, layer on some toppings, like a good salsa or slaw, and then give it all a generous squeeze of fresh lime. This bit of bright citrus cuts nicely through the rich saltiness of the crisp cheese.