Six Foolproof Recipes For The Perfect Tacos
Tacos from El Pastór. Photograph courtesy of El Pastór
The taco is the undisputed king of street food in Mexico. Forget churros or tamales. For a quick lunch or a post-night-on-the-mezcal snack, there is only one place to head: a taqueria. Devotees will wax lyrical about about the dangerously delicious and yielding meats, piled with herbs and piquant chillies.
In the past, we would have had to traverse the Atlantic to sample this muy bueno fare. Now, there’s a new wave of places serving superlative tacos on this side of the pond. Places such as El Pastór, Corazón, Temper and Tienda Roosteria in London, where diners are taken on a culinary voyage of carnitas (little meat”) and birria (a Jalisco variant), sprinkled with a procession of chillies (habanero, jalapeño, chipotle, árbol). Here, these taquerias reveal their favourite recipes. Yes, there’s prepping to be done. But, dear reader, you won’t fail to delight your guests.
Carne asada tacos
Ms Laura Sheffield
“I love that this dish is so adaptable. Anything goes, really. Whatever you have in the fridge and cupboard in terms of chillies, onions, pickled carrots, salsa, go crazy with it. Our tacos defy the greasy Tex-Mex preconceptions people have about Mexican cuisine. But, like a lot of Mexican food, all the hard work is done in advance. You just want a big strong punchy marinade and leave it at least overnight.”
Photograph by Mr Justin De Souza, courtesy of Corazón
- 2 lean steaks
- Salt and pepper
- 4 blue corn tortillas
Garnishes (all optional):
- Chopped fresh chillies
- Shredded lettuce
- Slices of avocado or guacamole
- Grilled spring onions
- Hot sauce
- Lime wedges, to serve
For the marinade:
- Orange juice, to taste
- Splash of olive oil
- Splash of light soy sauce
- Splash of lager
- Splash of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp chipotle in adobo chilli paste
- 2–5 garlic cloves
- Handful of chopped coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp chopped red chillies
For the pickled onions:
- Juice of 1 orange
- Splash of white wine vinegar
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 red onion, sliced
For the mojo:
- Juice of 1 orange
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 tbsp finely chopped green pepper
Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a large dish. Add the steaks and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.
Now pickle the onions. Put the orange juice, vinegar and sugar in a bowl. Add the sliced onion and leave to marinate overnight, They should come out a vibrant pink and still have some bite.
Season the steaks and grill for 3-4 minutes each side for medium rare, slightly less for rare, slightly longer for medium-well done. Then slice them thinly against the grain.
When ready to serve, heat the tortillas in the oven or microwave. Mix the mojo ingredients together, then spoon over the meat and place inside the tortillas. Top with the pickled onions and garnishes of your choice.
Mr Neil Rankin
Owner and chef patron, Temper
“At Temper, we take the whole carcass of an animal and use all of it, even bits that are usually thrown away. This is how this taco came about. It makes it the most definitive dish we do. The two sauces – green sauce and a chipotle sour green – balance the crunchy onions, the acidity of the lime and the tortillas. It’s a simple dish, but it suits smoked meat so well.”
Photograph by Mr Steven Joyce, courtesy of Temper
- Pinch of salt
- 500g corn or maize flour
- 750g aged beef fat
- 5 tsp chopped red onion
- 5 tsp onions, fried until crispy
- 1 green chilli, finely sliced
- 5 limes, cut into wedges, to serve
For the green sauce:
- 250g garlic
- 250g coriander stalks
- Juice of 15 limes
For the chipotle sour cream:
- 250g sour cream
- 250g chipotle paste
Make the green sauce by grinding the garlic and coriander stalks in a mortar and pestle until you have a paste. Stir in the lime juice and set aside.
Make the chipotle sour cream by mixing together the sour cream and chipotle paste. Set aside.
To make the tortillas, mix the salt with 600ml hot water and bring to the boil. Mix 480ml of the water with the flour, then slowly add the rest (you may not need all of it) until you get the right consistency. Press in a taco press then cook on a griddle until they puff up. If you don’t have a taco press, knead the dough into equal-sized balls, pat between your hands, then roll out to make thin 5-6in circles. Keep warm.
Chop the beef fat into fingernail-sized cubes and fry in a hot pan until crisp.
To serve, spread some of the sauce and sour cream on the tortillas. Put the beef fat on top and season with salt. Add the fried onions and chilli and finish with a squeeze of fresh lime.
Al pastor en casa taco
Mr James Hart
Co-founder, El Pastór
“Al pastor tacos are specific to Mexico City. In the 1950s and 1960s, a Lebanese community moved to Mexico City and brought shawarma with them. Instead of lamb, they used pork and the tortilla replaced the flatbread. Flavour-wise, the ham and pineapple in this one have a sweet-savoury thing going on. At Tortilleria El Pastór, which is opening soon in Bermondsey, you’ll be able to buy all the ingredients so you can make your own tacos at home.”
Photograph courtesy of El Pastór
- 10 guajillo chillies, seeds removed
- 2 árbol chillies
- 2kg pork belly (skin on and finely scored)
- 1 small pineapple
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 200ml cider vinegar
- 100g sugar
- 1 tbsp ginger, peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves
- 3 tbsp achiote paste (available from El Pastór or Amazon)
- 80g Maldon salt
- 100ml pineapple juice
- Half a large onion, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp chipotle in adobo paste
- 10 tortillas
For the salsa roja:
- 8 large red peppers
- 6 jalapeños
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 heaped tbsp chipotle in adobo paste
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp coriander seeds [not in recipe]
- 4 cloves
- 100g muscovado sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 200ml cider vinegar
- Maldon salt
For the guacamole taquero:
- 1 avocado
- 200g tomatillos
- Half a serrano chilli
- 1 garlic clove
- Squeeze of lime juice
- Salt to taste
Preheat the barbecue (or oven) to 200ºC. Pour 450ml boiling water over the guajillo and árbol chillies. Cover and leave for 5–10 minutes to soften. With a knife carefully remove the skin from the pork belly (cut this without too much fat attached and put on one side) and place the belly meat in a large roasting tray.
Chop the pineapple in two. Put one half in fridge for later. Peel and core the other half and chop roughly.
Put the soaked chillies and their liquid, garlic, vinegar, sugar, ginger, cloves, achiote paste, 50g salt, the chopped pineapple, pineapple juice and onion in a blender for 2–3 minutes and blend until smooth.
Pour the marinade over the pork and rub into the meat with your hands. It should be a deep crimson colour. Replace the skin and tie it in place with kitchen string. Cover and chill for a minimum of 2 hours, but ideally overnight.
Preheat the oven to 225ºC. Place the peppers and jalapeños on a baking tray, put in the oven and roast until they blacken. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Take the stalks off the jalapeños and stalks and seeds from the red peppers and put the rest in a blender with the garlic, chipotle in adobo paste, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cloves, muscovado sugar, cinnamon and cider vinegar. Blitz for about 2 minutes. Add salt to taste.
Put all the guacamole ingredients and 50ml water in a blender and blend for about 2 minutes. Add salt to taste. The consistency should be smooth but not too runny.
You could cook the meat in the oven, but you’ll lose a lot of the character. Soak 200g mesquite chips for 20 minutes and add to the charcoal before you light the barbecue. Heat the barbecue to 200°C and place the pork over indirect heat for 2hrs 40 minutes. If you can, turn the temperature up to 250ºC for the last 20 minutes to get the skin extra crispy.
Remove the pork from the barbecue, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes. Warm tortillas and assemble to serve.
Ms Martha Ortiz
Chef patron, Ella Canta
“I love the chilorio tacos we serve at Ella Canta. My mother is from a place called Sinaloa in the north of Mexico, so I take much of my inspiration from there. They make tortilla de harina (flour tortillas) in that part of Mexico, rather than maize ones. In addition, chilorio is a very powerful, flavoursome recipe, and I love the colour contrasts of the red and white.”
Photograph by Ms Claire Menary, courtesy of Ella Canta
- 2kg pork shoulder
- 6g cloves
- 12g allspice
- 8g garlic
- 360g onion, diced
- 6g bay leaves
- 40g pork fat
- 400g plum tomatoes, diced
- 60ml white vinegar
- 6 wheat tortillas
- 60g red cabbage, cut into julienne strips
- 50g romaine lettuce, sliced into long strips
- Oil for frying
- Handful of coriander leaves
- 30g sour cream
- 10g fried coriander leaves
- 1 árbol chilli, fried
For the chile de árbol sauce:
- 400ml vegetable oil
- 800g plum tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 árbol chillies, fried
For the red onion rings:
- 30 red onion rings
- 1 splash white wine vinegar
- Bay leaf
- Lime juice
Make the chile de árbol sauce. Put the oil and tomatoes in a pan and cook slowly over a low heat for 40 minutes. Allow to cool and drain the oil.
Meanwhile, roast the garlic in the oven at 200ºC for 20-30 minutes.
Put the tomatoes, garlic and fried árbol chillis in a blender and blend until smooth. The sauce should not be overly spicy. Season to taste and set aside.
Put the pork shoulder, cloves, allspice, garlic, 160g onion and bay leaves in a large pot. Cover with water, season with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer until the pork shoulder is cooked through. Strain the cooking liquid and set aside. Leave the pork to cool, before shredding.
Sauté 200g onion in hot pork fat (or oil). Add the tomatoes and vinegar and cook for a few minutes. Add the shredded pork and 600ml of the cooking liquid. Cook over a low heat for about 1 hour. Season and set aside.
Meanwhile, pickle the onion. Put the red onion rings in a bowl, add some white wine vinegar, a bay leaf, peppercorns, lime juice and salt. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge. Set aside.
Trim the tortillas to make 18 x 8cm squares. Scoop some chilorio pork mix onto each tortilla square. Roll up the tortillas and secure with toothpicks.
Divide the cabbage between large soup dishes. Top with the lettuce.
Deep-fry the tacos in oil heated to 160°C for 3 minutes or until they are golden brown. Remove the tacos from the deep-fat fryer. Drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool down for a few minutes.
Put the tacos around the cabbage and lettuce mound, top with sour cream, fried corinader leaves, onion rings and chile de árbol sauce.
Mr Marcus Samuelsson
Founder and chef patron of Tienda Roosteria
“The Addis taco is really special to me because it’s inspired by my Ethiopian heritage. I love mixing the traditional Ethiopian stew with something like a taco that comes from another culture. I wanted to create a taco that was inspired by my experiences, so I’ve paired something traditionally Ethiopian – doro wat – with the collard greens from my restaurant.”
Photograph by Mr Jason Bailey, courtesy of Tienda Roosteria
- 32 tortillas
- Hard-boiled egg, sliced, to serve
- Lime wedges, to serve
For the doro wat (Ethiopian chicken):
- 680g red onion, chopped
- 340g garlic, chopped
- 170g ginger
- 110g butter
- 57g tomato paste
- 57g berbere, blended smooth
- 2.25kg chicken, ground
- 680g chicken stock
- 710g red wine
- Salt and pepper
For the awaze glaze:
- 100g yellow mustard seeds
- Generous pinch of berbere
- 230g garlic, minced or chopped
- 450g canola oil
- 30g cayenne pepper
For the collard greens:
- 227g butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 Thai bird’s eye chillies, minced or ½ tsp hot red pepper flakes
- 900g collard greens (eg, cabbage, broccoli), stemmed and chopped
- 57g apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- Pinch of coarse salt
First make the doro wat. In a food processor, mix the onion, garlic and ginger until smooth. Put this in a large pan. Add the butter and sweat for about 20 minutes until the mixture is dry.
Add the tomato paste and berbere and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, stock, red wine and salt. Braise over a low heat for 2 hours. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
To make the awaze glaze, toast the yellow mustard seeds until fragrant, then blend until smooth. Put in a bowl with all the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
Now prepare the veg. Melt the butter in a large pot over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and chillies and sauté for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened.
Add the green vegetables and stir in the vinegar, brown sugar and salt and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for about about 1½ hours until the greens are very tender.
Layer the doro wat, collard greens and some slices of hard-boiled egg on the tortillas and drizzle with the awaze glaze.
Baja fish tacos
Mr Nud Dudhia
Co-founder of Breddos Tacos and co-author Breddos Tacos: The Cookbook
“Chris [Whitney, co-founder] and I travelled up and down the coast of Baja California in 2015, eating the best fish tacos known to man at crowded food carts dotted on street corners. This is our take on the Baja fish taco. It’s not a like-for-like copy – that would be impossible – but it uses British produce to recreate a Baja classic.”
Photograph by Mr Nud Dudhia, courtesy of Breddos Tacos
- 500ml rapeseed oil
- 300g rice flour
- 100g plain flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp fine salt
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 200ml cold sparkling water or light beer
- 1 large pollack fillet, skinned and pin boned, cut into 8 evenly sized rectangular pieces
- 8 corn tortillas
- Half a head of white cabbage, finely chopped
- 1 jalapeño chilli, finely sliced
- Handful of coriander, leaves picked
- 4 limes, halved
For the pico de gallo:
- 300g ripe vine tomatoes
- 2 medium red onions, diced
- Half a bunch of coriander, finely chopped
- Half a jalapeño chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- Juice of 2–3 limes
- 1 tsp rapeseed oil
For the lime aioli:
- 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
- Sea salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- ½ tsp English or Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 250ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
For the cascabel chilli salt:
- 6 dried cascabel chillies
- 3 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
First make the pico de gallo. Quarter the tomatoes, remove the cores, then dice into 5mm cubes. Put the tomato in large bowl with the onion, coriander and jalapeños. Add salt and pepper and taste to check the seasoning. Once you’re happy with the flavour, mix in the sugar. Add lime juice, to taste, and the oil. Stir to combine and taste again. The mixture should be salty, sweet, zingy and slightly spicy. If you like your salsa hot, replace the jalapeño with a Scotch bonnet or habanero.
Next, make the lime aioli. Crush the garlic to a paste with a pinch of sea salt, then thoroughly combine in a bowl with the egg yolks, mustard, lime juice and some pepper. In a slow steady stream, whisk the oil into the egg mix, a few drops at a time to start with, then in small dashes, whisking in each addition so it is properly emulsified before adding the next. By the time you’ve added all the oil, you should have a thick, glossy, wobbly aioli that holds its shape. Taste and add more salt, pepper, mustard or lime juice if you like.
To make the cascabel chilli salt, toast the chillies in a frying pan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Once cool, put into a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder. Mix in the salt and smoked paprika.
Now cook the fish. Heat the rapeseed oil in a deep heavy-based pan to 190°C.
Make the batter by mixing together 200g rice flour with the plain flour, egg, baking powder, salt, chilli powder and oregano. Slowly pour in the sparkling water or beer and whisk until you have a batter-like consistency. Ignore any lumps.
Dip one piece of fish at a time into the remaining rice flour. Using tongs, dip the fish into the batter and then gently place it in the hot oil. Be sure to put the fish into the oil away from your body in case of oil splashes. Repeat with three other pieces of fish and cook for 4 minutes.
Take the fish out of the oil and leave to drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the other pieces of fish.
Warm the tortillas, place a dollop of aioli on each one, followed by the fish, cabbage, pico de gallo, a couple of slices of jalapeño and some coriander. Sprinkle with cascabel chilli salt and add a squeeze of lime juice.